The mission of the Municipal Cultural Institute /Museum/ – Byala is to preserve the material and non-material cultural and historical monuments, traditions and rituals in the territory of Byala Municipality for the present and future generations.
The Municipal Cultural Institute /Museum/ – Byala was registered as a cultural organization on August 2, 2012. The museum was established in order to preserve the material cultural and historical monuments discovered during the archaeological excavations at Cape St. Atanas.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE AT CAPE ST. ATANAS
Since the middle of 2009 at Cape St. Atanas, located 3 km south of the town of Byala, archaeological research has been carried out. The archaeological site is multilayered. Materials were found from the Classical Era to Late Antiquity (6th century BC – 7th century AD).
THRACIAN CULT CENTER DURING CLASSICAL ANTIQUITY
FROM 6TH CENTURY BC TO THE BEGINNING OF 1ST CENTURY AD
In various segments of the southeastern part of the cape, more than 120 cult pits, several furnaces for daily use, remains of dozens of sacrificial fires (escharat), and a Thracian temple were excavated – all dated in the early cultural layer (6th century BC until the beginning of the 1st century AD). The characteristic “Thracian Cult Center” for the structures in this part of Cape St. Atanas is confirmed by dozens of interesting ceramics, coins and other finds. The complete archaeological research and scientific analysis of the Thracian cult center is yet to come, but it is clear that it is a new valuable source of historic information for the local Thracian population.
SANCTUARY OF HERACLES DURING ROMAN IMPERIAL PERIOD
FROM 2ND TO 3RD CENTURY AD
Again at the southeastern end of Cape St. Atanas, the remains of a large building and six marble statutes, sculptural compositions and votive tablets were discovered. The sculptural compositions depict different scenes from the exploits of the ancient Greek demigod Heracles. Heracles (Roman Hercules) was worshiped in the Balkans by Greeks, Thracians and Romans. The inscriptions on the basis of three of the compositions as well as the artistic style date back to the 2nd-3rd century AD. In the vicinity of the above-mentioned location several Roman bronze coins from the first half of the 3rd century AD were also found. These findings are a testimony that on Cape St. Atanas during the Roman imperial period, there was a sanctuary dedicated to Heracles.
FORTRESS AND SMALL PORT TOWN DURING LATE ANTIQUITY
FROM 4TH TO 7TH CENTURY AD
Considering the location of the fortress on a cape that closes and protects a little bay, it could also be regarded as a small port town. The bay was certainly a suitable harbor aimed for small vessels used mainly for trade purposes.
As it often happened with the fortified sites during the Antiquity at times of war, the fortress served as a refuge place (refugium) for the residents of the villages of the region. The fortification line consisted of a stone wall and a moat in front of it. The length of the fortification line was about 250 meters and closed an area of just over 35 acres. A street with a pavement of large slabs of stone started from the middle of the fortress wall where the main gate was located. Such streets, called “mese”, were characteristic of late antique cities. The “mese” was the main commercial artery of the ancient city. Around it, have been explored a little more than thirty stone-built buildings and outbuildings around them – wooden sheds, deep dug cellars and so on. The buildings had different purposes – mainly dwellings, but also served as craft workshops, warehouses, shops, pubs/“ergasteria”. Three wineries have been discovered, showing that the cultivation of vineyards and the production of wine has been one of the main livelihoods of the population. A small public bath was also explored in the fortress at Cape St. Atanas.
In addition to industrial, commercial and transportation functions, the “mese” was also the “communal” street (demosia odo). Some of the official processions were following the “mese”. Naturally, the processions started or ended in front of the main Christian temple – the basilica. The Early Christian Sacral Compound of the Late Antique Fortress at Cape St. Atanas includes a basilica, a bishop’s residence, two baptisteries, a repository for ecclesiastical gifts and a holy water well.
Two baptisteries were found at the Early Christian Sacral Compound – one in the basilica and another, north of it with two periods of use. The walls of the baptistery in the basilica were decorated with frescoes – an image of Jesus Christ and inscriptions – MARI[A] and HIE[S]VS. South of the basilica was the residence of the Chora-Bishop (chief priest of the region). Among the many interesting discoveries from the Early Christian Sacral Compound is the bishop’s gold ring. The upper part of the ring is a flower cup on which a little dome is placed. The dome represents schematically the first built rotunda over the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem – the most revered shrine of Christianity.
Behind the walls of the small port city, there was an active economic life – mainly trade, more craftsmanship and less agriculture. The population of the antique city in the 6th century was probably over 1000 people. In the 5th century the fortress became a center for turning the local population from the old religions in Christianity. The ancient fortress experienced several natural cataclysms and barbaric invasions, but afterwards it managed to recover until 614 when it was finally burned and abandoned during the Avaro-Slavic invasion of that year.
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE TODAY
By the end of 2013 the Municipality of Byala completed a project for restoration and exhibition of historic buildings from the Late Antique Fortress. The basilica, the two baptisteries and the largest winery were completely restored. From 2014 the Late Antique Fortress at Cape St. Atanas is open to visitors.