The history of today’s city of Tsarevo begins with the Thracian sanctuary on the small cape near the Church of the Holy Virgin
Over the centuries, Vasiliko was closely connected with the neighboring Ahtopol and the mountain villages in Strandzha, as it is today
In the last days of summer, let’s take a look at our beloved Black Sea coast, more precisely at Tsarevo, the ancient Vasiliko, remembered by the older generation with the name “Michurin”, a product of the infamous “Bulgarian-Soviet friendship”… Against the background of the rich history of most of our Black Sea cities, relatively little is known about Tsarevo – above all about the recent history, the Ilinden-Preobrazhensky uprising, etc. Alas, almost nothing was known about the ancient past of the city.
It is indicative of the level of current knowledge that Vasiliko is absent from the otherwise successful book “Bulgarian Medieval Towns and Fortresses, Volume I (Towns and Fortresses along the Danube and the Black Sea)”, published in 1981 under the editorship of Prof. Alexander Kuzev and Acad. Vasil Gyuzelev. Fortunately, we have reason to share with readers that thanks to archaeology, that is no longer the case! Citizens and vacationers were convinced of this at the presentation of Dr. Milen Nikolov’s new book under the still summer sky on the square in Tsarevo on September 2.
The book “Ancient Vasiliko” by Dr. Milen Nikolov
Ten years ago, Tsonya Drazheva, then director of the Regional Museum – Burgas, and Prof. Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the National History Museum in those years, commissioned Milen Nikolov to study the so-called old Basiliko. The young researcher has already proven his abilities in the excavations at Akve Kalide (Burgas Mineral Baths) and the remarkable fortress of Rusokastro, which he still studies today. In addition, Dr. Nikolov, today the director of the regional museum in Burgas, researched the mysterious Parish with its monasteries – testimony to his scientific interests in Strandzha and its Black Sea area. Taking on the difficult, somewhat not particularly “grateful” task, the Burgas archaeologist “returns” the seaside city loved by generations to the map of ancient history.
Once in a book I came across the not particularly original but true metaphor for “… the archaeologist’s shovel as a time machine…” The excavations in Tsarevo also convince us of its truth. Indeed, the archaeological “reading” of the past can yield interesting and even unexpected results! When archaeological excavations are limited in volume, then the search for new data, the careful analysis of disparate testimonies scattered by time and people are extremely important. It is no less responsible to look carefully at the laconic, often misunderstood, but particularly important information of the written monuments.
With his work, Milen Nikolov once again shows that the work of the archaeologist reminds that of the detective, and why not the microbiologist! In this case, the role of a “microscope” is played by the accumulated observations and the intuition stepping on the accumulated knowledge. Even more so when it comes to a responsible and patient researcher like Milen Nikolov. Because the point is not to seek cheap sensations, but to follow the rules of science. The meticulous study of thousands of artifacts, often unsightly ceramic fragments and other “small” finds, leads the researcher to interesting and important conclusions. It turns out that the history of Tsarevo or the former Vasiliko can be “moved” back in time by more than two millennia compared to our previous ideas.
As is known, in the VIII-VII centuries BC. the lands of the Thracians along the coasts of the Black, Marmara and Aegean seas in the range of the so-called “Great Hellenic Colonization”. Along the Black Sea coast, from south to north, the colonies of Agatopolis (Ahtopol), Apollonia (Sozopol), Anchialo (Pomorie), Mesambria (Nessebar), Odessos (Varna), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Tomi (Constanza), etc., arose, in some cases on the basis of centuries-old Thracian settlements. However, in the case of the ancient past of the present-day city of Tsarevo, things are very different. Because of this justified interest, Dr. Nikolov’s conclusions that the history of the settlement begins not with a fortress or a port, as is the case with most Black Sea cities, but with an ancient Thracian sanctuary. It existed for centuries on the small cape near the church of St. Mother of God”, and the situation is reminiscent of the one with the Thracian heritage, revealed by Associate Professor Valeri Yotov and his team at Cape Saint Atanas in the town of Byala, Varna Region, for which
The “White Mystery” of Cape St. Athanasius
in the issue of “Labor” from August 31, 2018.
Since the church bears the name of the Holy Mother of God – the Mother of God – does this not mean that the Thracian sanctuary was associated with a similar cult? And was it not dedicated to the Great Mother Goddess, called by the Thracians by the name Cybele, adopted by the Romans as “Sibella”/”Sibyl”? We will recall that this Thracian goddess is the personification of the almighty power that gives birth to life, symbolizes the reviving nature and fertility. She is also the patroness of the mountains, forests and wild beasts, with which in those distant times the centuries-old forests of Strandja were full… The Great Mother Goddess also has another Thracian name or nickname – Kotito, worn in its male form “Kotis” by several famous Odrysian kings! It is worth asking whether the “royal name” of Vasilikos does not reflect the connection of the sanctuary with the ancient rulers? Accordingly, the “royal name” remained as a memory of a holy place in the time of the Byzantine Basileuses and the Bulgarian kings? Let’s hope that future studies will shed light on these still hypothetical and somewhat “fantastic” possibilities…
Based on the findings from Tsarevo, Dr. Milen Nikolov presents arguments and parallels that lead to an even more serious understanding of the role of the ancient Thracians and their culture on our Black Sea coast. The hitherto unknown sanctuary existed in direct connection with a nearby Thracian settlement from the Late Archaic and Hellenistic eras. As we can see, regardless of historical vicissitudes, the sanctuary has “passed the baton” of a holy place to the Christian temple, which inherited it after centuries – a phenomenon known from many other examples in our lands and throughout the world.
Analyzing the newly discovered archaeological material, Dr. Milen Nikolov shows that the territory of Tsarevo in antiquity and the Middle Ages was full of economic life. The researcher justifiably emphasizes a report by al-Idrisi, according to which Vasiliko existed in the first half of the 12th century. As is known, the Arab geographer living in Palermo, patronized by the Sicilian Norman kings, relied on older information. In such a case, the growth of Vasiliko as a commercial center should be attributed to the preceding 11th century, if not earlier. Archaeological data testify to a stronger development of Vasiliko in the 13th century and the following centuries. It is a fact that Italian documents from the 14th century report the export of Bulgarian wheat through the port of Vasiliko. The city developed intensively in the 16th-19th centuries, and perhaps because of this, its fortress walls, if it had any, have not survived.
Archaeological evidence researched by Dr. Milen Nikolov shows that in the history of Vasiliko there were also periods when the site of the city was almost uninhabited. Who knows why this happens, for example, in the Roman era… There were probably other “crashes” and boom times that we still don’t have information about. Yet, most importantly, history confirms Vasiliko’s close ties with the neighboring and famous Ahtopol, as well as with the mountain settlements in Strandzha. Of course, this is still the case today, but only future research will help to more fully understand the past of the city and its area. The first decisive step has already been taken.