Saturday, 01 November 2014



Greece and Bulgaria: Archaeologists Excavate Previously Inaccessible Site in Border Region



BalkanTravellers.com   
9 April 2010 | An ancient sanctuary of the Roman god Mithras, located in the Rodopi Mountains border region between Greece and Bulgaria, was shown for the first time since its discovery in 1915.

The archaeological site is located 6 kilometres into Greece from the Greek-Bulgarian border, near the Greek town of Thermes. Discovered in 1915 by Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Filov, no archaeological research of the site was carried out since and knowledge of it was based only on his writings. Archaeologists suspect that at the foot of the rock complex, there is a large temple dating to Late Antiquity, but excavations will have to confirm this.

The Iron Curtain made it unthinkable for Bulgarian archaeologists to access the site, while their Greek counterparts showed no interest in it, so it was left forgotten for decades.

After the recent opening of the new border control point between Greece and Bulgaria and the road between the Bulgarian town of Zlatograd and the Greek Thermes, the rock sanctuary became accessible to visitors.

Being located in the forest near Thermes, the site until a month ago was concealed by trees and bushes. But then, according to Bulgarian media, enthusiasts from Zlatograd had local Greeks clean up the terrain, making Mithras’s bas-relief and the holy water spring visible and the site accessible.

Until the fourth century, Mithras was the most venerated god in the Roman Empire, archaeologists explained, before he was replaced by Christianity as the official religion. The bas-relief at the site, like all other images of Mithras in his temples, shows the god offering a bull as a sacrifice.

“This is the only sanctuary of Mithras, known thus far to exist in the Rodopi Mountains. Considering the fact that [what is apparent] is a veneration of the rock, we can see that the complex is a rock complex, and we can only connect the cult of Mithras, which dates to the third and fourth centuries, to earlier cults of the Thracians to the rocks,” Bulgarian archaeologist Professor Nikolay Ovcharov told media when the complex was presented.

“We hardly know anything about this region south of the border,” Professor Ovcharov said. “This area needs to be jointly researched together with Greek archaeologists,” he added.

In addition to joint excavations, the Mithras sanctuary will be included in a joint tourist route between the two countries.

The god Mithras, who became popular among the military in the Roman Empire from the first to the fourth centuries, was the center of a mystery religion known as the Mithraic Mysteries, information on which is based on surviving monuments. Besides showing Mithras as being born from a rock and sacrificing a bull, little else is known for certain.

Opening image: Mithraic relief, Rome, second-third century, displayed at the Louvre

 

 

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