Location: 20 km (12 mi) North of Veliko Tirnovo Map
Ruins of Nicopolis ad Nestum Archaeological Site (Nikopolis ad
Mestum) are all that remains from a ancient Roman border
fortifications. Nicopolis ad Nestum Archaeological Site is located
seven kilometers to the east of the town of Gotse Delchev, close to
the village of Garmen. It is located in the ancient Roman province
of Thracia (Thrace).
After Emperor Trajan defeated Dacians in 105- 106 AD in a bitter and bloody war, he ordered construction of series of forts to defend the conquered lands that became known as the province of Thracia (Thrace). The military camp was established on the left bank of the Mesta River on a site of an older Thracian town of Alexandroupolis ("city of Alexander" in Greek). Its new name Nicopolis ad Nestum or Nicopolis ad Mestum to be precise can be translated from Latin as "city of victory, situated at Nestos or Mesta". It stands on a strategic trade route that connected the Aegean coast with the main military road Via Egnatia leading to the Rhodopes mountains, Thracian lowlands and Philippopolis (now Plovdiv). Central location of Nicopolis ad Nestum favored its formation into a center of economic, political and cultural significance.
Nicopolis ad Nestum was founded in 106
on the site of the Thracian settlement of Alexandroupolis by the
Roman emperor Trajan, in honor of his victory over the Dacians.
Translated from Latin, its name means "City of Victory, located at
Nestos (Mesta River)."
The city is located on the road connecting the Aegean coast with the main military road Via Egnatia through the Rhodopes, the Thracian lowlands and Philippopolis (today's Plovdiv). This favors its formation as a center of economic, political and cultural significance in the period of its heyday in the period II-VI century.
Nicopolis ad Nestum is mentioned in the work of the ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy. Coins were minted in the city from the time of Emperor Commodus (180 - 192) to the reign of Emperor Caracalla (211 - 217). The found coins and votive reliefs testify to the worship of the deities - Zeus, Pluto, Hermes, the Thracian horseman, Asclepius and Hygia, as well as the river god Nestos (Mesta) and the Ares and Dionysus revered by the Thracians. The city was an episcopal center in the period IV-XI century. At the end of the VI century (577) it was destroyed by Slavs and Avars. It was rebuilt during the reign of Justinian I. In the IX-X century the city was revived again under the name of Nikopol and lasted until the XIII century, when it perished during the Crusades. During the Late Middle Ages there was a Bulgarian settlement in part of the place, and in the southeastern part of the fortified town - a Turkish farm. During the Ottoman rule the town moved a few kilometers to the west and its name is preserved in the form Nevrokop (today's Gotse Delchev).
The Pseudo-Epiphany list states that Nevrokop entered the diocese of Thrace and that the city was the seat of an archbishop.
Nikopolis ad Nestum is one of the few preserved ancient cities in Bulgaria and the only one in the Rhodopes from the period of Roman rule in the Balkans. It has been declared an archeological and architectural monument from antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Archaeological excavations in the area of the ancient settlement have been conducted since 1980. The earliest finds found here date back to the Neolithic period. The studied area occupies about 13 hectares. About 280 m of fortress walls, foundations of public and religious buildings, burial mounds were discovered during the excavations. Fragments of a votive relief of the Thracian horseman, a statuette of Hermes, an early Christian tombstone, over 95 gold and about 22 other coins as well as glass, bronze and ceramic vessels, a gold ring were found. Thracian mound necropolises from the 1st century BC have also been discovered. The city is organized similar to the Asian cities of Asia Minor. An interesting monument of late antique stone sculpture is the altar table found in a fragmentary condition. It was found in the ruins of a building located in the northwestern part of the ancient city. The table is presented in the exposition of the Historical Museum in the town of Gotse Delchev. It is represented by seven fragments of the eight found. In the southeast corner is a rich house with a courtyard and a marble colonnade with a portico. In the immediate vicinity of the southern fortress wall, a bathroom was discovered. Sectors of the western fortress wall with a U-shaped tower and the eastern fortress wall with a rectangular tower were discovered. Pottery kilns, dug pits with fragments of household pottery, metal objects and coins have been discovered since the Middle Ages.
Part of the original territory of the city is surrounded by a wall with a thickness of 2.40 - 2.60 m. The fortress walls are partially preserved and in some places reach 5-6 m in height. The execution of the masonry is of the opus mixtum type - built with stones welded with mortar, alternating with belts of four rows of bricks. From the discovered fortress walls, the southern one, which was built with 4 round towers, has been fully studied. The south gate is open in 40 meters of exedra, protected by square towers.
The rich dwelling is located in the southeast corner of the fortified town next to the southeast corner tower. It was built before the fortress wall was built. The living quarters are located around a courtyard with a marble colonnade (peristyle) with a covered portico. The largest room is the kitchen. According to the original plan, there was a pool (impluvium) in the center of the yard, which was later turned into a courtyard paved with cobblestones.
Late antique baths
The architectural plan of the bathroom defines it as a provincial public bathroom of block type with hypocaust heating. It was built around the 1920s, and its construction preceded that of the fortress wall. At the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century the building was set on fire. It was probably destroyed during Gothic invasions at the end of the Second Gothic War. At the end of the 5th century it was rebuilt. Evidence of this is a gold coin of Emperor Zeno discovered during excavations. It was probably operational until the end of the third quarter of the 6th century and was finally destroyed by an earthquake.
Remains of three early Christian churches have been found in the area of Nicopolis ad Nestum. The earliest of them, 3 km southwest of the city, is a three-nave basilica with a length of 40.24 meters, built in the late IV century, rebuilt in the late V - early VI century and used until the end of VI century. The second church, also three-nave, is in the center of today's village Garmen, was built in the V century and functioned until the second half of the VI century, in which two tombs and remains of frescoes were found. The third building was discovered northeast of today's village and dates back to the 5th century.