Silistra Durostorum

Silistra is port town in north-east Bulgaria, on the south Danube river bank in South Dobruja – Dobrudzhea, opposite to Romania. In 1940 the city was divided into two parts – Bulgarian and Romanian one.

Silistra was the antique Durostorum, the Middle age Drastar and makes the leading center of Christianity, Christian culture and civilization in Dobrudzhea. Former name of Silistra was Drastar, after the antique Durostorum – Dorostrol, the most significant Roman military camp and settlement founded between 2nd and 4th century in the Roman province of Moesia in the Lower Danube. This town was connected with the earlier history of Bulgaria as one of the first places in which the Slavic people and the Bulgars have settled after they passed over Danube. Durostorum was established as Roman legionary camp near to an ancient settlement of Getae. The name of Durostorum has ever provoked debates between linguists and historians. The prevalent view is that the name was of Thracian or Celtic origin, and it meant something like “strong, great or heavy”. After AD 105-106 the camp was headquarter of Legio XI Claudia that has been removed from Pannonia to Moessia. The troops of the legion remained in Durostorum till the end of antiquity. The name of the town appeared in another inscription as municipium Aurelium Durostorum. The main structures of the Roman city of Durostorum – the legionary camp, the canabae, the municipium, some of the cemeteries remained in the today present Bulgarian territory, while the vicus, the fabricae of the legion and other cemeteries fell in Romania.

From 106 til the 6th century on the spot of the present day Silistria – that time Durostorum camps without break the XI Claudia Legion – the most important military unit in the Roman Empire on the Lower Danube. The ancient city has been developed around the camp which received municipality status in 167 with rapid prosperity and all advantageous features and consequences. Durostorum developed impressive buildings, defensive walls and castles, city baths, pagan temples with altars and numerous structured architecture which testify on the antique civilization of supreme achievements. Durostorum received special attention of the Emperors Diocletian and Constantine the Great when became the basic fort of the Roman Empire against the barbarian – mostly Gothic – invasions. During the time of advanced Christianization preceded by persecutions against the Early Christian community of Durostorum. Between 303 and 307 in Durostorum consecutively come to martyr death St Dasius, St Julius, St Valentinus, St Pazzicratos, St Markinianus, St Nicandros, St Maximus, St Dadas, St Quintillianus and St Calinicos, and in 362 the last Early Christian martyr in Silistria and Moesia – St Emilianus of Dorostrol was burnt. The final triumph of Christianity in Durostorum in the second half of the 4th century is marked by the Bishopric formation in 380 with building of martyriums, churches and a bishop’s residence. The impressive early Christian brick-built mausoleum – martyrium in Durostorum houses holy relics of three saints martyrs from the beginning of the 4th century. After the raid of the Avars in 579 their relics were translated to Constantinople. Durostorum suffered defeats in the Empire’s wars with the Goths and experienced ethnic changes with immigration of population from the Near East in the Lower Danube lands. During Late Antiquity, Durostorum had a great significance as a military and trade center at the end of the 4th century, a city equal in importance to Odessos and Nicopolis ad Istrum. In AD 376 the Visigoths crossed the Danube near by Durostorum. In the middle of the 5th century the town and its area suffered by the raids of the Huns.In 594-596 the vicinity of the town was a battlefield for the Byzantine army and the Avars and Slavs. The crisis reached its peaks in the late 6th and the beginning of the 7th century when part of the urban population migrated towards Thrace. At the very end of the 7th century the Bulgarians besieged and captured Dorostol, defended by Byzantines, mentioned under the name Drastar. Drastar was fortified and populated in the beginning of the Bulgarian kingdom on Lower Danube and mentioned among the centers built by the first ruler – khan Asparukh /680-700/. The archaeological research showed that in the period of the First Bulgarian kingdom, the inner space, marked by the Early Byzantine walls, was built up with monumental and official buildings, above all was the khan’s residence with baths and large pagan temple. The Dorostol fortress walls were also repaired and reinforced with new elements. The entire outlook of the town was typical of a Bulgarian ruler residence in this period with Pliska and Preslav that could be offered as parallels. The fortress of Drastar had an enormous strategic significance in the 9-10th centuries, since it was a military point, controlling the approach to Veliki Preslav – the capital of the Bulgarian kingdom. Tsar Simeon controlled from Drastar the defense against the Hungarian raid in 895. During the first invasion of the Russian king Svetoslav Igorevich in 968, the troops of tsar Petar found a stronghold in the fortress of Drastar. After 971 Drastar kept its significance within the system of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Basil II in his decrees states that the high position of the province of Dorostol is due to its old status of archbishopric, and subsequently of Patriarchate. After the revolt of the Assenides Drastar entered in the borders of the Second Bulgarian kingdom. In 1389 the Bulgarian ruler had to give up the town to Sultan Murad I who named it Silistra, and had captured it for a first time after the battle at Kosovo. Later the Turks seized Drastar and it became the center of the first sandjak North of the Haemus. After 1402 Mircho the Old with his Vlachs seized Drastar again. In some of his decrees he is entitled as “ruler of the town of Drastar”. After the march of Mechmed I in 1420, Drastar definitively passed under Ottoman rule and became a city of the Ottoman Empire. Historical and archaeological evidence date destruction of the Durostorum fort to the Russian-Ottoman war in the summer of 1810.

Nowadays the ruins of the fortress walls of the ancient town of Durostorum and some architectural elements and details of the Roman structures can be seen in the central part of Silistra. Although archaeologists have carried out various emergency measures to protect the site, these are no longer sufficient.

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