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The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon

The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon is one of the oldest megalithic monuments in the world, completely carved in the rocks of the Rhodopi Mountain. In the 20 years since its discovery

The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon is one of the oldest megalithic monuments in the world, completely carved in the rocks of the Rhodopi Mountain. In the 20 years since its discovery, it has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Bulgaria.

Thracian culture remains a mystery today as these tribes had no written language. According to ancient Greeks, they were incredibly skilled and fierce warriors, as well as exquisite craftsmen.
The lack of reliable information further enhances the importance of the enormous Perperikon monuments.

The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon from above
The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon from above

The name of the ancient cult center comes from an ancient Greek word Hyperperakion which literally means “very large fire.” A gold coin with a high content of the precious metal from the 11th century in Byzantium had the same name. Historians believe that there is a genuine connection between the coin and Perperikon as there were many gold deposits near the rock complex.

The first minted “Perpera” coin during the reign of Romanus IV (1062-1071) in Byzantium
The first minted “Perpera” coin during the reign of Romanus IV (1062-1071) in Byzantium

History of Perperikon

Perperikon has its roots from the Chalcolithic period over 8000 thousand years ago but reached its heyday during late Antiquity, when it became a city center within the Thracian province of the Roman Empire.

In the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, a sanctuary was built somewhere on the hill. An interesting fact is that archeologists have been searching for a long-lost sanctuary of the ancient Greek god Dionysus for nearly a century and now believe that they found it in Perperikon.

 


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The sanctuary of Dionysus, along with that of Apollo in Delphi, were two of the most significant oracles in ancient times. According to ancient legends, wine-fire rituals were performed on a special altar, and according to the height of the flames, the power of prophecy was judged.

Another view of Perperikon from above
Another view of Perperikon from above

The first “golden age” of the cult center was in the late Bronze Age, 15th-11th Century BC. Then it became the largest sanctuary on the Balkan Peninsula. The second major peak in the history of Perperikon is in the Roman era, 3rd to 5th Century AD, when it grew to a large sacred city with straight streets, administrative buildings, and temples.

The sanctuary functioned throughout the entire Pagan period of the Roman Empire. The Thracian tribe that originally inhabited the city is called Bessi and were in alliance with the Romans. Between 393-98 AD, the tribe was finally baptized.

From then on, the sanctuary became superfluous and was even considered an obstacle to the imposition of the new religion. This is when the Romans decided to cover it with dust so that it could no longer be of use. This way, they did a tremendous favor to archeologists of our time as the huge soil mass preserved the ritual room.

Full-scale view from the sky of the entire complex
Full-scale view from the sky of the entire complex

Perperikon’s active history continued until 1361 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The city was destroyed and all its inhabitants were enslaved. However, archeologists found evidence of life until a few decades later.

Layout of Perperikon

Perperikon consists of four parts: a powerful fortress – Acropolis; the Palace, which is just below the Southeast Acropolis, and north and south suburbs. Many temples and buildings have been built on the hills. Broad streets have been carved out for every visitor to stroll through. On each side of the street, foundations of houses carved into the stone itself remain today.

A huge Basilica was cut down in the eastern part of the Acropolis. The basilica was most likely an ancient temple, and during Christianity, it became a church. From the basilica to the interior of the Acropolis runs a covered colonnade, a portico whose columns have survived to this day. According to ancient and medieval authors, it is known that such gates were built only in large cities and large cult complexes.

Remains of the late Roman Basilica in Perperikon
Remains of the late Roman Basilica in Perperikon

At this stage of archeological research, there are two remaining gates of the Acropolis. One is from the west and is guarded by a powerful rectangular bastion. The other was excavated from the south which leads to the impressive sanctuary palace.

The palace was probably a temple complex dedicated to the god Dionysus. It is spread over seven floors, with a thirty-meter ceremonial hall in its center, most likely serving rituals. Another noteworthy object in the palace is a massive stone throne with a footrest and armrests.

Satyr and Dionysus, Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C.
Satyr and Dionysus, Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C.

Under the brick floor of each room, there are thousands of rainwater drainage channels – something that tells us that a brilliant sewage system had been in place. The palace is surrounded by a huge fortress wall, which is connected to the Acropolis and together form a unique ensemble.

Remains of the Medieval Roman Tower in Perperikon
Remains of the Medieval Roman Tower in Perperikon

3 Interesting Facts about Perperikon

The stories and hypotheses of the ancient Thracian city are endless and change regularly with ongoing excavations. Let’s take a look at three incredibly curious facts and legends about Perperikon.

• According to legends, two fateful prophecies were made from the altar of this temple. The first predetermined the great conquests and glory of Alexander the Great. The second which was made several centuries later heralded the authority and power of the first Roman emperor Guy Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus.

• The largest known Christian church in the Rhodope Mountains was founded in Perperikon. Whole columns, capitals, cornices, and other architectural details remain in the three-nave basilica.

• Perperikon also had a ghetto. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the outskirts of the city were inhabited by the lowest strata, living in poverty which indicates that even at that time there was a strong class divide.

The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon is one of the oldest megalithic monuments in the world, completely carved in the rocks of the Rhodopi Mountain. In the 20 years since its discovery, it has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Bulgaria.

