Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Major Church Built by Byzantium's Last Emperors

Society » ARCHAEOLOGY | July 7, 2011, Thursday // 14:29
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Major Church Built by Byzantium's Last Emperors A computer image of the original look of the church of the St. Apostles monastery near Bulgaria's Sozopol. Photo by National History Museum

Bulgarian archaeologists have unearthed the main church of a 14th century Byzantine monastery built by the last dynasty of the Eastern Roman Empire located in the Black Sea town of Sozopol.

The team of archaeologist Dr. Krastina Panayotova from the National Archaeology Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences has completed the first stage of the excavations of the St. Apostles Monastery and of a medieval feudal castle at the Cape of Sozopol.

During the excavations funded by the Bulgarian government, Panayotova's team has uncovered the monastery church, a small cemetery chapel, and a feudal castle dating back to the 13th-15th century, the last days before the Byzantine Empire before it was wiped out of the map by the Ottoman Turkish invaders.

Today's Bulgarian resort towns of Sozopol and Nessebar themselves were among the last Byzantine possessions to be conquered by the Ottoman Turks – they fell only in 1459 AD, 6 years after Constantinople. The two towns were first conquered by the First Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages but their possession went back and forth between Bulgaria and Byzantium.

The newly-uncovered church of the medieval St. Apostles monastery was built around 1335 AD by Anasthasius Palaiologos, uncle of the Byzantine Emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391), and a relative of the Bulgarian Tsar Mihail Shishman (r. 1323-1330).

According to the Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum Bozhidar Dimitrov, the church was the largest and most beautiful church along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It is 24 m long and 16 m wide, and is located on the Cape of Sozopol. Thus, it could be seen from all towns in the entire Gulf of Burgas – from the Cape of Emine to the Cape of Maslen Nos.

A total of 120 dignitaries were buried near the church; most of them were military officers because they were found to have been wearing boots with iron attachments. The Bulgarian archaeologists have found that one of them was buried with a sophisticated medallion depicting the Birth of Christ, and the grave of a young woman contained a bad with 65 silver and copper coins.

The Bulgarian National History Museum announced Thursday that the "emergency conservation" of the newly uncovered top archaeological find will be stared in the coming days.

During a recent visit to Sozopol on June 25, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Finance Minister Simeon Djankov were "deeply impressed" with the find and have expressed readiness to provide further government money for the restoration of the largest Christian church along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast as part of the government's plans to boost the development of cultural and religious tourism.

According to museum head Dimitrov, the state funding will be allotted as soon as the concept submitted by Plamen Tsanev, an architect from Veliko Tarnovo, gets an approval. Tsanev has designed the restoration of the St. Cyril and St. Methodius church in Sozopol.

The church has recently hosted the relics of St. John the Baptist which were found in the monastery on the St. Ivan Island off Sozopol's coast in the summer of 2010 by archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov.

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Tags: National History Museum, National Archaeology Institute, Krastina Panayotova, St. Apostles and 20 000 Martyrs monastery, church, Ottoman Empire, Ottoman Turkey, John V Palaiologos, Anasthasius Palaiologos, St. John the Baptist, Black Sea, Black Sea coast, Constantinople, Nessebar, Byzantine Empire, Byzantium, Sozopol, archaeologist, archaeologists, archaeology, First Bulgarian Empire, Second Bulgarian Empire, Tsar Mihail Shishman

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