120 years of French-Bulgarian cooperation in archaeology
French historians and archaeologists happened to be among the first researchers of Bulgaria’s historical heritage as early as the years of Ottoman Rule. “Due to the closer relations between the French and the Turkish government French scientists, diplomats and spies found it easier to wander around the empire even in the 16-18 centuries. Then those people published their observations,” Director of the National Museum of History Bozhidar Dimitrov says. Some of the initial real archaeological excavations were later done, based on some of these descriptions.
1892 is considered to be the year, when the true scientific cooperation between French and Bulgarian archaeologists began. In 1904 French consul in Plovdiv Degran headed to the Black Sea port town of Sozopol, where the antique town Apollonia Pontica was supposedly situated. The results from the excavations were published by archaeologist Georges Seure in 1924 in the French scientific magazine Revue archeologique. At the same time the artifacts discovered were handed to the Louvre. Painted antique Rhodian-Ionian type vases from the 7 and 6 centuries BC, a gilded wreath of a Thracian ruler, a delicate bust of a lady from the 3rd century BC – those could be seen among the objects discovered. One cannot miss the work of French Byzantine expert of Russian origin Andre Grabar, when talking about the French connection in the research of Bulgaria’s past. He was the first that paid attention during the 1920s to the magnificent frescoes of the Boyana Church near Sofia, determining them as harbingers of the European Renaissance in religious painting. A plaque was placed in the yard of the Boyana Church in Sofia on March 21, honoring the memory of Andre Gabar and related to the 120th anniversary since the beginning of French-Bulgarian cooperation in the area of archaeology.
The Bulgarian-French scientific conference, dedicated to the anniversary focused on the results from the three very successful joint archaeological expeditions that had taken place in this country over the last years.
“We, experts in Neolithic and Chalcolithic feel wonderful in Bulgaria, which is perhaps the richest country in Europe, regarding this historical heritage,” archaeologist Jean-Francois Jarrige, Secretary General of Commission on Archaeological Excavations in France commented. “Bulgaria is a dreamland about each archaeologist, since we find here really interesting prehistoric artifacts, along ones from the Thracian époque, the Hellenistic, Medieval and Byzantine ones…This French-Bulgarian archaeological cooperation is very precious to us and it started with the work of Georges Seure in the 19th century.”
Two of the now working Bulgarian-French archaeological expeditions survey prehistory, reaching remarkable discoveries. One of them, taking place in the Kozarnika cave near the town of Vratsa came upon traces of human presence from the Paleolithic era, more than 1.5 mln. years ago. The other expedition discovered near the village of Kavachevo in the valley of the Struma River the eldest artifacts, testifying about agricultural practices in the Neolithic period. The third expedition returned to the region, surveyed by Degran – the town of Sozopol.
French Ambassador to Bulgaria Philippe Autie confessed his hidden passion for archaeology, citing what the great researcher of Antiquity Theophile Homolle wrote more than a century ago on the Thracian period in the Bulgarian lands.
“Thrace used to for the continent what Greece used to be for the Aegean Sea. The Thracians, related to the Asian historical areas of Bithynia and Phrygia via the primary route of migration, allocated their colonies throughout the entire Greece. Later, on the other hand, the gold mines, the fertile lands and the good harbors of the Thracians attracted there the Greek, or to be more precise, the Latin colonies. Thus Thrace turned into a battlefield for centuries and saw many armed conflicts. During the times of the Roma and Byzantine emperors it used to be a boulevard of the empire and all invasions went along this route.”
English version: Zhivko Stanchev