Aqaue calidae

Aqaue calidae

Head of archaeological research: Phd.Tsonya Drazheva (2005-2013) and Dr.Dimcho Momchilov (2012-2013), Deputy Head of research: Miroslav Klasnakov and Stefan Bakardzhiev

Aquae Calidae – Therma, the city of the hot mineral baths Burgas, Bulgaria

The Thracian sanctuary of the Three nymphs

15km northwest of Burgas is home to the most popular mineral baths in Southern Thrace. Аlready by the middle of the 1st millennium BC, people have been using the unique combination of hot springs with healing mud of the nearby lake Atanasovsko and the salty sea water. The findings indicate that the healing qualities of the hot springs were known already in the Neolithic, when close by were established three settlements from the 6th – 5th millennium BC. Around the 1st millennium BC the Thracians turned this spring into the most celebrated sanctuary of the Three nymph, which attracted many pilgrims along the centuries. The popularity of the Burgas mineral spring’s healing powers spread far beyond the Balkans. Best information that our findings provide, come from numerous coins (over 4000 pieces) found during cleaning of the spring’s old piping in 1910 and 1994. They had been thrown as a gift from visitors coming from all major centers of ancient Thrace and Greece, the Pontius coast, the Aegean islands, ancient Macedonia and Italy to be healed here. The earliest coin found was minted in Apollonia (Sozopol) in the beginning of the 5th century BC – a silver drachma, type “standing anchor-swastika”. Found were also coins belonging to Thracian rulers from the capital of the Thracian Odris kingdom Seuthopolis, from Kabile, Messambria, Odessos, Istria and Tomi in Romania, Byzantion, Abdera, Maroneia, Lizimahia of the straits, the Sea of Marmara etc.

Roman Baths
The first bath at the sanctuary of the Three nymph near Burgas was built when the Romans conquered the Thracian lands in the middle of the 1st century AD. This is only natural; namely the Roman public baths provided the new philosophy of the Roman society on a combination of the utilitarian and cultural needs of the Roman citizens. In the baths they were not only indulged in wellness and sport games but also cultural entertainment, poetry, music and political debate.
At the time of Emperor Trajan (98 – 117) the construction of roads and public baths were an act of the Roman state policy in the creation of new urban centres along the provinces of the empire. The Emperor himself was a great fan of mineral springs, which played an important role in the selection of the first centres in the autonomous province of Thrace.
The old Thracian settlements, known for their mineral springs: Serdika (Sofia), Pautalia (Kyustendil), Nicopolis ad Nestrum (near Gotse Delchev) and Anhialo (Pomorie) became autonomous. The choice of Ahialo as an administrative center of the region is strongly influenced by its proximity to the ancient healing wellness resort, which was developed into public baths with two large pools. At the same time a major Roman road was built in the passageway Dyulevski connecting the new city Martsianopol (Devnya) with Anhialo and Adrianopolis. An important road station called Aqaue Calidae was situated at the public baths. Its strategic location on the link between the coastal road from the pass Dyulevski crossing with the roadway under the slopes of the Balkan mountains, expanded enormously the popularity of the fortress during the next centuries. This fortress appears on the earliest Roman maps of today Bulgarian lands from the middle of the 2nd century AD, and it is often present in the geographical and historical sources. Aqaue Calidae was most famous for its sanctuary of the Three nymphs called in the Roman times “The nymph of Anhialo” and the baths were known as “the baths of Anhialo” due to their proximity to the administrative center Anhialo. During the reign of another Roman emperor Septimius Severus (209-211), who was also a fan of the mineral baths, special celebrations and games called “Severia Nymphea” was held here regularly for more than three years.
The earliest trace of the name "Aqaue Calidae" was found in the old Roman map Tabula Peutingeriana as a road station situated between Anhialo /Pomorie/ and Kabile /near Yambol/.

The first description of the town Aqaue Calidae is delivered in the writings “Roman history” by the Gothic historian Jordan /5th century/, which describes the Gothic raids during 257-270 AD over the cities along the western Black Sea coast, when they were plundered and burnt to the ground. The city Aqaue Calidae took heavy damage, but the hot mineral baths were saved. During the 257-270 AD the Gothic tribes terving and carp prey and burnt down Anhialo and stopped at the nearby standing Aqaue Calidae. About the attitude of the Goths in relation to the healing baths, the Gothic historian Jordan dedicated a special text:
"Here they remain many days and enjoyed the baths with hot water, which is situated at the twelfth billion pillar from the city Anhialo and gush from the depths of fire springs.”

