Shumen Fortress

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Location: Shumen Province  Map

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Shumen Fortress


History of Shumen Fortress

Shumen Fortress is a medieval walled city situated on a high plateau just outside of Shumen in the Shumen Province of North- East Bulgaria. Archeological digs on a site of Shumen Fortress discovered several layers of historic settlements that date back to Ancient Roman, Thracians and much older. First settlement of Shumen Fortress date back to the Iron Age. First people that settled here recognized importance of the strategic location on top of Shumen plateau. Later Thracian tribes that settled in the region in the 5th century BC constructed their own castle to defend a small village. Ancient Roman further increased the size of the Shumen Fortress between 2nd and 4th century AD to defend their borders against intrusions of the barbarian tribes. However it became particularly important during medieval period during Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185- 1396). Walls and towers were increased to support changing technologies of the medieval warfare. Invasion of Ottoman Turks in 1444 didn't save the residents of the city. Turkish soldiers captured Shumen Fortress, looted it and killed or captured its inhabitants. Old Shumen along with its fortified walls were abandoned by the Ottomans. New Shumen was moved to its present location.


Geographical location
The fortress is located two kilometers west of Shumen. In the region is an important crossroads of routes connecting the Danube coast (near Silistra) with Adrianople and Constantinople, and the northern Black Sea coast with the western Bulgarian lands.

The place was inhabited more than 3000 years ago - archaeological research shows that the area was inhabited in the 12th century BC. The first inhabitants here were the Thracians, probably from the Getae tribe. Around 1200 BC. they created the first settlement that was not originally fortified. Thus, the Shumen fortress is a peer of Priam's Troy (more precisely of the VIIb layer of Troy). It is believed that around the 5th century BC. a fortress wall was built, which is not preserved today.

In 15 the Romans conquered today's lands on the Danube plain and the Shumen fortress became a Roman possession. It is possible that the name of the fortress at that time was Dausdava, but this assumption remains unproven. The Romans built a new wall, now with mortar solder and towers - rectangular and U-shaped. About 250, the Goths destroyed the fortress, but it was soon rebuilt. During the Roman period the fortress performed mainly military functions and was inferior in economic development to the nearby Marcianopol (Devnya) and Abritus (Razgrad).

In 395 the Roman Empire was divided into Western and Eastern (Byzantium), and all Bulgarian lands remained with Byzantium. The Byzantines built a new wall, now with pentagonal towers, so that they would not be vulnerable to shelling with stone-throwing machines. During the early Byzantine period, the Shumen fortress was already important as a larger production and trade center, the coin finds (158 early Byzantine coins) testify to the trade exchange of the inhabitants of the city with the remote parts of the empire. The barbarian invasions in the period from the second half of the 5th to the middle of the 7th century contributed to the destruction and depopulation of the ancient city. After the arrival of Asparuhov's Bulgarians in 680-681, the area of ​​the fortress entered the borders of the First Bulgarian State.

In the VIII century among the ruins of the late antique fortress appeared dwellings of the dugout type, and the restoration of the settlement as a fortress took place gradually in the IX-X century. The Bulgarians did not change the structure of the walls, except for some of the towers, which they made triangular. In the 9th century the fortress again became an important center and the citadel was built, where the governors of the city resided. Probably during this period the name of the city appeared - Shumen. Due to its proximity to the Bulgarian capitals Pliska and Veliki Preslav, the fortress played an important military role during the First Bulgarian State, but was significantly inferior to them in economic importance.

In 1001 the Shumen fortress was conquered by the Byzantines, and in the 30s or 40s of the XI century it was destroyed during the Pecheneg invasions, but later it was rebuilt.

At the end of the 12th century, after the liberation uprising of Assenevtsi, the period of the Second Bulgarian State began, when Shumen became one of the most developed cities in Medieval Bulgaria. During this period, agriculture, pottery (especially the production of sgraffito-ceramics), stonemasonry, metalworking developed well. During the reign of Ivan Alexander there was a mint here, which shows the high development of trade. Tsar Ivan Shishman visited the fortress - a testimony to its importance.

In 1388, during the campaign of the Grand Vizier Ali Pasha against northeastern Bulgaria, it was captured by the Ottoman troops. Archaeological excavations have found no traces of destruction from that time, on the contrary, the Ottoman layer lies tightly on that of the Second Bulgarian State, which is why it is assumed that the fortress passed into Ottoman hands without resistance.

The end of the millennial history of the fortress came in 1444. During the last crusade, it was captured by the troops of King Vladislav III Jagiello after a three-day siege and fierce resistance from the small Ottoman garrison. This led to its burning and destruction, after which it was abandoned forever.

The fortress today

The Shumen Fortress Historical and Archaeological Reserve is among the Hundred National Tourist Sites. It works all year round, has a seal. There is also a museum attached to it. The fortress is among the best studied archeological monuments in Bulgaria. The excavations were carried out in the period 1957-1987 (most active in 1974-1981) under the direction of Vera Antonova from the Regional Historical Museum of Shumen (now the Regional Historical Museum). Three walls were discovered near them - Roman, early Byzantine (later used by Bulgarians and Ottomans) and the Second Bulgarian State, with the characteristic towers for each period. Remains of an early Byzantine bath with a drainage canal, two reservoirs, 12 churches (including the so-called "Cult Center", where there are foundations of four churches in one place), a citadel were also found. Among the finds are worth mentioning: The Shumen inscription of Tsar Ivan Shishman, which speaks of the visit of this ruler in Shumen (the name of the city is written exactly this way); the tile with the image of a dancing man (maybe a proto-Bulgarian shaman - the question remains unclear); the inscription of "Ostro ... bogoin" (according to Vera Antonova, this is the first inscription in Cyrillic in Bulgaria); sgraffito-ceramics; a Trojan-type bouquet-pottery (proof that there was a settlement here as early as the Hallstatt era); belt applications; golden liturgical vessels; a large number of coins from almost all periods.

The total area of ​​the fortress is about 32 acres, but a significant part of the population lived outside the walls, in the suburbs. The fortress provides rich information about the military, cultural and economic life of its time. As a result of nearly 30 years of archaeological research, sufficient evidence has been revealed for the existence of organized production activities in the medieval city and the surrounding area. One of the popular crafts was metal casting, which is closely related to the making of jewelry. Confirmation of this are the various ornaments and numerous objects of the Christian cult found during the excavations (earrings, bracelets, rings, crosses, church utensils). Most of them are made of copper and copper alloy (bronze), but there are also those made of precious metals (silver, gold).