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STAROSEL

The village of Starosel nestles at the foot of the southern slopes of Bulgaria's central highlands, the Central Range (or the Sredna Gora Mountains). The city of Plovdiv is 45 km away and the town of Hissarya is 20 km away. Important roads led and still lead to the village, both in the past and at present. The name of the village is related to that of Staro Selo in the region of Troian: the families, who founded Starosel in the 18th c., came from that village. Under the Romans, prosperous rural settlements in the vicinity of Starosel catered for the city of Diocletianopolis (now Hissarya). During the Middle Ages, the upland roads connecting the estates of the Bulgarian boyars from the Anevsko Kale castle (now Sopot) to the lands under the control of Pulden (now Plovdiv) rendered the village important.

Bulgarians rebuilt the village in the dark period of the Ottoman domination searching for security in the recesses of the Central Range, as the latter provided the people both with protection and means of living. Over the centuries, the economic development of Starosel has related both to the mountains and the luxuriant land of the Thracian Valley. Now Starosel is the pearl of the region of the Central Range with its striking historical and tourist sights.

The village of Starosel acquired world popularity in 2000. Thanks to Professor Georgi Kirov's energy and the efforts of the team of the" Thracology Mound Research Expedition, four temples, tens of mounds and settlements have been unearthed and studied in the lands of the villages of Starosel, Krasnovo, Krastevich, Mutenitsa, Staro Zhelezare and Novo Zhelezare in the period 2000-03. Rock sanctuaries have functioned in the Kamenitsa and Markov Kamak areas, where Thracian priests have performed mysterious religious rites to appease their gods.

A new scientific term came into general use: The Starosel Thracian Cult Complex.

Most deservedly, the complex owes its name above all to the imposing temple in Chetiniova Mogila, the largest Thracian temple in the Balkans. This tomb facility displays a central staircase of nine stairs, two side staircases, a ritual landing between them, a wide passage and an imposing temple with an impressive facade and two chambers. The entire sacred mound is encircled by a high, 241 metres long crepidoma, built of hewn granite blocks, fastened together by lead-plated iron brackets.

The facade and the two chambers (a rectangular antechamber and an inner sanctum, designed to be round) are built of volcanic tuff. This stone was favoured for being soft and easy to hew, facilitating skilful Thracian builders and architects to carve the marvellous ornate stone plates (alternating Ionic cymae or ovoli and astragal or beading), as well as to make the con-vexes of the two chambers' rooftops. The other elements of the heroon (or heroum, i.e. the sanctuary) are built of granite, chosen for its high weathering resistance.

The first chamber is covered with arched boulders, a kind of a semi-cylindrical vault. The dome of the rotund chamber is also built of arched rows; with its 5.40 metres in diameter it is the largest one in Bulgaria for the time being. Its walls are decorated with 10 semi-pillars (pilasters), ending in a kind of Doric capitals and a frieze, consisting of triglyphs and metopes, painted with mineral paints in black/dark blue and red.

The Chetiniova Mogila itself sits on a natural hill, overlooking the entire surrounding area. It has been an influential cult complex centre. Judging by some architectural specifics of the temple in the mound, it has been probably erected circa the turn of the 5th c B.C. It has functioned for some hundred years, being then desecrated for unknown reasons: partially destroyed, filled with earth and blocks of the construction, the upper part of the staircase has been walled up and the hill remade so that not to show any signs of a building in its depths. Materials found in several pits around the crepidoma date back to the mid-4th and the early 3rd cc. B.C., thus setting the chronological time frame of the use of the sacred place and the subsequently built temple. It is highly probable that that the facility has been commissioned by the Thracian King Sitalkes, immortalized by Xenophon in his Anabasis as a king in the mid-5th c. B.C., who got killed in the last quarter of the same century.

Some 1.5 kilometres south of Chetiniova Mogila, a second monumental tomb temple is situated in the Horizont Mound. It consists of a rectangular chamber and a room, forming an inverted flat-topped ,,U" shape in front and around the former; the latter is supported by ten columns, the bases and capitals of which are examples of the early Doric order. The temple is made of volcanic tuff, granite and marbleised limestone. There is no information of the coating of the temple, but the room with the columns was most probably open and visible in the ancient days and the rectangular chamber had a flat roof. Judging by the fragments of a chain-armour with gold plates, the beads and the arrowheads, found in the facility, the temple was last entered circa the late 4th c. B.C. Then it was ritually desecrated; parts of it were wittingly destroyed and earthed up.

The third impressive building is located in the Oreshaka area, some 8 or 9 kilometres to the south, if making a beeline for Starosel. It was constructed in a mound, made in advance, which we named the Nedkova Mound. It was built of volcanic tuff. The quadras are perfectly hewn. The building itself is a rectangular chamber with a flat roof, an imitation of trimmer beams and joists. Where the walls and the roof meet, wolf teeth ornamentation is carved in the blocks, rendering the building uniqueness. Similar carving is found on the two pilasters on either side of the entrance to the antechamber. Judging by the particularities of the architectural structure, the temple, in all probability, was constructed in the late 4th c. B.C. In front of it, five pits were found, cut in the rocks, resembling the rings of the symbol of the Olympic games. These as well as other pits in the mound contained materials dating back to the 5th c. B.C. - 1st c. A.D., which shows that the mound itself, being the biggest and dominating over the surrounding flat country, has been used as a heroon long before and after the building of the temple.

Yet another significant landmark of Thracian architecture and culture is the temple in the Maniov Dol area. Unfortunately, at present it is left at the mercy of treasure-hunters and of wind and weather.

Judging by the Thracian temples and mounds as well as by the grave gifts found in neighbouring mounds, a conclusion might be drawn that the region of Starosel and the villages in the vicinity had formed a cult complex, used by the Odrysians for over six centuries.

Even more mysterious are the hills above the village, treasuring up tens of remnants of the Thracian age. In 2005 for example, Dr Ivan Christov, archaeologist from the National Museum of History uncovered a palace on the Kozi Gramadi Mount, residence of the Thracian King Cotys I, where the latter received Philip II of Macedon in 359 B.C. Theopompus of Chios, a Greek and rhetorician wrote about it:

"On the third day, Philip arrived in Onocarsis, a place in Thrace with vast woodlands, well laid out and nice to stay in, especially in summer. It was one of the places, favoured by King Cotys (the Thracian King Cotys I (383/ 382 B.C. - 360/359 B.C.). Of all those who have been kings in Thrace, Cotys most of all pursued pleasant living and luxury. He travelled over his country and at seeing shady places abundant in water, he built feast halls. And visiting each of these places as many times as possible, he would make offerings to the gods and converse with his dignitaries, feeling blissful and happy ... " (Athenaei, XII, 531-632).

HOTELS

Chateau Starosel

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