The Secrets of Palmate Revealed!

The Secrets of Palmate Revealed!

Exciting excavations at the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine Fortress of Palmate in North Bulgaria have revealed how the city was conquered and ransacked by at least two invading forces. Starting in Summer 2016, the team led by Professor Kazimire Popkonstantinov have managed to excavate the foundations of the impressive Early Christian Basilica and reconstruct it. This has revealed new information about the demise of the city in the late 6th and early 7th Centuries, and its partial revival during the First Bulgarian Empire.

“The archaeological research has succeeded in restoring not just the blueprint and the composition of the basilica, but also important moments from the dramatic events that led to the destruction of the fortress of Palmate”, the team says.

Built upon the settlement of the powerful ancient Thracian Getae tribe, Palmate rose to prominence after the division of the Roman Empire. It was transformed from an Early Roman town to a large fortified Early Byzantine fortress due to its location on the border, between the Late Roman provinces of Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor. It is also on the important trade road from ancient Durostorum (present day Silistra) to Marcianopolis (Devnya) on the Black Sea, coast close to the important port of ancient Odessos.

Palmate was a large fortress with twenty towers, two gates guarding the road and total fortified areas covering of fifty-five acres. There was a fortified religious centre close to its residential quarters - an Early Christian rock monastery on a nearby ridge called Shan Kaya. This helped the city to become “…an extremely important secular, religious and administrative centre”, according to Popkonstantinov’s team.

However, evidence pieced together from the excavations show that Palmate’s times of prosperity did not to last. The city was conquered and looted at least twice, once in the late 6th century, and again in the early 7th century. These successive occupations coincide with the raids conducted by the Avars, an ancient Bulgarian tribe, and the Slavs, who repeatedly ravaged the northern borders of the Byzantine Empire.

The archaeological team has discovered that part of the city was abandoned after the first barbarian conquest. It appears that the remnants of the garrison and surviving inhabitants divided the city in half, living in the more easily defensible half and leaving the more vulnerable half to the wild. During this time, the basilica underwent some restructuring, including the apse being narrowed to greater resemble a bishop’s temple.

Despite their best efforts, the new fortifications did nothing to stop the second conquest. This time, the brave defenders were either executed or exiled. In their absence, a new population settled in the ruins, using stone from the fortress and basilica as building material. Evidence suggests that this barbarian settlement was burned down shortly after its construction. The city was then abandoned for more than a century.

The city experienced a revival with the advent of the First Bulgarian Empire, which lasted from 632 - 1018 AD and became a European superpower in the Middle Ages. It was one of the many cities gained from the Byzantines after the bloody and chaotic Battle of Ongal in 680 AD.

Palmate is one of the many intriguing archaeological stories that are to be found in Bulgaria, one of the most exciting locations for new discoveries in recent times. Our tour, departing in August 2019, explores the greatest of these discoveries, from an 8000-year-old Neolithic settlement to the ruins of ancient Philippopolis, including a day at the working archaeological site of Nicopolis ad Istrum, discovered and unearthed by our expert guide, Professor Poulter, between 1985 to 1996. Founded by Emperor Trajan, Nicopolis ad Istrum was an important cultural and economic hub that rose and fell in power and popularity before being destroyed and abandoned during the Avar raids in the late 6th century. Many of the archaeological treasures open to the public include the Temple of Cybele and the unique termoperiatos, with new ones being revealed all the time. The latest discovery was a stone relief of gladiators fighting, uncovered in September this year.


Added: 5th December 2018

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