In my opinion there are other and more urgent priorities in Bulgaria than to stimulate tourism and archaeological projects, but their Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister apparently think otherwise. They have decided to spend 3,5 million Leva (approx. 12,25 million Euros) to the whole project.
A share of 3,5 million Leva (approx. 1,75 million Euros) is being allotted to boost tourism in the Valley of the Thracian Kings in the Kazanlak area and to study a Thracian tomb near the village of Buzovgrad. One million Leva will go towards archaeological studies, two millions towards infrastructure and 500,000 Leva to improving water supply and sanitation. Bulgarian authorities hope that the Valley of the Thracian Kings will be added to UNESCO’s list of protected cultural heritage since their plan is to link ten Thracian tombs together.
These Thracian tombs deserve much more attention than they are getting presently for they are so unique! Several years ago I was able to visit the Kazanlak Tomb and I was very disappointed to learn on the spot that I only would see a replica since the original tomb was sealed off to protect it from outside influences; the inside air was kept at a steady temperature to guarantee the highest possible conservation level. A very understandable measure, of course, but utterly disappointing when you come all the way to see a mere copy. I hope that this new project will enable the curious visitor to see at least some of the magnificent original wall-paintings.
This was after visiting an exhibition about the history of Bulgaria. It was an overwhelming experience and I remember how I stared at the map of Bulgaria in an unsuccessful attempt to recognize any of the cities. All I could match with my memory was the capital Sofia and the city of Plovdiv because this was ancient Philippopolis founded by Philip II of Macedonia. That the country was bordered on the north by Romania and in the south by Greece was also obvious as well as his eastern frontier touching the Black Sea – but that’s about it. The exhibited artifacts were stunning, reaching back as far as 8,000 BC. This date in time was so abstract that when I reached the showcases with pieces from 800 BC I thought I was walking in circles! The artifacts showed such high level a craftsmanship, such eye for details, such delicate and intricate work of precious metals, wood, bone, etc that I was completely baffled. I had no idea.
This led me to visit Bulgaria in order to know more of its history and one of the highlights for me obviously was Kazanlak, a city founded in the 7th century BC by the Thracians with a unique tomb that was discovered by chance in 1944 while digging around the Roman Baths built on top of it. The word "kazan" literally means "still", very much like the stills used till recently in the rose industry.
The Kazanlak Tomb, built during the 4th/3rd century BC, was smaller than I expected and counted three distinct rooms: the entrance where the guests gathered for the funeral; a corridor with pointed arched ceiling that reminded me of Agamemnon’s tomb although this one was painted; and finally the inner chamber where the walls and the circular ceiling were covered with frescos as well. The quality of these paintings clearly showed Greek influence yet executed conforming to Thracian traditions, how amazing! A novelty in those days was the perspective achieved by creating the light and shade effect.
The Thracians could take up to six wives and their favorite, generally the youngest one, was “allowed” to accompany her husband to the hereafter – a definite honor. Depends upon your opinion, of course. They considered that dying was a happy event because babies cried when they came in this world, meaning that the place they just left must simply be a better one. This is why the deceased is represented accompanied by his favorite wife and also with a number of horses which were highly prized.
Evidently, there are many more tombs to visit, like the one of Buzovgrad mentioned above but also, I suppose, many others. The ones coming to my mind are for instance the Ostrusha Tumulus near Shipka that counted six rooms; the Svetitzata Tumulus from the 5th century BC that was still sealed and contained a stunning massive gold phial in the shape of a gold mask like those discovered in Mycenae and Macedonia although this one was made from a much thicker sheet of gold; and finally the Kosmatka Tumulus containing a splendid temple with impressive façade where King Seuthes III, the founder of Seuthopolis was buried in the early 3rd century BC. His magnificent head made of bronze shows a good-looking man, inspiring intelligence, and nobility, certainly not the traits of a barbarian as one might think.
In fact, I can’t wait till these unique tombs and tumuli are fully made accessible to the public, another priority to put on my list!