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

IV. The phenomenon of Pliska

The thesis about the antique origin of the monumental buildings in Pliska is not based on the antique materials found there alone. Its most impressive monuments are “antique” in appearance. There is nothing in them that is characteristic of the proper Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian cultures, which do not know such types of constructions in their old lands. It seems indeed unbelievable that at the beginning of the IX c. the culture of one recently founded pagan state could produce such constructions, served by running water which had to be brought from several kilometres away. It seems more natural to assume that they belong to an earlier epoch. But the archaeological evidence does not allow this and it is exactly what makes Pliska a real puzzle, a suddenly appeared cultural phenomenon without direct local roots. Pliska was such a phenomenon even prior to the appearance of the stone architecture. Within the framework of the Proto-Bulgarian culture and even within the wider framework of the Eurasian steppe culture Pliska, with its 23.3 km2 of defended area which included the khan’s residence and a number of villages, has no parallels, save the twice as large surrounded by earthen ramparts camp at Nikulicel (in Northern Dobrudzha near the Danube’s delta, now in Romania, V.K.) – the hypothetical centre of the Asparukh’s Ongle.

Pliska is a true settlement agglomerate which will be repeated, but also simplified and 7 times smaller, in the layout of the later capital — Preslav. The filling of the central area with imposing palaces, dwellings and cultic buildings, protected by powerfull fortress walls, transformed the appearance of the initiall wooden residence, rending it a definitively urban character. In the inscriptions of the Bulgarian khans from the first half of the IX c. these fortified residences are called with the Greek term ‘aul’ (courtyard, palace). Due to its short history as a capital, only the central part of Pliska saw buildings being built, but even so its planning and political-administrative role betrays the early characteristics of the medieval Bulgarian town.

This phenomen has its dark, negative side as well. The constructions, which required enourmous amount of effort and expenditure, were abandoned, sacked and destroyed with the same suddenness and speed with which they were built. External factors – invasions by Russians, Byzantines, Pechenegs, Uzes and Kumans, have been discussed at length. The town was unprepared for such invasions. Its defence required resources which it, a former pagan centre, did not have. Its decline apparently started as early as when it lost the status of the capital. The invasions as well as the specifics om the development of the Bulgarian system of towns and villages at that time – the shrinkage of the inhabited areas and the search for naturally defensible places of habitation, predetermined Pliska’s abandonment towards the mid-XI c.