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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

Peristera fortress

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

When Christianity was introduced in the Byzantine Empire in 313, the local inhabitants had to choose on which of the surrounding hills to build their church. Thus, a flock of pigeons flew from the hill of Sveta Petka.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera
Pigeon place "Peristera"

Dear friends of "Photo moments", I start today's story with one of the legends about the origin of the place where today we find the "Peristera" fortress - another interesting ancient site that we will visit together today.

It's the beginning of March. I'm traveling to the Cave.

My goal is an interesting and restored fortress at the beginning of the city.

I get my bearings very quickly and soon I'm in the parking lot.

How do you get to Peristera fortress?

The fortress is located at the beginning of the town of Peshtera and on the right, in case you enter the town from Pazardzhik.

The turnoff is marked with a sign. There is a large parking lot where you can leave your car.

Blooming magnolias in the fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera
Blooming magnolias

I couldn't believe my eyes - although it was early March, magnolias were blooming all around the fortress. Everything is in pink! Smiles everywhere!

"Peristera" translated from Greek means dove.

During the Roman period, when one of the main roads connecting the Upper Thracian lowland with the Aegean Sea passed nearby, a castle was built. This is the first period of the history of the fortress and covers the time from the 2nd century to the beginning of the 3rd century.

The fortress is impressive and is a massive fortification with three belts of fortress walls and six defensive towers located on the innermost fortress wall.

The fortified area has the shape of an ellipse, with orientation along the long axis NE-SW, length 94 meters and width of the fortress 37 meters.

Elevation from SW to NE is 5 meters, and the highest point of the fortress is 494.6 meters. The fortress walls, which are 253 meters long, enclose a space of 2895 m². They were built of large rubble stones joined with mortar, and their thickness reaches three meters, which gives reason to assume that the fortress wall was at least 14 meters high.

Before the restoration, the fortress walls were preserved at a height of up to 2.60 meters.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

Along the length of the fortress wall there are six towers: three rectangular, one triangular and two church-shaped. The latter are extremely interesting. These are the towers that guard the northeast and southeast corners of the citadel.

Similar towers are registered in today's Serbia, at the early Byzantine fortification near Ravna, where in the 6th century three of the towers were renewed and from rectangular they became in the form of single-nave churches.

Another fortification - Saldum (IV - VI century), near the Danube - also has a church-shaped tower. It, as with "Peristera", is on the northeast corner.

Similar fortresses are not known from today's Bulgarian lands.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

The dating of the construction is about the fourth century AD, and it is very likely that the fortress itself existed at least until the seventh century.

The modern architectural reconstruction of the fortification system of the citadel of "Peristera" is entirely based on the results of an archaeological survey, adhering to the authentic appearance of the late antique structure.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

The name of the hill on which I found "Peristera" today is Sveta Petka.

Locals claim that this name originates from time immemorial, because a long, long time ago there was a church here bearing the same name.

The "Peristera" fortress occupies the entire hill of Sveta Petka and has clearly defined citadels, an inner city and a suburb, located on an area of about 15 acres.

For now, the fortress walls of the citadel and the inner city have been clarified and partially restored.

It is likely that the suburb is partially covered by the modern streets and buildings of the town of Peshtera, including the Pazardzhik-Peshtera road, where there was a gate with an arch, immediately east under the fortress.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

During the excavations, the team discovered over 300 unique finds. Among them are numerous coins, some gold, some of which date from the time of Emperor Justinian (6th century).

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

Various parts of the clothing of the soldiers who guarded the fortress, various fibulae, a certain amount of jewelry, also arrows, fragments of inscriptions, marble details of the buildings, clay and glass vessels were found, which are exhibited in an open-air museum.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

In the fortress, almost 80 pithos were found, some of huge sizes, they are a kind of refrigerators from Antiquity. A large part of the vessels are exposed in the place where they were found.

The southern tower of the Peristera fortress in the town of Peshtera
The south tower

The discoveries made during the archaeological research of the place turned out to be quite good and valuable, and some even surprising, and a decision was made to restore the already declared cultural monument according to a project implemented by the municipality:

Conservation, restoration and exhibition of the ancient and medieval fortress "Peristera", located on the hill of Sveta Petka, town of Peshtera

The project includes a partial restoration of the citadel and ramparts, which are sealed to protect them from climate change.

The south tower has been converted into a three-story museum, and the open-air museum is located on the north side.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

Interesting is the northern gate of the citadel, which has undergone at least two reconstructions. Originally the entrance was on the line of the curtain (fortress wall), immediately to the north-west corner. There was probably a gate tower of rectangular shape projecting to the south. Later, perhaps at the beginning of the 6th century, a powerful rectangular tower was built, with a length from west to east of 11.30 meters.

