За укрепителната система на средновековна Варна

Of the fortification system of medieval Varna

  • Pavel Georgiev Branch of the National Institute ofArcheology with Museum – Shoumen, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Keywords: Odessos – Varna, Late Antique and Medieval Fortification


In this article the author reviews the data about a section of the medieval fortress wall excavated in 2005 in the oldest and highest part of the Ancient Odessos. Based on the published geodetic plan, as well as on unpublished photographs made after the wall was exposed and during its partial dismantlement, he makes new observations and conclusions regarding its structure and relation to previous and contemporary constructions such as street pavements, channels, water pipes, etc. A conclusion is made that several entrances existed consecutively along the 25 m stretch of the uncovered wall. The entrances, as well as several of the pavements and the channels passing through them or located nearby, are situated along a Late Antique cardo and are part of a street that served as a link to large and durable ancient constructions and to the Large Roman Baths. Outside of the limits of the medieval city, the street passed through abandoned neighbourhoods and headed to an Old-Christian urban basilica and from there further north and north-west.

The structure of the wall and particularly the lack of towers at the entrances shows that it was not part of a separate fortress, as currently presumed, but a relatively low (up to 4 m high) barrier. Most probably the wall followed the highest possible points of the terrain and her both ends headed towards the ancient fortification located nearby. Judging by earlier and contemporary evidence, at the seaside the ancient fortress wall existed until the 15th – 16th c.

Taking into account three main factors – the relief of the terrain, the presence of well preserved Late Antique buildings, and the nearby key points of the Romano-Byzantine fortification, the author presumes that the medieval fortress occupied the entire cape part of Odessos and enclosed an area of 10 ha. With the construction of a new defensive line from north and north-west only, the fortified area of Varna comprised no more than one third of the total fortified area of Odessos. From this point of view this can be considered as a consequence of the reduction of the size of the ancient cities, a practice adopted in Byzantium in the 5th – 6th c., but also applied in the later centuries. It has to be noted that Varna’s transformation from an ancient to a medieval fortress happened relatively late. If we assume that the fortress wall was constructed in the first two decades of the 11th c., as stated by V. Pletniov, this transformation should have resulted from an imperial initiative for restoration of the city and integration of its citizens after the decline of the First Bulgarian Kingdom.

Integrating his own conclusions among the data about the defensive system of Varna collected so far, the author points out that the fortress under consideration is a “hybrid“ between the Early and Middle Byzantine defensive system of the city and represents only its outer belt. The inner fortress, as mainly established by Al. Kuzev, was the fortress “Kale ichi” (literally from Turkish – Inner fortress), which existed until 1830. After commenting upon well-known Byzantine literary sources, the author concludes that the fortress (or a part of it) was used as a citadel at least since the late 12th c. and not after the mid – 13th c. It is possible that some early construction phases were contemporary to the construction of the outer defensive ring, or were immediately subsequent.

In this regard, the author reminds about the rejected hypothesis of the Shkorpil brothers, that the Roman Baths or parts of them, located at the highest point of Odessos, could have been used as an “acropolis” and as an “inner fortification” since the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

How to Cite
Georgiev, P. (2019). За укрепителната система на средновековна Варна. Contributions to the Bulgarian Archeology / Приноси към българската археология, 9, 81-110. Retrieved from http://series.naim.bg/index.php/CBA/article/view/100