Kabile: When One Is Curious

Letters to the Editor | Author: Yoav Chudnoff |May 13, 2015, Wednesday // 06:45
Bulgaria: Kabile: When One Is Curious Photos by Yoav Chudnoff

Novinite is publishing another travelogue by Yoav Chudnoff, who recently visited the National Architectural Reserve of Kabile, located near the town of Yambol in southeast Bulgaria and is one of the country's 100 Tourist Sites.

You can read more by - and about - Yoav Chudnoff here.

I have been traveling back and forth from Sofia to Sinemorets for the past 17 years where we have a small bed and breakfast. When the new section of the Sofia – Bourgas Trakia Highway opened up several years ago it cut the driving time by several hours. Driving along the highway right after the Shumen - Yambol exit at kilometre 283, one can see a blue sign 'НАР Кабиле – NAR Kabile.' The sign being blue along with the international signage for Rest Stop, Bathroom, Running Water and Parking tells me that there is nothing special there, so I always kept on driving past it. When there was someone in the car and I approached this blue sign, I would ask: "Do you have any idea what NAR Kabile is?" No one knew – no thoughts, no speculations. The exit looked like a rest stop with parking.  No one took notice as there was nothing special about it.

Over the May 1 weekend, I decided to head off to Sinemorets and had my wife's cousin join me on the trip. As he was from the region, I thought maybe he would know; he didn't know. So there we were driving slowly approaching the now infamous kilometre 283, I could no longer hold myself back; “Shall we check it out. We're not in a rush.” “Sure, the only thing that I can think of is that a NAR could be a fruit or a wood plank bench where one could relax on, other than that, I wouldn't know what else it could be… maybe it’s the rest stop based on the latter translation.” We got off the highway, drove through the parking lot following the signage. The road took us over the highway bridge and about kilometre later; we arrived at a fairly new and smart looking complex: NAR Kabile. The mystery was finally solved; a sign informs you that you have arrived at the НационалниятархеологическирезерватКабиле НАР – National Architectural Reserve Kabile NAR.

According to the well written signage at the Reserve, Kabile was first settled over four thousand years ago when a cult-related construction was built on top of the 300 metre high Зайчивръх - Zaychivruh (Rabbits' Peak or Tav?an tepe in Turkish).

The first archaeological expedition to Kabile was conducted in 1912 under the auspices of Bogdan Filov.

Should I dare to stray from the story?? Indeed I Shall!  This is the same Bogdan Filov who later became Prime Minister of Bulgaria in 1940. The one and only Bogdan Filov who enacted the infamous 'Law for Protection of the Nation.' The same chap who, among others, in 1943, sent eleven thousand Jews from the newly annexed territories during World War II to their deaths. His hand was finally forced by a vocal Bulgarian nation, church, intellectuals, politicians and had to back down from deporting Bulgaria's Jews from the 'Old Lands.' It was because of the Bulgarian nation as a whole which made Bulgaria the only Nazi German ally which did not send their 'old lands' Jews to their death during World War II. My apologies for the digression.

During work in Kabile in the 1980's, archaeologist Velizar Velkov realised that Kabile and Rabbits' Peak was actually settled much more earlier than it was thought after discovering pieces of pottery during one of his many expeditions dating back to the Early Iron Age twelve thousand years ago.

The name Kabile is said to originate from Cybela, which, according to Velkov, derived from Sabazius, who, according to Thracian mythology, was the nomadic horseman and sky father. The peak was also most likely used as a solar observatory and sanctuary during the ancient Thracian times based on how the boulders were organised at the top of the Peak. There are also several engravings embedded on some of the boulders depicting Sabazius as well as the Thracian goddess of the moon, the huntress Bendis. The ancient Greeks knew her by the name Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo. Sometimes she is also referred to as Artemis Bendis as the ancient Greeks adopted many of their gods from the Thracians. For example Sabazius became Zeus. Another example is the Latin word for God, Deus both based on the Sabazius suffix 'zius.'  If you want to feel like a Thracian sun worshipper, you could visit Rabbits’ Peak on 22 June of each year before sunrise in order to find out for yourself how accurate the observatory is, it may be worth the walk.

