Since the dawn of human activity around the Black Sea, life has been strongly influenced by the connection with the sea. The latter is affected on the one hand by various aspects of navigation and on the other hand by the associated coastal infrastructures. The Bulgarian Black Sea coast is a region with unique geographical characteristics, playing a crucial geopolitical role as a link between trade links north – south between Constantinople, the Danube region and northeastern Europe. The Bulgarian coast and its ports occupy a special place in portals and sea maps.
However, how the late antique and medieval ports on the Black Sea coast can become a tourist attraction, the topic is discussed by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Preslav Peev, head of the Department of Marine Geology and Archeology at the Institute of Oceanology – BAS.
Here is what he said in an interview with “Focus“:
– Assoc. Prof. Peev, in the last two years you have been working on a very interesting project called “Inventory of Late Antique and Medieval Ports on the Western Black Sea Coast”. What are the main goals of this project?
– Yes, the project is really very interesting and is a natural continuation of an older one, which aimed to promote the Black Sea archaeological treasures. The initiative is funded by the Research Fund of the Ministry of Education and Science in Bulgaria and a similar fund from Austria.
On the Bulgarian side we are experts from the Institute of Oceanology at BAS and colleagues from the Regional History Museum in Varna, and on the Austrian side it is the department of “Byzantine Studies” at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and a colleague from the German Historical Institute – Istanbul branch.
The main goal we have set in this project is to make a catalog of all open and known so far ports in the Bulgarian sector on the Western Black Sea coast. Once we have gathered all the information, a book will be published describing the ports, and we will also organize a symposium in Vienna to present our achievements.
– How many ports have you explored so far?
– So far, more than 30 studied ancient antique and medieval ports on the Bulgarian coast. We initially started from the famous ports where fellow archaeologists worked.
We collected complete bibliographic information, extracted all the available information contained in the written sources from the Middle Ages concerning specifically the port system on the Western Black Sea coast. In addition, we looked at a huge amount of cartographic material from the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century to the 17th-18th century.
Once we have collected the primary information, we envisage field observations, for which purpose we will use the most modern equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles and other similar devices, through which we will be able to file and visualize all these monuments to be presented to a wider range of lovers of history and archeology. In this project, we consider the Bulgarian coast as part of a very large commercial area, which covered the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the North Sea.
Here it is good to emphasize that the Black Sea has never been on the periphery of Europe, on the contrary – it is one of the centers of the Old Continent, especially during the period of late antiquity and the Middle Ages. That is why the ports on our coast are so interesting.
– Assoc. Prof. Peev, which are the most ancient ports you have explored so far?
– The most ancient ports originated during the Great Hellenic colonization of the Western Black Sea coast and almost all of them continue to exist to this day. Ie there is an inheritance of the places where the ships stopped.
At first reading I say – Sozopol, Nessebar, Pomorie, Odessos, but it should be noted that along the Romanian coast there are many interesting ports, such as Constanta, which is one of the oldest on the Black Sea coast.
Otherwise, we have historical data that shipping in the Black Sea dates back to the Bronze Age. But then there were no ports as we know them, but rather places where ships stopped. In fact, the first artificially built ports on our Black Sea coast are from late antiquity.
Focus: Ie. will this guide to the ancient ports be a navigator for tourists who will be able to visit them?
Assoc. Prof. Preslav Peev: That’s right, this is one of the target groups we will try to reach – people who are interested in history and archeology. In fact, this project is a natural continuation of our previous projects, which are again aimed at developing and improving tourism services in Bulgaria. We even had a joint project with Romania, in which we developed transnational tourist routes, one of which was specifically to explore the western Black Sea ports in Bulgaria and Romania. Of course, in this project we focus only on Bulgarian ports.
– And which other countries have similar developed routes?
– I tell you right away – these are our neighbors Turkey and Greece. It is no coincidence that one of our partners is the German Historical Institute with a branch in Istanbul, as they have enough experience in this area and their expertise in this area is invaluable in the field of presentation of this type of monuments to tourists.
Quite a large part of the tourists, in addition to the wonderful finds that are exhibited in the museums, would like to visit the places where they were found, and this in turn greatly diversifies the tourist product.
– And to direct you to Varna, what can tourists see here?
– Unfortunately, the port of medieval Varna cannot be seen, as it was filled in at the end of the 19th century during the construction of the modern port and railway. the station. In fact, Slaveykov Square or the so-called Station Square is the ancient and medieval port of Varna – there was a port pool. Otherwise, in the Varna Bay you can easily visit the medieval fortress “Kastritsi”, for which there was a project for complete restoration. This is a little known object, but extremely interesting for people. There is also a port on Cape Galata, where we have even planned underwater research. There is a registered port dock there and we really want to see it in person and take a picture of it. If it turns out, as colleagues described it many years ago, namely that there are sunken port facilities just below Cape Galata, I think it would become a great tourist attraction. In addition, the depth there is very small and you will not need to be a diver to go down and visit this site.