Balik Dere fortress reveals its secrets

The site may prove to be a rich Late Antique administrative centre

The remains of Balik Dere fortress seen fom above.

The remains of a fortress called Balik Dere are hidden in a high hill in the middle of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. Until recently, it jealously kept its secrets. Due to the efforts of archaeologists in recent decades, it gradually began to reveal them.

It was believed that the place preserved the remains of a guard fortress, which had been functioning during different periods from the time of Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Recent excavations, however, discover a much larger structure that can even be determined as a large Late Antique city centre.

The discovered site is located only 200 meters away from one of the largest and most important rivers in this region – Arda River, as well as 30 kilometres away from Adrianople, today's Edirne - at the entrance and exit of the Rhodope Mountains to Thrace. The place is also rich in coins, glass and ceramics, which is not typical for the traditional guard fortresses in our lands, archaeologists say.

The discovered street comes in support of the thesis that Balik Dere was once a large city. The street leads to a square whose area, discovered by now, is 10m by 5m, lined with nice cut slabs with curbs and two gates. According to archaeologists, the square was built in the 5th-6th centuries.

Marble slabs from the sanctuary of Apollo or Asclepius, which existed earlier on the hill and which was destroyed in the 4th century after the establishment of Christianity as an official religion of the Roman Empire, were used for its construction. Archaeologists point out that the cultural layer is about 2.30 m deep and that disclosing all its secrets requires a serious financial resource.

Summarising the results of the excavations so far, archaeologists believe that initially on this low peak in the meanders of the Balik Dere area and Arda River, there was originally a pagan sanctuary dating back to Antiquity. After the defeat of the Emperor Valens on 9 August 378 near Adrianople and the destruction of the administrative centre near Villa Armira, the administration of the area moved here in Late Antiquity.

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