The Mysteries of The Valley of The Thracian Kings
A journey in the most impressive tombs in the Valley of the Thracian Kings – the Kazanlak Tomb, Golyama Kosmatka, Shushmanets, Helvetia, Gryphons, Svetitsa, and Ostrusha.Beehive architecture, golden masks, bronze heads, ritual stone beds, geometric decorated roofs, world-famous frescoes – discover the hidden secrets of the rich Thracian heritage!
The Valley of the Thracian Kings is a part of Central Bulgaria, near the city of Kazanlak.
More than a thousand tombs of kings and members of the Thracian aristocracy can be found as a part of a large royal Thracian necropolis near their ancient capital of Seuthopolis.
There are 8 tombs which have been explored in details in the Valley of the Thracian Kings. Unfortunately, 99% of them have been plundered in the past, but their remnants are still impressive today captivating with their mysticism. Their names are the Kazanlak Tomb, Golyama Kosmatka, Golyama Arsenalka, Shushmanets, Helvetia, Gryphons, Svetitsa, and Ostrusha. Relics found in the tombs can be seen in the Historical Museum Iskra in Kazanluk.
Thracians used to be the most numerous nation after the Indian nation in 5th century BC. If they were united, they could have been unbeatable. Among them, the Odrysian Kingdom was the biggest.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
The Thracian tomb near the town of Kazanlak (known as the Kazanlak Tomb) in the Valley of the Thracian Kings is a unique aesthetic and artistic work, a masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit.
This monument is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world.
The tomb’s architecture
The tomb is similar to a “beehive” called tholos.
It comprises a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber, both decorated with murals representing a Thracian couple at a ritual funeral feast. The monument dates back to the 4th century BC and has been on the UNESCO protected World Heritage Site list since 1979 (actually the first UNESCO site in Bulgaria!)
Тhe world-famous frescoes
The exceptionally well-preserved frescos and the original condition of the structure reveal the remarkable evolution and high level of culture and pictorial art in Hellenistic Thrace.
The murals are memorable for the splendid horses and for a gesture of farewell, in which the seated couple grasp each other’s wrists in a moment of tenderness and equality.
These images prove the thesis of the Thracian faith in the afterlife. At the funeral, they sent the deceased with everything he had served during his life.
The wall decoration in the corridor presents a fight scene between two enemy troops. The scenes represent a historical event related to the life of the distinguished Thracian ruler buried in the tomb.
Interestingly, all animals and humans were painted with unnaturally long legs and small heads.
What was found in the tomb?
Two burials had been conducted here – of a man and of a woman (the only Thracian tomb where bones of woman have been discovered!)
The tomb today:
The tomb is under a special storage regime: to preserve the sensitive paintings, the tomb is not open to the public; a full-size replica was built nearby in scale 1:1.
Golyama Kosmatka Mound (Tomb of Seuthes III)
It is believed to represent the funeral of Seuthes (the ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom and founder of the nearby Thracian city of Seuthopolis) in the Valley of the Thracian Kings.
Structure of the tomb
This is one of the biggest Thracian tombs. Under the mound, the tomb consists of an unusually long corridor (dromos) 13 meters long and three consecutive rooms. Surprisingly, it was found untouched.
Discoveries in the tomb
Entering the tomb, the first thing, that you can meet is a bronze head. That’s right, the head – which is thought to depict Seuthes III.
Extremely fine decorated, this is one of the masterpieces of Thracian art. Separating the head from the statue of the ruler is linked with the Indo-European ritual practices, where often the head is separated from the body and continues to protect the whole kingdom.
There are two wings doors depicting Helios on the eastern wing and Gorgona Medusa on the western. In the days when mysterious rituals were performed here by the Thracian priests, the doors were closed and locked with a latch on the inside.
There was a sacrifice of a horse but remaining parts of human were not found here.
The sarcophagus-chamber contained personal golden belongings that were necessary for the afterlife of the king. The total weight of the gold including all the objects is more than one kilogram. The most impressive is the Golden wreath with oak leaves. All written scripts are evidence that here Seuthes was buried here.
Perhaps you like me have asked where the name of the Golyama Kosmatka Mound comes from (it sounds a bit funny in Bulgarian)? The name of the mound comes from the huge oak trees that have covered the structure.
Ostrusha (or Sharp Mound)
This is 18 meters high mound form one of the biggest representative tomb-cult complexes in the Valley of the Thracian Kings with 6 rooms on an area of 100 square meters.
The complex was built in the middle of 4 century BC and functioned initially as the temple of the Thracian god of immortality Sabazius.
The central chamber is carved out of a single granite block weighing about 60 tons.
