Pliska - 100 years of archaeological excavations
R. Rashev, Ya. Dimitrov

III. The legacy of Pliska

Pliska - the earthen ramparts of the Outer town and the stone fortress of the Inner town
Pliska. The earthen ramparts of the Outer town and the stone fortress of the Inner town

Over the last 100 years, various sectors of the defended territory of Pliska, some 23.3 km2, have been excavated. At present, only around 0.5 % of this territory has been studied by the standard method of excavation/uncovering, by the digging of pits and irrigation canals. Regardless of that, a relatively complete picture of the material culture could be built on the abundance of various artefacts. The latter belong to several groups.

    1. Defensive constructions

So far the territory of Pliska yielded three types of defensive constructions. Their concentric positioning allowed the introduction of the terms Inner town and Outer town. Most imposing in its size is the outer earthen rampart and ditch – a rectangle with sides of 7 x 7 x 3.4 x 2.9 km, which surrounded several inhabited areas. Its size makes it the largest among several similar constructions dating from the pagan period of the First Bulgarian kingdom. Besides the four main entrances on its four sides, there were additional entrances, especially on its south-western side, where a road led to the second-largest such defensive perimeter, near the modern horse-breeding farm of Kabijuk. The rampart was built out of the soil removed from the ditch. At places, where the ditch had cut into beds of marls situated close to the surface, the faces of the ditch were formed as a wall built of marl stones. So far no additional wooden palisades or similar obstructions have been found, but their existence cannot be ruled out. There is no exact data to allow to date the rampart, but it is rightfully assumed that it is among the earliest built constructions around the capital.

The earthen rampart:
Trench in the north
AKuzev, p. 35
Trench in the south-western corner
AKuzev, p. 36
Trench through the northern side 
SVaklinov, p. 32

No less imposing is the situated at the centre of the rampart stone fortress, which delineates the territory of the Inner town. In Byzantine and local Bulgarian sources from the first half of the IX c. AD this fortress, together with the palace buildings inside it, are designated by the Greek term ‘aul’ meaning ‘court’, ‘palace’, ‘fortified palace’. The aul has the form of an irregular rectangle, 48 hectares in area. Facilitated by the flat ground, its walls had been traced almost in straight lines. In the middle of three of them – the eastern, the western and the northern wall – there were gates, each flanked by four symmetrical towers, protruding forwards and backwards from the wall. At the level of the first floor they joined together into a single unit by a brick-lain vaulted arch above the passage. The massive towers thus formed rose to a 13-14 metre in height and were probably the tallest constructions in the capital. Initially, the passage was blocked by two gates – a coming down (cataract) and a two-leaved one. During a later restructuring which affected all three gates, the coming down gate was preserved, the two-leaved one was moved inwards and one more two-leaved gate was placed at the beginning of the passage. The vaulted arch was then rebuilt solely of bricks. Only the southern gate retained its original state. Due to peculiarities of the terrain, it was moved towards the western end of the wall. Channels for pouring hot liquids upon an enemy who would succeed in reaching the passage below were cut into its stone vaulted arch. The ascent to the floors above all of the gates was by the way of spiral stairways, built in one of the inner towers. At the corners of the fortress there were circular towers, and along its walls – a pentagonal ones. The Pliska fortress was a representative rather than defensive construction. Its frontal towers were too far apart, it lacked the convenient outer stairways for access to the battle platforms. The faced with fine red mortar joints softened the severity of the smooth walls and gave them a touch of picturesqueness and colour. The fortress can be tentatively dated towards the very beginning of the IX c. AD.

Stone walls:
The characteristic proto-Bulgarian ashlar building technique with wide, red-coloured joints, from Preslav and Pliska
NTjuleshkov, p. 44
Structure of the Pliska fortress after T. Balabanov
NTjuleshkov, p. 44
The eastern fortress wall
The western fortress wall
AKuzev, p. 50.

The Eastern gate of the stone fortress
SVaklinov, p. 64
The Western gate built of ashlars and with a facing of bricks
AKuzev, p. 76
Nest for the beam blocking the two-leaved gate
AKuzev. p. 77
Graphical reconstruction of the Western gate of the Inner town
DOvcharov, p. 69

Pentagonal tower
AKuzev, p. 79
Entrance to a pentagonal tower
AKuzev, p. 71
Round tower
AKuzev, p, 80
The third defensive construction was the double wooden wall, so far studied only in its southern part. Wooden posts were tightly driven in two parallel rows, 2 metre apart. The space between them was probably not filled with clay or stones. The exact size of this construction is still unknown. The building technique suggests that this wall surrounded the earliest buildings in the centre of Pliska, which were also built of wood. All they can be tentatively dated to the VIII c. AD.

In the centre of the Inner town there are the remains of a brick wall, surrounding the residential palace and the buildings around it, some 1 hectare in area. It was built of bricks over a stone foundation which in turn rested on a wooden grill. On its northern wall there were two ordinary gates, on the western and southern walls – gates with narrow passages. It seems that there were decorative pinnacles on the top of the wall, covered by stone lids which were significantly smaller by those covering the pinnacles of the stone fortress. The solid foundations of the brick wall make it part of the defensive structure of the capital. As its innermost defensive perimeter it may be named the Citadel. It was probably the model for the later stone fortresses-palaces in Preslav and at the village of Khan Krum.

Pliska. The Citadel
Pliska. The Citadel

Along mounds No XXXII and XXXIII there can be traced the remains of a ditch and a not very high rampart, regarded by some archaeologists as part of the earthen rampart – the initial earthen defence of the Inner town. Its study is still ongoing.