The increasing danger of barbarian attacks induced the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I /527-565/ to protect for the first time the city Aqaue Calidae and its famous baths with a fortress wall. The historian Procopius of Caesarea reported in his writings De Aedificiis (On Buildings) about the construction:
"The Thracians inhabited a coastal city on Pontos Evksinos named Anhialo ... there, not too far away from the city, springs are gushing natural hot water, which form by itself public baths for the local population. But this village from an old times left unprotected, was ignored by the previous emperors, so even next to it settle barbarian tribes and the patients risk their lives to go there and received relief on their pains. But Emperor Justinian I surrounded it with walls and made the medical treatment safe.
Only after 30 years barbaric attacks by the avar tribes started from north, led by cruel Khan Bayan. They shed blood and violence across Thrace and the coast but the warm mineral baths had been saved. Here's how Byzantine historian Theophylact Simocatta (Greek: Theophylaktos Simokates) described this event:
"In 584 Khan Bayan reached and burned down Anhialo. He was staying at the Anhialo healing baths, which he mercy of destruction at the request of women from his harem. In one of the city churches Avars found crimson robes of the empress Anastasia, wife of the Emperor Mauricius Tiberius, who was treated here and donated the robes as a sign of gratitude. After wearing the clothes, Khan Bayan proclaimed himself Emperor of Romans."

Between Bulgaria and Byzantium
After the creation of the Bulgarian State, the town of the hot springs was named already Thermal and / or Termopolis. The place appears in center of the events at the time of the Bulgarian ruler Tervel, who was a great strategist and statesman. In 708 in the vicinity of Thermal occured one of the most shattering fights for Bezant and Emperor Justinian II. In the subsequent expansion of the Bulgarian border to the south, the city of Thermal remained part of Bulgaria. The spa resort continued existing and the city around them expanded during the next centuries. In the medieval sources, this place is called Thermae, Thermopol or Megali Termi. The fortificated city stood at the crossroad between North and South and also between the Black Sea coastline and inner Thrace, which designated its participation in all important historical events over the following centuries.
During the 12th century the Arab geographer El Idrisi described it as "Megali Termi, a small but beautiful city, rich and well-ordered. An important role in this definition is certainly assigned to the greatest wealth of the city - the thermo-mineral hot baths that Arabs know how to appreciate best. Its fate was strongly influenced by events related to the establishment of the Latin Empire in 1204 after the Crusaders’ conquest of Constantinople and the following wars with the Bulgarian King Kaloyan. After the captivity and death of the Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople (Baldwin IX Count of Flanders) in the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo, Tzarevgrad, his brother Henry II launched punitive military campaign against the Bulgarian towns south of the Balkan Mountains in the winter of 1206. The knights of the new Latin empire prosecuted conquests over Adrianopol (Edirne) and Arkadiopol (Lozengrad), they decided to house in the warm baths of La Farm, as the bath was called by the chronicler Vilarduen. After three months stay and treatment in the hot baths, they were recognized by the Latin knights for “the best in the world”, nevertheless Emperor Henry II commanded that the city together with the baths is to be burned to the ground.
After this devastating fire, the city could not recover and the baths led an unfortunate existence until 1562 when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) arrived. In gratitude for healed gout, he commanded establishment of a new oriental bath over the destroyed Roman pools.
During the renovation of the baths in 1910, Professor Bogdan Filov conducted the first archaeological survey. The old basin and piping of the spring were cleaned. Among the archaeological findings were more than 4000 coins, jewellery and other objects from the 5th century BC to the 17th century AD.
In 2008, in connection with the strengthening and renovation of the new piping of the mineral springs, started a large-scale archaeological research of the ancient and medieval castle, the hot mineral baths and other facilities on the territory of the ancient city Aqaue Calidae - Thermal.


The large-scale archaeological surveys of the ancient thermal baths near Burgas in 2009 continued three months under the direction of Head of Research Dr. Tsonya Drazheva, director of the Regional Historical Museum, and the Deputy Head of Research Dr. Dimcho Momchilov - lecturer at University Prof. Asen Zlatarov, Burgas. The excavations were funded by the Municipality of Burgas and implemented with the active assistance of Mr. Dimitar Nikolov – Mayor of Burgas. Revealing and restoring the ancient baths was of a top priority this year, which would contribute the site transformation into a national center for cultural tourism and wellness. Valuable help for the project was provided by Dr. K. Mladenov, Director of Profilaktorium Burgas mineral baths OOD.

The total area under research is approximately 3.800 square meters reaching a maximum depth of 6.3 m. to the bottom of the ancient basins.
During the latest excavation was fully revealed the central hall of the Baths, called in the antiquity "caldarium" - a place for hot mineral water procedures. It locates over a total area of 220 sq. m and has two rectangular pools with dimensions 3 x 5 meters situated on both short sides.

