Under the old part of today’s Balchik are the ruins of a large ancient city that originated in the 6th century BC. On the shore of the already existing settlement of Kruni, the sea washed up a wooden statue of the god Dionysus. Taking this as a sign, the inhabitants gave it a new name – Dionysopolis. The city existed as an important commercial and administrative centre until the 6th century AD. The city became a major city of Dionysos in the 6th century AD, when a huge tidal wave, triggered by an earthquake with its epicentre in the sea, flooded it. After its retreat, a landslide occurred, which hid an ancient temple from the world for centuries.
In 2007, on an April morning, a sign from the past made its way. Radostina Encheva – the director of the historical museum (then curator) managed to stop the excavators digging foundations for a new building before they wiped out the remains of an important cultural property – the Temple of the Pontic Mother of the Gods – Cybele. The excavations began under the guidance of Dr. Igor Lazarenko and Elina Mircheva from the Regional History Museum – Varna, and Radostina Encheva from the Balchik Museum. All the artifacts that were found are almost intact and this fact makes the archaeological find the best preserved temple of the goddess discovered to date.
And who is Cybele?
She is the “Pontic mother of the gods”, a Thracian-Phrygian goddess, personifying nature and its fertility. Honouring her almighty power, people began to make statues of her image and to pay homage to her by performing ritual animal sacrifices. They also built temples dedicated to her where they prayed for fertility and grace. Money, property, buildings, vineyards, even workshops were donated to the shrines. The cult of the goddess originated in Asia Minor, and was later transferred to Greece and Rome. Evidence that there was a cult to her in our lands is the temple discovered in Balchik, which is located 250 m from the sea.
It was built in the 3rd century BC and functioned until the 4th century AD. It has a rectangular shape and the facade faces the sea with an entrance from the south. The building is entered through four steps to a pronaos (anteroom), where we encounter an ‘eschara’ (ritual hearth). A wooden door leads us to the naos (main part of the temple), at the bottom of which is an edicule (niche) decorated with columns, capitals and a pediment with a relief image of the god Helios. In the edicule stood the main temple statue of the Great Mother Goddess, dressed in a long chiton and chimation seated on a throne, holding a tympanum in her left hand. In four of the statuettes found, a lion was reclining in the lap of the goddess. A marble luterion is placed in front of the edicule dais in the middle of the temple. A second smaller dais, probably an altar, is located south of the luterion. Inscriptions and a marble sculpture attest to the religious and social life of Dionysopolis.
In terms of number and variety, this is the largest group of movable monuments associated with the cult of the “Pontic Mother of the Gods” yet discovered in one place. These are over 200 coins, 27 marble epigraphic monuments (inscriptions), over 20 marble sculptural representations of Cybele, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Dionysus and Pan. The ancient temple in Balchik is the only temple of Cybele ever found in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula and the only one in the world so well preserved, like Pompeii.
The discovery of the temple is one of the most significant events not only for Balchik, but also for Bulgaria, as it immeasurably enriches the cultural heritage of our country. The preservation and promotion of this cultural property is our main task so that the Temple of Cybele can take its rightful place in the tourist list of the world.
The archaeological finds can be seen in the third exhibition hall of the Historical Museum – Balchik.