Today, Pliska is a small town in northern Bulgaria, but it used to be the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire established in 681, which means that the town is 1338 years old! It also is famous for being the place from which the process of Christianization in the country started. So, a stroll around Pliska, the place where Bulgarians got christianized and its surroundings could turn into an amazing adventure!
Pliska functioned as the capital city from 681 A.D. until 893 A.D. It was way ahead of its time in comparison to the other nations settled in Europe in the 7th century. It had a complex water-supply network, whose channels are still visible. Pliska was an important historical and cultural site since the conversion of the Bulgarian nation from paganism to Christianity started here, in 865 A.D. Three of the students of Cyril and Methodius (the two brothers who invented the Slavic alphabet), came to Pliska after they were persecuted. Those three men – Naum, Kliment, and Angelarii, worked with the Bulgarian ruler at the time, Boris I, to make the people literate, and their work helped the rest of the Slavic countries to Christianize their people. After the Bulgarians were christened, the next ruler moved the capital to another town called Preslav, which symbolized a new beginning for the nation. Pliska was still a functioning town though until the Ottomans captured it in the 16th-17th century.
The ruins of more than 1300-year-old palace complex are located 3km north from the current town of Pliska. They were discovered in 1899 and been a subject of archeological works ever since. Today, the “Great Basilica of Pliska” is the name of the complex, in which are the ruins of the basilica itself (e.g. a cathedral), a monastery and an archbishop`s palace. The Basilica, that was completely finished around 875 A.D., was one of the biggest Christian cathedrals at that time. Excavation works carried out in the 20th century revealed that the cathedral was built on the ruins of a pagan temple. The monastery, whose ruins are next to the ones of the cathedral, was the place where the students of Cyril and Methodius worked.
The Yard of the Cyrillic alphabet is an open-air museum in tribute to the Cyrillic alphabet and the work of Cyril and Methodius. It was opened on in May 2015. It was built by an Armenian, who read a lot about Bulgaria`s glorious history and decided to do something to commemorate the country`s contribution to Christianization. The complex is 8000 square meters large in area and is divided into two sections. After you enter, you find yourself in the first part of the complex, where are the statues of Cyril and Methodius, a statue of the Bulgarian ruler who introduced Christianity in the country – Boris I, as well as 2-meter-high statues of each letter of the Cyrillic alphabet. Each letter is decorated with ornaments and symbols, which refers to nature and Bulgarian culture.
Next to the sculpture of Boris I, there is a small temple dedicated to thе ruler, who was canonized after his death. Near the temple, you can see one original Khachkar, an Armenian carved memorial slab, bearing a cross. The transit from the first to the second part of the complex goes through a gallery, in which there are paintings of important scenes from the history of Bulgaria. After passing through the gallery, you reach “the fortress”, an authentic building with a tower, both made out of stone.
Near the fortress, one can find the “Writers` alley”, an exhibition of busts of Bulgarian and foreign people who contributed to the literature with great works. This exhibition is currently being complemented with names from the classic as well as the modern literature.
Although laying on the ruins of a once great capital, Pliska is still worth exploring. It the preserves the memory of the glorious and powerful first Bulgarian empire. A stroll around such a place, which bears the first signs of Christianity in Bulgaria gives the Bulgarians, as well as the foreign visitors, a small sense of what the world was like 13 centuries ago!
Cover photo © credits to flickr.com/V. Marinov
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