Head of archaeological research PhD Milen Nikolov (2012-), Dr.Tsonya Drajeva (2006-2012)

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The stronghold Rusokastro has a long history. It was built 1500 years ago strategically using the height of the natural landscape, suited for monitoring the main roads of North-East Thracia coming from North and South, as well as all of the eastern passes of Stara Planina (the Balkan) and from North the Black Sea leading to the Bosporus and Constantinople. The existence of the village here can be traced back to the 6th century, evidence which were found on the epigraphical monument dedicated to the byzantine general Yustinian. According to the Bulgarian Professor in history Mr. Beshevliev, General Yustinian was a great-grandson of the byzantine emperor Yustinian the First (518-527), who fought the great wars against the avaren.

For the first time the name Rusokastro is used from the Arab geographer El Idrisi in his work “Geography of the world”. He describes the village of Rusokastro as a large and crowded city.
Later the name “Rusokastron” is mentioned in the byzantine chronicles connected to historical events in the 14th century. The memorial battle on the 18th July 1332 is an important highlight in the history of Rusokaston, ending with the victory of the Bulgarian tzar Ivan Aleksander over the Byzantine army led by Emperor Andronic.
Early at the foot of the “Big Stone” the Thracians established a village important to the economical and cultural relationships between the Odrisian Kingdom and the ancient cities of Apollonia (nowadays Sozopol) and Mesambria (Nessebar) on the Black Sea coast. Large numbers of archeological finds made at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century confirmed the existence of this village. Among the archeological artifacts found were a plate of Thracian rider; coins of electron (stater) coinaged in the city of Krizik, dated back in the beginning of the 5th century BC; silver drahmas and tetradrahmas coming from the cities of Apollonia Pontius, Odesos, Moroneia dated with the 3rd - 2nd century BC; small treasure with Messambrian bronze coins from the 2nd century BC. A tower above the village rose upon the megalith rocks of the impressive Thracian sanctuary dedicated to the Sun God, the Mother Goddess and the Thracian Hero – the Rider called also “Heros”. The unique megalith rock has an extraordinary shape with many natural cavities, which the Thracians shaped and used for the needs of their rituals. During the excavations in 2006 the archaeologists found four half-round cavities, formed as altars for ritual sacrifices. Two offering stones with round tubs inside mark the road to the cave known as the “Russinata dupka” (Russin's hole). Water running down the walls is collected on the bottom of the cave. A legend talks about the magical healing powers of the cave water. Thanks to this legend, information could be found about the exsitance of the Thracian sanctuary and the rites performed there, as some of these rituals became part of the Christian tradition later.

Even today the local population know this historical place with the names “Russin kamuk” (Russin'stone) and “Russina dupka”. The language specialists root the name Rusocastron to words with latin and greek origins: “Ruso” meaning red colored and “castron” meaning stronghold, castle. The local population preserved its very own explanation of the village name coming from the old legend, telling the love story of a serpent living in the cave inside the castle and a maid called Russa (Russin'stone).
In the 5th century AD, when the Christianity replaced the old cult, on top of the “Big stone” was built an early Christian church, which base stones were found during the archaeological excavations. In the years of the 11th - 14th century next to the church was located a monastery with the name of the Christian holyman-rider St. George. There is a high possibility that the choice of a patron has been influenced by the ancient beliefs inherited from the Thracian sanctuary.
The legend is recorded in the 50s of the 20th century by the local analyst Mr. Nikola Prodanov. He heard the story coming from the mouth of the 86 years old Mr. Marko, while they were paying visit to the famous "Russin`stone". The legend tells the love story of the serpent that fell for a maid called Russa. In the morning when Russa went to bring water from the well, the serpent turned into a handsome young man and was waiting for her there. He filled with water the coppers and persuaded her to marry him. Unfortunately she was in love with someone else and kept declining his marriage proposal. On St. George’s day inside the monastery grounds there was a huge horo (chain dance). Russa was dancing next to her beloved at the celebrations, when all of sudden it turned dark and lightning began. Then from the top of the "Big stone" the serpent came down, took away the maid and carried her into his cave. Her relatives begged him to set her free several times, but he refused flatly. Locals and travellers could hear Russa´s sobbing even at the road next to the river bank. In his sorrow the father of Russa asked for help from St. George. The saint stabbed the serpent in a terrific battle and saved the maid.
The story of Russa is told to be related with the building of a church named after St. George as a thanksgiving. For the local population he was a saviour from the evil serpent, who terrorized all the villages in the neighbourhood with frequent devastations, drought and fire. This is the reason why every year on St. George’s day people from all of the neighbourhood places come to a fair at "Russin´stone". This was the largest fair in Burgas Region till the 50s of the 20th century. The people spent the night before the celebrations at the fields surrounding big fires. On the actual day of the fair they washed themselves with water collected in the "Russin’s hole", which was told to posses healing and magical power. This extraordinary power of the water here was explained with the tears of Russa (two round holes on the bottom of the cave). Even today the old people believe in the healing power of the water here, they say it can help against children’s sore eyes or bewitch the women in child-birth - "lihusi". On the second day of the celebrations at the cave entrance the worshipers hang up parts of clothing with hopes for good health and fertility. The legend from the village Rusokastro could be traced back to the mythology of the old indo-European population, which included the Thracian, Slavic and proto Bulgarian tribes. The serpent has the meaning of the cosmic mediator between earth and heaven and represents the fear of the surrounding nature. On the other side he offers protection and leads through the ritual transit between life and death. Thus the kidnapping of the maid in the dragon’s cave is a metaphoric element symbolizing possible death and ritual moment of the funeral – a wedding ceremony. The engaging of another mythical character such as the man who fought with the dragon also known as a saint - rider could be understood as a bearer of the heaven’s birth opposing the chaos and earthly being, which mythical archetype is the land.
During 1927 the village people used some of the donated money for the building of a chapel over the old mediaeval church. They choose again St. George the Conqueror as patron saint, because the legend of maid Russa was still alive in the local people’s imagination.
In the summer of 2007 archaeological excavation were carried out on the ground in front of the new church St. George in the territory of the stronghold Rusocastron. The archaeological monuments in this part of the stronghold took a lot of damage caused by the military during the international drill “Shtit” (Shield) in 1982. Though the bad condition of the ground the archaeological excavation gave good results and brought into light information about the history of the church build plan and the Christian population in the stronghold. Among discoveries were remains of two churches built on the same ground in different time periods. The first one was built during the early-Byzantine period in the middle of the 5th century and existed till the beginning of the 7th century, when the stronghold was destroyed by avaren-slavic assaults. At the beginning of the 9th century the stronghold Rusocastron has been rebuilt by the Bulgarians as part of the digging works of the big border ridge Erkesia. After Bulgaria accepted the Christianity in the 9th century on the place of the old church was built a new one. The new church had measurements 9 x 12 m and had stone construction which was the reason it survived till the 15th century. Next to the medieval church was found Christian necropolis, which a big part of was destroyed in the military drill “Shtit”-82. Inside the explored 38 graves were found the remains of men, women and children of different ages. The graves had been superficially hewn into the rock and in most of the burials there are signs of wooden coffins as they were following the Christian way of interment. The archaeological finds of pottery, everyday objects, coins etc. lead to the conclusion that this place was an active burial ground for a long period between the 9th and 14th century.
During the Ottoman invasion in the 14th century the church ground was burnt down and with the capture of the stronghold the existence of the old Christian centre was put to an end.

