by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Mystery envelopes ancient folly near crowded Black Sea resort

pomorie tomb.jpg

Pomorie, a seaside town about 20 kilometres north of Burgas, has now become a concrete labyrinth of high-rise hotels and apartment blocks thronged with Russian tourists and holiday-home owners. It does not sound particularly appealing – but that's only on the surface.

Amidst the dust, sun and crowds of Pomorie, there is a place of eternal silence and an unexplained mystery. To find it, you have to take a sign-posted lane off the congested Burgas-Nesebar road. This lane leads to a lush vineyard and there, hidden inside the cold embrace of a huge mound, is a tomb.

The Pomorie Tomb is like nothing else in Bulgaria, or in Europe for that matter.

As a rule, the ancient tombs of Bulgaria were built in the latter centuries of the 1st Millennium BC for the nobles of the independent Thracian tribes. These tombs were built of stone, and had quite a simple structure. Covered by mounds, they had a corridor and, usually, one claustrophobically small burial chamber which could be either rectangular or round. There could be antechambers or additional rooms.

The Pomorie Tomb is built of red bricks. The mound covering it is an unusual elliptical shape and has impressive proportions – the axes are 63 and 53 metres. A 22-metre corridor leads from the entrance of the tomb to a circular chamber which is bigger than anything else found in Bulgaria, with a diameter of 12 metres. Five niches adorn the walls, another strange feature not seen in other Thracian tombs.

Pomorie TombThe mound of the Pomorie tomb

The most unusual feature of the place, however, is the mighty column in the middle of the hall. It rises up to the dome and blends with it in a way that makes you think that you are standing under the cap of a giant mushroom.

More surprises follow. The column is hollow, and inside it there is a staircase leading up to the top of the mound.

The tomb was discovered when it had already been plundered, probably in Antiquity. The artefacts found inside were few, as if to make the riddle of this unusual place more difficult to solve.

Archaeologists and historians are still uncertain why it was built in this manner, and by whom.

Theories abound. The tomb was constructed in the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD, during the Roman rule over this part of the Balkans. It was probably built by a wealthy Thracian family who owned lands around Anhialo, an ancient Greek city and trading centre, the predecessor of modern Pomorie.

Yet, the main question remains unanswered. Was this place really a tomb, or was it something else?

There is evidence that the building was indeed a family tomb. The niches in the wall could be for the urns of the ashes of the cremated. Moreover, the mound is close to one of the Anhialo necropoles, and at the beginning of the 20th Century was surrounded by eight more burial mounds. Only one of these survives today, but it was gutted during the Second World War when a bunker was built inside it.

During the Roman rule, however, even the wealthiest Thracians no longer built tombs and mounds to bury their dead. It was expensive and time consuming, so most of the families preferred to reuse older family tombs. Many of them adopted the Graeco-Roman fashion for lavishly decorated stone sarcophagi, and the most elaborate specimens were imported from far abroad.

This only makes the decision of the Pomorie family to invest in a tomb with such a strange shape a true mystery.

Enter Hypothesis Number Two. According to it, the Pomorie Tomb was the temple of a local deity or a deified member of the family of the owners. The

Thracians did indeed believe in the unification of light and darkness, and you do not need much imagination to see the symbolism of daylight introduced into the gloomy hall through the column.

Pomorie TombThe 22-metre corridor leads into a chamber which is 11.6 metres wide and 5.5 metres high

Some earlier Thracian tombs have already been interpreted as temples, most notably the ones in Starosel, near Kazanlak, and in Mishkova Niva, in the Strandzha. The Pomorie Tomb, however, was apparently built much later.

The tomb was reconstructed in 1958-1959 and several years later was declared a monument of national importance. In 2013, a reconstruction began with the intention of rebuilding the two additional rooms at the entrance to the corridor, and of conserving the circular hall.

The riddle, however, remains unsolved.

America for Bulgaria FoundationHigh Beam is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.


    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

Her father's daughter who imposed her own mediocrity on Bulgaria's culture? Or a forbearing politician who revived interest in Bulgaria's past and placed the country on the world map? Or a quirky mystic? Or a benefactor to the arts?

In 1199, Pope Innocent III wrote a letter to Bulgarian King Kaloyan to offer an union.

The Rhodope mountains have an aura of an enchanted place no matter whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter. But in springtime there is something in the Bulgarian south that makes you feel more relaxed, almost above the ground.

There are many ways to categorise and promote Bulgaria's heritage: traditional towns and villages, Thracian rock sanctuaries, nature, sun and fun on the seaside, and so on and so forth.

Karlovo is one of those places where size does not equal importance.

Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserv

How to celebrate like locals without getting lost in complex traditions

Small-town Bulgaria is a diverse place. Some of the towns are well known to tourists while others are largely neglected by outsiders.

Of the many villages in Bulgaria that can be labeled "a hidden treasure," few can compete with Matochina. Its old houses are scattered on the rolling hills of Bulgaria's southeast, overlooked by a mediaeval fortress.

Poet who lost an eye in the Great War, changed Bulgarian literature - and was assassinated for his beliefs

In previous times, when information signs of who had built what were yet to appear on buildings of interest, people liberally filled the gaps with their imagination.

If anything defines the modern Bulgarian landscape, it is the abundance of recent ruins left from the time when Communism collapsed and the free market filled the void left by planned economy.