Nicopolis ad Istrum

Nicopolis ad Istrum is one of the earliest settlements in Bulgaria, on which foundation used to be a Roman and Early Byzantine town in Thrace on the road between present Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse extended by Emperor Trajan around 101–106. Nikopol was a major fortress in the medieval Bulgarian Empire, and one its last strongholds against the invading Ottoman Turks in the 1390s. It is also famous for the late medieval Nikopol Treasure. Archaeological excavations have exposed near Nikopol a prehistoric fishing settlement from the Paleolithic, dating back to between ca. 40,000 BC and 10,000 BC, which is alleged to be the oldest known fishermen’s village on the Danube River.

Trajan founded a settlement of Nicopolis ad Istrum at the junction of the Iatrus (Yantra) and the Rositsa rivers, in memory of his bloody victory over the Dacians. Preparations for the Dacian wars of Trajan included deployment of a large number of troops on the southern Danube banks and in its hinterland due to the territorial extension of the administrative territory to the river Istros – Danubius. In the early years of Hadrian’s reign near the Danube Delta, Sarmatians appeared to have been among the Roman allies who fought with the Dacians. Ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum are located at the village of Nikyup, 20 km north of Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria and testify on the ample reorganization of the Roman provinces of the Lower Danube. This area is directly linked to the Roman legionary fortress of Novae on the Danube, at Svishtov and had great strategic significance after the annexation of the late Thracian kingdom in 45/46 in controlling the main roads going east-west and north-south, with a commanding view south as far as the foothills of Haemus. The town reached its apogee during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, the Antonines and the Severan dynasty. The town of Nicopolis ad Istrum was built on the cross-point of two main roads of the Danubian Roman provinces – one from the town of Odessus /Varna/ to the western Roman provinces and other was the link between the Danubian fortress of Nove /Svishtov/ and the Roman provinces in Asia Minor.

“Nicopolis ad Istrum” was a classical town of antiquity, whose name means “town of the Victory on the Danube River” planned according to the orthogonal system and surrounded by walls. The network of streets crossing at right angles to follow the winds, the forum surrounded by an Ionic colonnade and many buildings, a two-nave room later turned into a basilica and other public buildings have been uncovered at Nicopolis ad Isturm. The rich architectures and sculptures of Nicopolis ad Istrum show a similarity with those of the ancient towns in Asia Minor. The town was supplied with water very well via one main /26km long/ and two smaller aqueducts which brought the water to a particular water-tank, built close to the west fortress wall. After then the town water-main system provided the water to public and private buildings, baths and toilets. Nicopolis ad Istrum had minted coins, bearing images of its own public buildings. The city had stonemasons, carpenters, fullers, shoemakers, builders, a veterinarian, a person exercising judiciary, even the imperial choir conductor, etc.

In 447 AD, the town of Nicopolis was destroyed by Attila’s Huns. Perhaps it was already abandoned before the early 400s. In the 6th century, Nikopol was rebuilt as a powerful fortress enclosing little more than military buildings and churches, following a very common trend for the cities of that century in the Danube area. The largest area of the extensive ruins (21.55 hectares) of the classical Nicopolis was not reoccupied since the fort covered only one fourth of it (5.75 hectares), in the southeastern corner. Nicopolis ad Istrum was finally destroyed by the Avars at the end of the 6th century. The town became an episcopal center during the early Byzantine period. A Bulgarian medieval settlement arose upon ruins of the Nicopolis ad Istrum in the 10th-14th centuries. The site of Nicopolis ad Istrum is an active archaeological site of Bulgaria and has been recently a part of a bigger preservation and accessibility project, and since 1984 was placed on the Tentative List for consideration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Nikopolis ad Istrum, and the site of the future Archaeological Park with fishing settlements from the Paleolithic, Chalcolithic, the Bronze Age, the Roman Antiquity, and the Middle Ages stand about 40 kilometers east of the ruins of the huge ancient Roman colony of Ulpia Oescus and the Constantine Bridge, a 4th century AD Danube Bridge built by Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (ruled 306 – 337 AD), which was the largest known bridge in the Antiquity.