In 2006 a team of specialists led by the Head of research Phd. Tsonja Drazheva and Deputy Heas of research Mr. Milen Nikolov from the Regional Burgas Museum started a new archeological survey at the stronghold of Rusocastron. The excavations were carried out in partnership with the program for temporal employment in the villages of Rusokastro and Zheljazovo. During the two previous years the excavations gave the chance to reveal part of the stronghold system and the main gate. Found were the remains of residential districts from the 12th – 14th century where the local population developed a variety of handicrafts and economical activities.
The main fortification system surrounds from all sides the highest ledge of the hill called “Golemija (Russin) kamuk” /The Big Stone or Russin’stone/ with the size of 20dka. The wall here follows the peculiarity of the rock formation and rationally makes usage of the natural rock massif including it into the wall line. Its width varies between 1.6m and 2.3m in different parts of the flat accessible sections. The wall’s construction uses stone blocks from local gritstone with polished surface and soldered with white mortar.
The scientific study ascertained heavy damage on the wall caused by stone removal and military fire during the international drill “Shtit” in 1982. Best preserved are the researched sectors with a length of 56m of the west wall, 15m of the south wall and 12m of the north wall. The maximum height of the preserved sectors is 2.2m. The construction and the variety of archaeological finds point out the 5th century AD as the beginning of the building works on the fortress wall, later it endured several repairs and major modifications in the building construction.
[img left]images/poi_images/rusokastro/panica.jpg[/img] The archeological survey started clearing works of the fortress main gate found on the west wall. The entrance is situated almost at the centre of the west wall and is appropriated with the cobblestone road that is climbing the second external terrace direction south – southwest.
The entrance width is around 2.2m and side length of 3.8m. A rectangle tower is flanking the northwest end of the fortress. The tower juts out 2m forehead of the stone pier ankle and it is preserved on 1.8m height. The entrance is with a two sided planning. The first gate is a two leaved door and the second door goes back by 3.2m. Inwards the gate suggests construction from the type katarakta. On the inside the doors were bolted with thick beams, which were stored to the side in deep rectangular canals found on the inner side of the wall. Some special features of the left side wing on the entrance suggest a possible tower above the gate, which is going to be subject of a future research on the whole capacity of the gateway.

An interesting finding - a weapon was discovered during the first excavations of the medieval fortress Rusokastro in the summer of 2006, in a layer destroyed by fire, consisting of ash and numerous fragments of plaster and roof tiles, which was used as a filling for a later level of the terrain. The layer is lying over the top of the continental crust sealed by ramming of mortar, which has turned it into a closed archaeological complex in the volume of the main gate, situated in the middle of the west fortress wall.

The weapon represents an iron single edged blade sword type seax or sax, 47cm in length, 4.2cm width, and 4cm thick wedge. Also preserved are parts of the leather sheath decorated with bronze pins. According to the scientific analysis of the size and shape, this “sword” found at the fortress Rusokastro, may reasonably be attributed to the types of long seax. Due to the nature and dissemination of these weapons, its occurrence in the archaeological context south of the Balkan Mountains, should not be dated earlier than the formation of Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes in the middle of the 10th century.
Proper interpretation of this finding will help a more accurate dating of the destruction experienced by the fortress in its turbulent history.