Bulgarian kings' gold

Preslav treasure is the largest one traced back to the First Bulgarian Empire

The Preslav gold treasure is composed of over 120 items.

The gold of the Thracian kings is well-known in lands far beyond the Bulgarian state borders. Just as valued but much less familiar is the gold traced back to the Middle Ages, and especially valuable is the Preslav treasure from the period of the First Bulgarian Empire. As most of the treasures found on Bulgarian territory, this too was discovered by accident - while ploughing a field outside of the second Bulgarian capital, Veliki Preslav.

The ensuing excavations determined that the area used to be the site of a small settlement. Perhaps someone from the royal palace was able to escape the city during its devastation in the late 10th century with the court's most precious items and hid them in the hope to return for them later, but never managed to do so. Today, these unique creations by the medieval Bulgarian jewellers are kept in the Museum of History in Veliki Preslav.

The unearthed gold and gilded decorations are over 120. Also on the list of finds are cutlery, clothing accessories, precious stones and coins, the most recent of which date back to the Byzantine era. This makes the Preslav treasure the largest medieval one ever uncovered on Bulgarian territory.

In addition to the considerable number of items, the treasure is unique for its craftsmanship. Most of the decorations are made of 14- and 22-carat gold. Various crafting techniques were used such as inlay with pearls and other gems; granulation; and the technique of cloisonne enamel, which was extremely expensive and therefore produced jewellery pieces that were exceptionally prestigious to own.

A particularly mysterious item is a signet ring made of gold and mountain crystal. One of the most revered events in Christianity, the Annunciation, is depicted on the upper side of the crystal. The artefacts include several types of ornaments with floral motifs as well as gold pendants. A large number of “ear-caps” - gold decorations embellished with emeralds and pearls that used to be pinned on the women's tiaras - were found along with exquisite medallions and precious stones.

A two-sided 10th-century necklace is considered the epitome of medieval goldsmith craftsmanship. It weighs 227 grams and represents a string of seven two-sided tiles bearing trapezium-shaped depictions. The last tiles on both ends of the necklace have floral ornaments. The central one shows an image of Virgin Mary, her hands raised in prayer, two crosses on each of her sides.

It is speculated that at least part of the treasure was a wedding present for King Peter I of Bulgaria and the Byzantine Princess Maria-Irina in 927. The cloisonne enamel technique was characteristic of the Byzantine imperial court and it is likely that the jewellery pieces crafted in that way were owned exclusively by royalty.

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