Over the millennia, Kabile played an important role as a major transit centre. It was for this reason, Phillip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, conquered the city in 342/341 BCE making it a major military outpost. During the Hellenistic period that followed under the Thracian ruler Seuthes III, a temple dedicated to Artemis as well as a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo were built there which also signified the importance of the city. By the end of the 4th century BCE, Kabile became the capital of the Odrysian paradynast (co-ruler) Spartok. Kabile had its own mint with coins, many with the depiction of Spartok on one side and Artemis on the reverse. By the time of the Celtic invasion, Kabile lost its position as a royal city but remained an important trade centre. At the beginning of the 1st century BCE, Kabile was first conquered and then destroyed by the Roman Consul and governor of Macedonia, Marcus Lucullus (Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus if you really want the full name) as a punitive measure for Thracian support of the 'defender' of Hellenic tradition and culture, Mithridates VI. Throughout the remainder of the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE, Kabile remained an important trade centre. At the beginning of the 4th century with the advent of Christianity, Kabile became an episcopal centre and a large Bishop's Basilica was built there, most likely on top of the Hellenic temple. It was not unitil the end of the 6th century, after numerous invasions, that Kabile finally fell at the hands of the Avars heralding the end of Kabile's importance. A quick footnote here, the Avars actually played an important role as to how and why the First Bulgarian Kingdom was established. But that is another story.

I would recommend that you start your visit at Rabbits’ Peak. If you do not have the energy, or just plain out of shape, it is your loss. From the top of the Peak, you can walk around and discover the engravings of Sabazius  and Artemis, one of the gates to the city as well as the Thracian tower and sanctuary all whist taking in the commanding view of the Tundzha River valley below you.

After taking in the view of the valley from Rabbits' Peak, walk back down the path towards the granary, from there, if you are in a rush, take a left and head towards the large early 4th century Basilica. If not make a right a walk to the large Roman military encampment. There you will find the remains of a commercial centre, baths, barracks and much more. Following the marked path from the encampment you will reach another encampment as well as one of the outer defensive walls. The smaller Basilica No 2. is located right off the path at the edge of the larger Roman Encampment. This smaller Basilica was most likely used by the encampment residents. As you are walking towards the Roman baths, you will see the eastern gate of Kabile. The Roman are constructed in a series of four baths. As you explore the baths, you will see the foundation outlines depicting the lower and upper sections of the baths as well as the furnaces which heated the water for the baths.   

Your next stop is Basilica No. 1, located near the large wooden fortress. Basilica No. 1 is the larger of the two found in Kabile. Kabile being an important Roman city in Thrace became an Episcopal centre with its own bishop during the rise of Christianity across the Roman Empire. Based on coinage found in and around the Basilica, it is believed that it dates back to 313 CE, eight years prior to the Roman Emperor Constantine legalizing Christianity in 321 throughout the Roman Empire. It made sense that this would be the major seat of Christianity in the region. This also predates the future acceptance of Christianity during the First Bulgarian Kingdom by over five hundred years later under Boris I (864CE). Although only the foundation of the Basilica remains, one can tell just by looking at the foundation that the size that the Basilica must have been impressive. There are several large photographs of the mosaic floors that were found in the building during excavation work providing you with a perspective of the Basilica's wealth. One section of the original mosaic is can be found on display at the Reserve's museum (your last stop).

Across from the Basilica, you will find a reconstructed Roman legion camp (the large wooden fortress). There are sometimes Roman reenactments held there during May or June. Once you have walked around the complex, you should visit the museum. The entry fee is only 4BGN. There you will find many items discovered in and around the Reserve such as coins minted in Kabile, pottery, cult figurines, columns and more.  Everything is well marked. You can pick up an informational brochure about Kabile from where you purchase your museum ticket(s).

This is an excellent article 'Cabyle – The City,' which explains not only the history, but how the Rabbits' Peak was utilised over the course of eleven thousand years.

All in all, if you are not in a rush to get to the coast, this would be a welcome stop on the way.

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Tags: Kabile, Thracian, Zeus

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