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Abritus: Bulgaria’s Roman Treasure Trove

Date: 06.07.2009

Abritus, just 1km from the Bulgarian town of Razgrad, is an ancient Roman military town located in north-eastern Bulgaria, once a key stronghold in the region known as Lower Moesia, bounded to the south by Stara Planina, to the west by the river Drina, in Serbia, to the east by the Black Sea and to the north by the Danube.

One of the strategic fortresses that defended the Roman Empire from invasions from the north, Abritus was built in the 1st century AD on the site of an ancient Thracian settlement. Until the 6th c., the town flourished thanks to its military and trade activities, which explains the large amount of gold and silver objects recovered from the ground during excavations. Among them are 835 gold coins (4 kg) minted by 10 Roman emperors - the largest antique monetary treasure ever discovered in Bulgaria - as well as the Golden Pegasus, which is now the emblem of the town of Razgrad.

Before its fall at the end of the 6th century, the total built-up area of Abritus reached 300 decares, half of which was behind the thick city walls that had 35 towers (29 recovered) and 4 gates (3 recovered). Just like any developed Roman settlement, Abritus had a clay pipeline to carry water to the settlement. In its centre was a huge private building of a slave-owner that had an inside court, 22 marble columns to the east and 15 to the south, a covered sidewalk and a small temple. Many of the smaller items discovered during excavations, including a replica of the golden treasure, can now be seen in the archeological museum located nearby. The site is open for visitors, and there is also a guide who can talk for hours about the greatness of this town.

Explorations of the site began in 1887, when a Razgrad teacher and high school principal, Ananie Javashov, discovered a domed church dated to the 6th century, but it wasn't until 1954 that archeologists realized that this is the famous Abritus many ancient authors had written about. Excavations stopped in 1972 when the city walls reached the modern antibiotics factory built on top. Rumours have been spreading since then, that under the factory lay the golden chariot of a Roman emperor, but the then socialist government of Bulgaria would not dare destroy the biggest medical production centre on the Balkans because of these. Since the 1990s, archeological work has been renewed on the areas farther away from the factory. In 2002, a lapidary of 60 monuments was exposed near the museum. Today, Abritus is one of the best studied and exhibited ancient towns in Bulgaria, making it a place really worth seeing.

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