Found were also remains of the heating system “hypocaust” made of special clay pipes, which conducted warm air from the channels with hot water and heated the stone floor. The ancient catchment of two hot springs with temperatures between 53° and 42 ° was found on 30 m northwest and is connected to the bath with a complex system of collectors and clay pipelines.

Important discovery is the cold water catchment in the northern part of wellness complex with a depth of 5.3 m, which is also used for medical procedures under the name "frigidarium" - a pool with cold water.

Interesting results were obtained from excavation of 8 rooms in the east wing of the wellness complex, which was a possible locating of shops and catering premises. They relate to the final stage of the medieval existence of the baths between the 10th and 13th century, when they were completely burned down in 1206 by the Latin Emperor Henry the Second, brother of the Emperor Baldwin of Flanders, who was captured by Tsar Kaloyan. In this area the research team found many bronze coins of the 10th and 13th century, glass and bronze bracelets, candlesticks and balsamarii with essential oils for the massages, belonging to the visitors who used the bath.

2009’s geological drilling and archaeological analysis showed that in this place the depth of cultural layers is over 9 meters and the artifacts relate with the period between the 4th-1st millennium BC. This means that further studies could discover even earlier installations, tracing back the first occupation of these mineral springs, how they were used by the ancient people and why they were considered as sacred place.

The most valuable findings from the 2009 archaeological season were: a lead seal of a Byzantine strategist from the 11th century – a ring seal with an image of a lion with wings /griffin/, a stone mold for ornamentation of bronze female jewellery, 86 coins from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD, many ceramic vessels, fragments of architectural decoration and inscriptions.


The recent completed excavations in district Mineralni bani, Burgas uncovered new secrets about the ancient and medieval fortress Aqaue Calidae - Thermopolis and its famous mineral baths in antiquity.
After three years of studies, the city wall and its northern entrance were finally uncovered. This important discovery confirmed information of the Byzantine chronicler Procopius in his treatise De Aedificiis, "On Buildings", where he describes the constructions of Emperor Justinian I (527-565) related to the fortification of the town Aque Kalide and its famous baths with a fortress wall.
The wall thickness is 2.60 m reaching 4.85 m at the northern entrance. It has a monolith construction of processed stone blocks and rows of bricks, cemented with mortar. The wall surrounded the fortress from all sides, but best preserved is the north-eastern part.

Five lead seals were found near the entrance; they were used for stamping documents from the correspondence of military and administrative entities during the 10th-11th century. The decipher of their positions - Imperial Prōtospatharios, Chartoularios and Genimat /clerk who collects state taxes/ indicates that the fortress was of military strategic and administrative importance, located at the main road from the Balkan mountains in north to the Byzantine capital Constantinople down south. This is also confirmed by historical records of the Byzantine chroniclers (Anna Komnene "Alexiad", "Greek Sources of Bulgarian History" band VIII, p. 53). In 1093 Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos waged a war against the Cumans, who were invading the imperial territories from the northeast. To stop the raids on their Black Sea road to Constantinople, he situated part of his army to guard the passes in the eastern part of Balkan Mountains. Another part of the emperor’s army was strategically left in reserve at the fortress Thermae (ancient Aqaue Calidae).
Among the findings is a small bronze seal with a Latin inscription, which can be associated with the stay of the Latin knights of Henry Flanders in 1205 at the medieval fortress and baths.
Studies of a large church from the 6th-14th century in the central part of the fortress give new evidence for the importance of the city as a religious center. One of the discoveries here was a rare type of bronze cross - Engolpion from the 11th century brought over from Jerusalem.

In 2010 the archaeologists completed the research of debris from the bottom of dried up old well. Found were over 200 ancient coins, jewellery and religious objects. The most valuable findings were: Thracian cult hatchet and silver cameo ring engraved by Imperial Eagle in a heraldic posture.
The expertise of coins gave interesting results as two thirds of them are autonomous bronze coins minted in ancient cities nearby: Apollonia - Sozopol and Messembria - Nessebar. Obviously, despite frequent military strife between them, their citizens equally appreciated the thermal springs of the Aqaue Calidae and honoured their patrons - the three nymphs.
This year’s excavation of the baths was aiming to unveil their east part, called the vestibule, which serves as a passage to the halls and swimming pools. Big obstacle for complete disclosure here are dilapidated buildings of the former clinic, whose foundations have stepped directly on the old walls.
It is therefore necessary their removal and disposal to secure and fully explore of the mineral baths that have existed without interruption for seventeen centuries, making them unique for Bulgaria.
This year’s archaeological survey was funded once again by Municipality Burgas with 50 thousand BGN.
Findings of national significance after restoration will be displayed in the Archaeological Exposition Burgas on 18 May 2011. - International Museum Day.

Dr. Tsonya Drazheva