Europe is an old place. Humans have been living in Europe for centuries and have left their archeological footprint all over the continent. So what makes Ruse so special, this small town nestled against the Danube in the north of Bulgaria?
A short history of Ruse
Ruse has been an important town throughout the centuries for a variety of different peoples. It was important amongst the first Neolithic settlers for it’s rich fishing and agricultural resources. Later it became a major Thracian city before becoming part of the Roman empire. The Romans valued Ruse for it’s importance as a military and naval base. During the oppressive Ottoman rule, Ruse was destroyed – only to be later rebuilt and become the capital of the Danube province. We wanted to discover the history of Ruse and had two main stops : The Roman Fortress of Sexaginta Prista, and the Regional History Museum.
Discover several layers of history at the Sexaginta Fortress
What’s the easiest and most efficient way to build a new fortress? The answer? Build it on top of the older fortress! The fortress in Ruse is known as the Roman Fortress of Sexaginta Prista, but actually there is a Thracian pit sanctuary below it. On top of the Thracian pit sanctuary and Greek temple was built… and finally… on top of that you have the Roman Fortress.
But the history of the site doesn’t stop with the Romans. There is also a German bunker from WWII on the site, as well as several nuclear bunkers from the Communist era. Last but not least, the headquarters of the current Bulgarian Military is also located there. I guess all of these different cultures could agree that Sexaginta Prista has a pretty awesome location.
We met with archaeologist Deyan Dragoev on site. Deyan is responsible for the majority of the excavations on the Sexaginta site, as well as other sites in the region. But when he isn’t uncovering hidden treasure, he is also acting as caretaker for Sexaginta Prista and somehow also finds time to share his passion with the tourists who come to visit. He explains that excavations started about 10 years ago, but that there is still work to do. It isn’t always easy to carry on with excavations when the owner of the land is the military.
But despite the difficulty, Deyan has made some pretty interesting discoveries in the area. Like the Thracian pit sanctuary where finds include skeletons of infants, coins and pottery. Or the secret passage from Roman times that connected the fortress with the home of a commander. Or the horde of unique and rare Roman coins… or well…. the list goes on. I won’t tell you any more because I think you should go visit and find out for yourself!
And of course, there is a possibility of dressing up as a Roman soldier.
Ruse regional history museum
The regional history museum will answer any of the questions that you might have after leaving Sexaginta Prista. The museum deals with the areas history from prehistory until the present day. I loved the prehistory section, although these exhibit will soon be moved to the new Natural History Museum once renovations are complete. Make sure you check it out to see gigantic mammoth tusks, and the fear inspiring skull of a cave bear.
Moving on from prehistory, the museum showcases items discovered from archaeological excavations in the area. Many of the items were found by Deyan himself, and he points them out to us. You can see the difference between Thracian, Greek and Roman pottery, jewelry and weaponry. Another highlight is the collection of Thracian helmets. But the ultimate highlight is the Borovo treasure.
Kept in a special case at the top of the stairs in the museum is the Borovo treasure. The Borovo treasure is part of a Thracian horde found near Ruse dating from the 4th century BC. The intricate silver wine vessels have holes in the bottom. In order to drink from them, you held your thumb over the hole and when you wanted to drink you would hold it up and let it pour. Can you imagine drinking wine out of something like that?