Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Lure of Buried Treasure

The Regency world was just as much in love with the exotic as we are today. For example, in 1810, The Morning Chronicle proclaimed that, 'dress is daily flying from Greek simplicity to Eastern magnificence.' There was a craze for all things Egyptian; the Prince Regent went wild for Chinoiserie in the Brighton Pavilion. 1820s dress took on a Gothic look. So I make no apology for introducing something exotic this month.

1. Gold from Thracian tombs, Museum of History, Sofia.

I've just returned from Bulgaria, a beautiful country with a wealth of historical treasures, where I was bowled over by its spectacular Thracian tombs. If Catherine Morland had known about them, I'm sure she'd have been bowled over, too! At least, that's my excuse for this post.

The Thracians came from the Russian steppes in about 3000 BC, bringing Bronze Age technology with them. They colonized the country and buried their kings in huge, highly visible, tumuli, called tells which still dot the landscape.

2. The Countryside around the tell at Kazanluk. The slop of the tell is on the left.

Each tell covers a royal tomb, usually constructed of mortared stones. A door from the world of the living leads to a passageway with chambers off for grave goods - those objects that the king would need in the afterlife. The passage itself leads to a round burial chamber with a domed ceiling. There is a raised stone bed for the body and the chamber is often beautifully decorated with friezes.

3. Frieze from the Alexandrovo tomb, c. 4th C BC. Thracian Art Museum of the Eastern Rodopes

The Royal tomb at Sveshtari from 300 BC is slightly different in that the passage was and chambers are vaulted and the burial chamber has a delightful stone bas relief  of caryatids which were once painted. There are still touches of paint of their belts. Unfortunately, the tomb was robbed in antiquity but it still exudes a feeling of peace and serenity.

4. Caryatids from the Royal Tomb at Sveshtari

What really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, however, was the horses and chariot burial at Kartanovo - Catherine Morland would have loved it! It is early Thracian and dates from the 2nd millennium BC. The Municipality of Nova Zagora had the brilliant idea of building a museum round the still ongoing excavations, leaving the burial half-excavated so that visitors can have the thrill of seeing them as they were found. 

5. Horses and chariot burial, Historical Museum, Nova Zagora.

So, what about the treasure? The Museums of History and Archaeology in Sofia have some spectacular examples of Thracian gold (see top photo) and silver. I particularly liked the gold triple-leaf shaped bowls. What were they for? How were they used? The gold cups, too, with their elegant handles are just beautiful and the workmanship is top quality.

Sofia started life as a settlement of the Thracian Serdi tribe from at least the 2nd century BC.. It became part of the Roman Empire in 40 AD as Serdica. It is not surprising, therefore, that later Thracian grave goods show Greek influence, as in the silver rhytons (curved drinking vessels) below. One of the rhytons ends in a helmeted and bearded male torso with wings and the forelegs of a horse. Another ends in a horse, a Thracian symbol of power and prestige.

6. Silver treasure, Museum of History, Sofia.

And who wouldn't want this beautiful jewellery? I spent some time choosing which piece I'd like. I just loved the earrings at the bottom right, though I'd be very happy with any of the items. I wonder what Catherine Morland would have chosen.

7. Jewellery, Museum of Archaeology, Sofia 

I travelled with Andante Travels, a small company which specializes in archaeological and historical tours, often off the beaten track - usually with spectacular scenery and, if you travel in April, you catch the spring flowers, too!

Elizabeth Hawksley


Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

What a marvelous post, Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing this with us. I can just imagine Regency adventurers hunting out such treasure!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

AND i have to say so lovely to have a touch of the exotic to warm up a chilly autumn day in the UK!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Melinda/Sarah. I've been thinking about what Catherine Morland might have enjoyed in Bulgaria and remembered that Veliko Tarnovo castle has a fearsome execution rock where prisoners were beheaded and their bodies flung down onto the rocks below. 'All horrid!' as Isabelle Thorpe would have said1

Amanda said...

I wonder if Lady Catherine had such splendid gold cups? If so, she could have relied on Mr Collins to tell everyone how much they were worth!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I agree, Amanda. And just think how Mrs Elton would show off the triple leaf-shaped gold bowls - just right for nuts at one of her Maple Grove 'superior parties'.

Christina Courtenay said...

I am so, so jealous! Your trip sounds fantastic and just the sort of thing I would love too. Fascinating post and I loved learning more about the Thracians - that frieze is just amazing! Unbelievable to think how old it is. Thank you for sharing!

Unknown said...

Thracians didn't come from Russian steppes. Bulgars, the ancestors of bulgarians might have come from there (turkic-mongoloid people) did. Stop spreading misinformation.