Largest Ancient Christian Church Discovered in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains
A Christian Church from the 5th century was recently discovered in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains during excavations of the ancient city of Perperikon.
The Sega Daily reports that archaeologists have classified the new temple as an Early Byzantine Bishop’s Basilica (or church). This is the third Christian church that has been discovered in Perperikon since excavations began 17 years ago.
The temple’s ruins have been discovered by Professor Nikolay Ovcharov’s team of archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.
The team believes that once excavations of this temple are complete, the church will measure to be 40 meters long, making it the largest Christian Church discovered in the Rhodope Mountains. So far, only the central part of the ancient Christian site has been unearthed and measures to be 15 meters wide and 25 meters long.
Archaeologists estimate that the original version of the temple existed until the 7th century and was later rebuilt several times after the church was abandoned following the decline of the Byzantium empire.
During the excavations, Nikolay Ovcharov and his team also found 25 tombs during the time of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 13th century. Although three of the tombs appear to have already been robbed, twenty-two of them remain intact.
Although Ovcharov’s team will start opening up the ancient tombs soon, excavations on the newly found Christian Church are planned to continue through 2017 and they are excited about what else they could potentially discover. Nikolay Ovcharov told bTV:
This is something truly unique. We had assumed that there might be a cathedral [in Perperikon] but it was really a surprise for that it has turned out to be of such size comparable with the largest Early Christian basilicas that have been discovered in Bulgaria and the Balkans so far.
Since his team started excavating this new site on June 20, 2016, Ovcharov knew that he was on to something “monumental”. In an interview with Radio FOCUS about a month after the initial discovery of the third Christian Church in Perperikon, Ovcharov talks about how important his discoveries are to the Rhodope region:
The municipalities need these monuments, this fresh blood, because many things in the Eastern Rhodopes are already gone…There is no mining industry, no tobacco production. All these things are replaced by cultural tourism.
Archaeologists have already revealed to the media some of the most interesting artifacts found on the site of the largest Christian church in the Rhodopes, including a Roman ring from the 3rd century and a horse ammunition buckle from the 4th century.
One can only wonder what they will discover next.
The ruins of the Thracian fortress of Perperikon are located in the Rhodope Mountains, 250 km from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Attracting over 250 thousand tourists per year, Perperikon is one of the most popular historical sites in Bulgaria.