On the eastern fortress wall, north of the facade of the southeastern tower-church, another entrance to the fortress is formed.

The second (Late Roman) period is attested by four coins struck during the time of the emperors: Diocletian (284 – 305), Constantine I the Great (324 – 337) and Julian (360 – 363). It can be assumed that the first destruction of the fortification took place during the Second Gothic War in 376, under the emperor Valens and especially after his defeat at Hadrianople on August 9, 379.

The third period of the fortress's existence is best attested.

After a 150-year break, the life of the fortification and the nearby settlement was revived at the beginning of the 6th century. Evidence of this is the spectacular construction, two collective coin finds (one is gold) and the multitude of other materials.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

In the highest part of the elevation, stones of different sizes are grouped, one of which is shaped like a dove.

The rock in the shape of a pigeon in the fortress "Peristera" in the city of Peshtera
The dove-shaped rock

After the devastating barbarian raids of 528-529 and the catastrophic defeat of the Byzantine army in 533, after Byzantium lost its control over Moesia and Scythia in the fourth and fifth centuries, the empire was on the verge of collapse.

A powerful counteroffensive in 551 led to a complete restoration of the empire's borders. As a result, a large-scale strengthening activity began on the Danube border, the Balkans and the Rhodopes.

The hill of Sveta Petka was apparently included in the third defensive rampart, aimed at protecting the Empire and especially the road arteries connecting the western Thracian plain with the White Sea, from the frequent attacks. Then, probably during the large-scale construction at the time of Emperor Justinian I the Great (527 – 565), the fortress on the hill of Saint Petka was rebuilt and rebuilt, with two of the towers renewed and from rectangular ones to the shape of single-nave churches. Thus, apart from their functional purpose, the towers-churches also provided the spiritual protection of the fortification.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

The analysis of the data and the coins found at the fortress categorically define the years in which Justinian II ruled (565 – 578) as the time of greatest economic prosperity of the fortress-settlement "Peristera".

A completely identical situation is reflected in the coin material from the early Byzantine fortifications in Thrace and Illyria. The subsequent events, massive Avar and Slavic raids and the retaliatory strikes of the Byzantine army, turned the territory of the whole of Thrace into a field of rarely waning hostilities during the last two decades of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th centuries. Many of the settlement centers cease to exist.

The last minted coins of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (578 – 582) found here mark the end of the existence of the Saint Petka fortress. The end of the habitation of the early Byzantine fortified settlement near Peshtera had a disastrous nature and was everywhere marked by natural fire. An account of the chronicler John of Ephesus also serves as proof:

...In the third year after the death of the Emperor Justin, and during the reign of Tiberius the Victorious, the accursed Slavic people came and raided all Hellas, the environs of Thessalonica, and all Thrace. They captured many cities and fortified places, ravaged and burned, plundered the country and possessed it. They settled in her without fear, as if she belonged to them.

The events described in the chronicle refer to the year 582.

Ram in the shape of a ram's head from the fortress "Peristera" in the city of Peshtera
Ram shaped like a ram's head

Discovered in the northern part of the "Peristera" fortress, fragments of medieval ceramics and coins from the 13th century prove that the fortification had a fourth period of existence. In the Middle Ages, it was revived again, but partially, on a part of the Late Antique fortification.

The fortress on Sveta Petka hill was probably destroyed during the Ottoman invasion at the end of the 14th century. But the settlement at its foot continued to exist even after that. The available data indicate that its population practiced ore mining and metal mining during the Ottoman rule as well, with one blacksmith and three foundries working until 1850. In addition, during the creation of a park around the restored fortress (this whole area has not been studied), the workers came across of remains, which suggests that down below it there is a whole city of several polis, in which the merchants, craftsmen, etc. lived.

Fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera

I am happy to share with you my account, based on the extremely interesting information most kindly provided to me by the excellent information guide, which also largely coincided with the history of the fort that I came across on the net.

Hand holding three four-leaf clovers
И късмет

Have you been searching for four-leaf clovers?

Four-leaf clovers in the fortress "Peristera" in the town of Peshtera
Four leaf clovers

Did you know that the courtyard of the fortress is full! They are literally everywhere!

A walk through the fortress and around, accompanied by a wonderful company and in good weather, is an incomparable pleasure that you should give yourself as a gift!

I wish you an exceptional and impressive walk!

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