A RELIGIOUS CENTER FOR 25 CENTURIES
Cultural heritage is an essential part of Europe’s cultural diversity and shared history. On the occasion of European Heritage Days, the Municipal Cultural Institute /Museum/ – Byala joins the initiatives with an interview with Assoc. Prof. Dr. Valeri Yotov – supervisor of the archaeological excavations at Cape St. Atanas.
Associate Professor Dr. Valeri Yotov was born in 1954 in Dobrich. He graduated history at the “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” University of Veliko Tarnovo. He works in the Archaeological Museum in Varna. He participated in more than 15 archaeological expeditions, 7 of which as a supervisor. He is the author of two scientific monographs, over 70 scientific articles, 10 scientific editorials of books and catalogs. He is compiler, author and editor of the scientific series Studia Militaria Balcanica. He has taken part in over 80 national and international scientific forums. He is leading specialist in the study of antique and medieval weapons and armor.
Professor Yotov how many cultural layers have you discovered at Cape St. Atanas?
There are two main cultural or in other words – two archaeological horizons at Cape St. Atanas. Of course, the archaeological research always starts from the top, in this case – the main horizon, which covers period from the middle of IV century till the beginning of VII century and is connected to the Antique fortress, the early Christian complex (the basilica, the three baptismals, the bishop’s residence, the holy water well, the three wineries), the late antique bath, residential and commercial buildings.
The second archaeological horizon refers to the period from V century BC until I century AD. It is difficult to hypothesize about the time gap between these two archaeological horizons as we lack enough historical evidence.
What are the main findings from the second (earlier) archaeological horizon?
The earlier archaeological horizon is presented by several main groups of monuments. In various sectors of the southeastern part of the cape – the one that is most jutted out into the sea, we discovered and studied more than 120 pits, which we define as religious pits. The filling of the pits is monotonous, over 85% ceramics and building ceramics – tiles. In some pits we found other objects as well as coins. Another group of monuments are the household furnaces and the clay sacrificial fires “eschar” – all dated to the earlier cultural layer (from VI century BC until the beginning of I century AD).
Last but not least close to the present lighthouse we found so far the only architectural structure from the period – a large rectangular building with stone walls, which dates back to III-II century BC. Traces of burned wooden beams that were discovered below the foundations of the building showed that the stone structure was built onto an even more antient wooden one with an earlier dating – perhaps from IV century BC. We characterized the oldest structure as “Thracian cult center” as it was confirmed by many interesting findings in this part of Cape St. Atanas – all dating from V to II century BC.
So, the second, earlier archaeological horizon leads to the conclusion that in the first centuries of Greek colonization of the western Black Sea coast (VI-V century. BC.) Cape St. Atanas was a religious center. The local population gathered here for various festivals, feasts and pagan rituals were performed sacrificing gifts to the gods into the pits. The memory of the religious significance of the area remained during the beginning of early Christianity. In IV century AD here was build a basilica, baptismals, etc. In other words the religious significance of the place remained. The tradition continued into contemporary times – the people of Byala still keep a memory of Cape St. Atanas by another name – the “monastery”.