Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Early Days of Stara Zagora

Stara Zagora is a city of about 200,000 people, making it Bulgaria's sixth most populated city. Officially, Stara Zagora got its name in 1875, but the city's history stretches back at least 8,000 years. In the meantime the city has had a host of names depending on who was in control. The city was held by Neolithic peoples, who if they had a name for the area weren't kind enough to jot it down for us. Prior to the Roman arrival the city was held variously by Greeks and Thracians, who called the city Beroe. In 106 AD the Roman provincial city was founded and named Augusta Traiana. Some time in the 4th century the city was renamed Beroe and was a center for Christianity in the Balkans. That named lasted until the city caught the eye of the Byzantine princess Irene, and the city became known as Irinopolis. When the Bulgarians broke from the Byzantines the city was re-re-re-re-refounded (give or take 2 re's) as Vereya (or Bereya or Beroya, presumably after the earlier name Beroe). As a city in the Bulgarian Empire, it was an important financial center. In a later installment of the various Bulgarian kingdoms of the Middle Ages it was called Boruy. When the Ottoman Empire captured it, the city was called Eski Zagara, which means the Old Fortress of Zagora. When the Bulgarians gained their independence the city was renamed again to Zheleznik, but was shortly renamed Stara Zagora. During this shuffling of names, one of the areas of the city called the Bereketska Mound was continually inhabited from about 6000 BC - 1200 AD. The Bereketska Mound is just one a whole treasure chest full of archeological sites in one of Europe's longest inhabited city.

The Bereketska Mound is about one of a hundred or so mounds in the area that contain burial items dating back to the Neolithic period. The Azmashka Tomb was one of the earliest sites in Southeastern Europe to receive a full archeological treatment. It has produced a wealth of data and artifacts, including the Venus Figurine to the right. Stara Zagora is also host to the Metchi Kladenets, one of, if not the earliest copper mine in Europe. The copper that was mined there produced copper tools that were traded all over the region, some traveling as far north as the Volga River in Russia. In addition to all these Neolithic Artifacts, there are great collections of Classical Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval Bulgarian, Russian and Ottoman artifacts, but we'll save these for later.

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