Thracian culture remains a mystery today as these tribes had no written language. According to ancient Greeks, they were incredibly skilled and fierce warriors, as well as exquisite craftsmen.
The lack of reliable information further enhances the importance of the enormous Perperikon monuments.

The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon from above
The Ancient Thracian City of Perperikon from above

The name of the ancient cult center comes from an ancient Greek word Hyperperakion which literally means “very large fire.” A gold coin with a high content of the precious metal from the 11th century in Byzantium had the same name. Historians believe that there is a genuine connection between the coin and Perperikon as there were many gold deposits near the rock complex.

The first minted “Perpera” coin during the reign of Romanus IV (1062-1071) in Byzantium
The first minted “Perpera” coin during the reign of Romanus IV (1062-1071) in Byzantium

History of Perperikon

Perperikon has its roots from the Chalcolithic period over 8000 thousand years ago but reached its heyday during late Antiquity, when it became a city center within the Thracian province of the Roman Empire.

In the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, a sanctuary was built somewhere on the hill. An interesting fact is that archeologists have been searching for a long-lost sanctuary of the ancient Greek god Dionysus for nearly a century and now believe that they found it in Perperikon.

 


RECOMMENDED ARTICLE:

Top 10 Greek Antiquities Sold In The Last Decade


 

The sanctuary of Dionysus, along with that of Apollo in Delphi, were two of the most significant oracles in ancient times. According to ancient legends, wine-fire rituals were performed on a special altar, and according to the height of the flames, the power of prophecy was judged.

Another view of Perperikon from above
Another view of Perperikon from above

The first “golden age” of the cult center was in the late Bronze Age, 15th-11th Century BC. Then it became the largest sanctuary on the Balkan Peninsula. The second major peak in the history of Perperikon is in the Roman era, 3rd to 5th Century AD, when it grew to a large sacred city with straight streets, administrative buildings, and temples.

The sanctuary functioned throughout the entire Pagan period of the Roman Empire. The Thracian tribe that originally inhabited the city is called Bessi and were in alliance with the Romans. Between 393-98 AD, the tribe was finally baptized.

From then on, the sanctuary became superfluous and was even considered an obstacle to the imposition of the new religion. This is when the Romans decided to cover it with dust so that it could no longer be of use. This way, they did a tremendous favor to archeologists of our time as the huge soil mass preserved the ritual room.

Full-scale view from the sky of the entire complex
Full-scale view from the sky of the entire complex

Perperikon’s active history continued until 1361 when it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The city was destroyed and all its inhabitants were enslaved. However, archeologists found evidence of life until a few decades later.

Layout of Perperikon

Perperikon consists of four parts: a powerful fortress – Acropolis; the Palace, which is just below the Southeast Acropolis, and north and south suburbs. Many temples and buildings have been built on the hills. Broad streets have been carved out for every visitor to stroll through. On each side of the street, foundations of houses carved into the stone itself remain today.

A huge Basilica was cut down in the eastern part of the Acropolis. The basilica was most likely an ancient temple, and during Christianity, it became a church. From the basilica to the interior of the Acropolis runs a covered colonnade, a portico whose columns have survived to this day. According to ancient and medieval authors, it is known that such gates were built only in large cities and large cult complexes.

Remains of the late Roman Basilica in Perperikon
Remains of the late Roman Basilica in Perperikon

At this stage of archeological research, there are two remaining gates of the Acropolis. One is from the west and is guarded by a powerful rectangular bastion. The other was excavated from the south which leads to the impressive sanctuary palace.

The palace was probably a temple complex dedicated to the god Dionysus. It is spread over seven floors, with a thirty-meter ceremonial hall in its center, most likely serving rituals. Another noteworthy object in the palace is a massive stone throne with a footrest and armrests.

Satyr and Dionysus, Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C.
Satyr and Dionysus, Athenian red-figure kylix C5th B.C.

Under the brick floor of each room, there are thousands of rainwater drainage channels – something that tells us that a brilliant sewage system had been in place. The palace is surrounded by a huge fortress wall, which is connected to the Acropolis and together form a unique ensemble.

Remains of the Medieval Roman Tower in Perperikon
Remains of the Medieval Roman Tower in Perperikon

3 Interesting Facts about Perperikon

The stories and hypotheses of the ancient Thracian city are endless and change regularly with ongoing excavations. Let’s take a look at three incredibly curious facts and legends about Perperikon.

• According to legends, two fateful prophecies were made from the altar of this temple. The first predetermined the great conquests and glory of Alexander the Great. The second which was made several centuries later heralded the authority and power of the first Roman emperor Guy Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus.

• The largest known Christian church in the Rhodope Mountains was founded in Perperikon. Whole columns, capitals, cornices, and other architectural details remain in the three-nave basilica.

• Perperikon also had a ghetto. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the outskirts of the city were inhabited by the lowest strata, living in poverty which indicates that even at that time there was a strong class divide.

Vladislav Tchakarov
Vladislav Tchakarov
Vladislav Tchakarov is a History student at Sofia University in Bulgaria and a contributing writer at TheCollector. Originally from Bulgaria, he moved to the Netherlands to work and study Business Management before realizing that his passion for history is too great which lead to his return to Bulgaria and the beginning of his History studies.

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