The impressive roof
The roof block is of particular interest, divided into dozens of square and circle shaped niches filled with masterfully painted portraits, scenes with people, fighting between animals, plants, geometric decorations, and scenes from the Greek Mythology.
At the center is the sun, covered with gold (I noticed this motive thanks to the museum co-worker!).
All quadrats have been painted in vibrant colors: red, blue, green and yellow. Most of the frescoes are severely damaged apart from a portrait of a young noblewoman.
The murals of Ostrusha are one of the masterpieces of the ancient Thracian art.
What else has been discovered here?
Only 3 from the chambers can be visited.
The ruler bed is fully covered with boards but there are pictures outside of the museum, which represent how the bed looked like. The bed has 2 stone pillows and embossed legs.
The found horse skeleton is related with the following mystical cult: Thracians used to sacrifice horses and dogs at the funeral of the ruler to support him in the life after death. The horse was bringing the ruler through a high bridge in the death kingdom.
Easy to visit: The group of 3 tombs: Helvetia, Shumanets, and Griffins are located 100 meters from each other in the Valley of the Thracian Kings.
Helvetia (the Small Mound)
Helvetia comes from the Swiss company who financed the project for the reconstruction of the 2 tombs in the Valley of the Thracian Kings.
It was discovered in 1996 when Bulgaria was in very bad economic state and there were no funds for archeological discovery.
There is a relatively long dromus (corridor) which used to be built later.
The rectangular chamber had a stone door locked from the inside.
The door of the tomb used to be painted in red. Red meant life for Thracians. There was also a black color: death.
Benches next to the bed mean that it was used as a mausoleum for secret ceremonies.
Opposite the entrance, a ritual stone bed was located in the room.
At the last funeral, a horse was buried after that, the tomb was filled with soil.
There is a small gutter at the entrance which is evidence for the executed sacrifices.
This is the biggest, and best-preserved stone dome necropolis in the Valley of the Thracian Kings impressive with its entrance façade.
It is believed that a noble Thracer was buried here.
It is named after the depictions of griffin heads discovered above its entrance. At the center, there is a palmetto leave.
Structure of the tomb
The tomb has a long dromus (corridor).
Unusual are the 2 chambers – one rectangular before-tomb and a rounded tomb covered with a fine-made dome.
The entrances of both premises had been closed by stone doors as per the Thracian tradition which have been broken in antiquity.
There is a ritual stone bed with decorations.
Under the stone bed, there was another embossed step, which was painted in red.
Interesting detail here is that the feet imitate lion’s paws.
The technic used for the stone blocks in the corridor is the same one used by the inks for Machu Picchu.
Shushmanets – one of the treasures of the Valley of the Thracian Kings
The name of the tomb is connected with the Bulgarian king Michail – Shishman who has passed through these lands.
It was initially a temple, later turned into a tomb.
The façade is impressive with a column at the entrance. It was crowned with a palm tree gable.
In the center of the temple, in a rounded chamber, there is a column representing the sun with its rays. (Thanks to the security guard, I discovered this detail!). The chamber is most probably related to the imagination of the Thracers about the world.
This is the first collection with two types of columns in the architecture representing Ionian and Dorian styles.
Skeletons of 4 horses and 2 dogs were discovered here.
There was a bed with stone pillows broken by the robbing of the tomb.
The entrance was painted in red, the rounded chamber mostly covered in white.
Svetitsata and the Golden Mask – one of the symbols of the Valley of the Thracian Kings
Here is found the most impressive treasure in the area: a golden mask known as the Golden mask of Teres. It has human features, half-open eyes, thick hair, and moustaches.
It is made of 23-carat gold and weighs 673 grams. The mask is heavily deformed and crushed, one ear has fallen behind the face. It also played a role of glass for drinking.
The buried ruler
The body of the ruler was cut in pieces in advance.
His belongings were also cut in pieces and thrown to different places in the tomb and outside the tomb. For this reason, it is believed that he was a follower of Orpheus because, according to the legend, the singer was torn by the Bacchans as the Thracian ruler.
At the place of the missing head, the golden mask was laid down.
The ruler was one of the richest people and he was buried with military equipment.
The golden ring with the athlete
Among the other valuable objects found in the tomb is a golden ring-stamp, which is also in the style of antique art from the second half of the 5th century BC. The image represents a recreational athlete.
He is a naked man with an underlined muscular, and with a very long object – oars of a boat or spears.
The Thracian tombs are the only almost entirely preserved representatives of the monumental cult architecture of the ancient Thracians.
They reveal part of the secrets of this mysterious tribe and give us ground for exploration and further interpretation of their hidden rituals.
Although the tombs are relatively small as dimensions and most of the treasures were plundered in the ancient times, their mystical magnetic atmosphere captures and excites our mind!