The old town of Nessebar is near-enough an island: a half mile of weathered wood fishing homes with terracotta-tiled roofings that sit atop a rocky head, strung to the Bulgarian coast by only a narrow land bridge. It’s likewise a dense stack of ruins layered on top of one another that stretch back more than 3,000 years, and is identified by Unesco as a World Heritage site.
When walking into the old town, the twisting streets of 19 th-Century fishing homes are parted by the middle ages Church of St Stephen– richly embellished with murals of Jesus calming the storm and 1,000 figures from the New Testimony– and the excavated ruins of the Stara Mitropolia Basilica, a cathedral dating back to the fifth Century when this was one of the most important Byzantine trading towns on the Black Sea coast.
Archaeologists and local anglers have discovered even older relics. A Greek acropolis and pottery date from prior to the Romans’ arrival, and there are walls developed by the city’s creators, the Thracians, the horse-riding warrior individuals who ruled over the Balkan Peninsula more than 2,000 years ago.
But to discover the most unexpected artefacts, you’ll require to step off the island and into the surrounding sea.
Current oceanographic research study efforts utilizing a pair of underwater remote run vehicles (ROVs) has actually ventured below the Black Sea waters and exposed pieces of ancient history never prior to seen in such brilliant resolution. These submarine missions have actually discovered ships from a number of centuries of seafaring trade and war, including the world’s oldest intact shipwreck: a Greek trading ship from around 400 BC lying uncannily well-preserved on the seabed.
And amongst the wrecks, new proof offers ideas from more than 7,000 years back, when some specialists believe the Black Sea was simply a small freshwater lake. Geological samples drilled from the seabed could, at last, settle the mystery of whether it was here that waters once entered, flattening civilisations and leaving behind the story we understand as Noah and the terrific scriptural flood.
Zdravka Georgieva, maritime archaeologist at Bulgaria’s Centre for Underwater Archaeology in neighboring Sozopol, was born upon Nessebar and discovered to dive in the shallows of the Black Sea. “I actually needed to know what is below, what is under the water,” said Georgieva, who initially became aware of the uncharted remnants of old settlements and shipwrecks at the little Nessebar Archaeological Museum, which holds a smattering of historic artefacts. “I understood from the museum, and from individuals here, as a teenage woman, that there are historic monuments down there and I desired to touch them and to observe them actually closely.”
After studying at the University of Southampton’s Marine Archaeology postgraduate centre in the UK, Georgieva has actually been operating in her “dream job” as part of the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Job(Black Sea MAP), which aims to discover how the sea and its surroundings have changed given that the last glacial epoch by surveying the seabed.
The Anglo-Bulgarian team, led by Prof Jon Adams from the University of Southampton, in partnership with the Centre for Underwater Archaeology, found the 2,400- year-old Greek trading ship last year, in addition to more than 60 wrecks found in deep waters.
Appearing into view as the ROVs 3D-scanned the website, the ancient ship was resting on its side, the mast and rudder clearly visible in addition to rowing benches and big ceramic containers in the hold. Georgieva called it “the most magnificent discover– up until now.”
Georgieva agrees with other marine archaeologists that we are getting in a golden age of discovery around the Black Sea.
Archaeologists had understood that ancient civilisations had been constructed here which ships had traded along the Black Sea shoreline. However, till now, imaging technology was not yet advanced enough to supply a true picture of the bottom of the sea, guaranteeing that anything that lay down there remained shrouded in secret.
” We knew from historic sources that there had actually been colonisation of the Black Sea coast, from Greece, from the Mediterranean, however we hadn’t discovered anything like ships. Why? Where are they? What are the reasons we had not discovered them?” Georgieva asked. “The last 4 years was an actually big step … in how we investigate the submerged landscapes and shipwrecks.”
The fact that remarkably preserved ships can be discovered here is because of a special water phenomenon, discussed well known deep-sea explorer Dr Bob Ballard
The last 4 years was a truly huge action in how we examine the submerged landscapes and shipwrecks
Ballard, the American oceanographer best known worldwide as the male who led the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, has had a decades-long fascination with the so-called “anoxic sea” below the Black Sea: a cold, dead, oxygenless layer blanketed below the warm opal waters familiar to visitors.
” I had an interest in the anoxia: when I discovered the Titanic, and we went inside, and saw high states of conservation– the deep sea is a giant museum,” said Ballard in a phone interview from his home in the US state of Rhode Island. As only a few kinds of bacteria endure in the Black Sea’s anoxic layer, this tension is greatest here– potentially mummifying human remains and preserving the minutes after a disaster in “mint condition” for millennia.
Between 1999 and 2014, Ballard led an exploration to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that was the very first to adequately explore this shadow realm. With his team, he found lots of completely maintained vessels, including an Ottoman trading ship which contained human remains.
” It was a great 15- year effort of installing multiple expeditions, trying to reveal that the [ancient mariners were] much bolder than historians were providing them credit for– that they pursued direct deep-water trade paths, trying to show that they did not hug the shoreline, but selected to cross open ocean.”
But both Georgieva and Ballard stated deep-sea expedition provides new clues in another, maybe even greater, secret.
In the bestselling 2000 book Noah’s Flood by William Ryan and Walter Pitman, marine geologists believed they had actually found the historical origin of the legends of an excellent flood that tore through ancient civilisations bordering the Mediterranean and Black Sea 7,600 years back. Previously told in the Babylonian development misconception, the Enuma Elish, and in the Mesopotamian Legendary of Gilgamesh, the story has become best known across the world in the kind told in the scriptural story of Noah’s Ark.
According to Ryan and Pitman, about 20,000 earlier, what is now the Black Sea was cut off from the Mediterranean by a mountainous landscape.
The Noah’s Flood theory declared that as Earth’s last glacial epoch ended, melting polar ice caps triggered the Mediterranean waters to rise, which pressed a channel through the mountains to form what is now the Bosporus, resulting in a devastating seawater deluge 200 times more powerful than Niagara Falls. In months, it approximated, the Black Sea inundated a land mass the size of Ireland, flooding a mile a day.
I think you’re visiting the Black Sea yielding a lot of additional chapters of human history now we understand where to look
Ballard, in 2000, wished to shed light on Ryan and Pitman’s theory, when he found the pre-flood shoreline, and structures from human civilisations that lived along it, 12 miles off the Turkish Black Sea coast. He thought these findings would back up the flood hypothesis.
However Black Sea MAP points in a different instructions, discussed Georgieva. “The geophysicists and other experts from the oceanographic centre in Southampton, state there’s no proof to support this theory,” she stated. “What we collected does not prove this catastrophic flood. Data shows a more likely gradual sea level increasing.”
With more information to be evaluated, it supports the idea that the waters increased unnoticeably, by metres over centuries, even millennia.
Still, Ballard calls The Black Sea a “magical location”, an area with “a fantastic amount of history”, which has more to offer archaeologists and fans of historical legend than the Noah’s Flood connection. “The Black Sea has that [the biblical connection]; it’s also were Jason and the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece,” he included. “There’s so much more to be discovered in the Black Sea. I believe you’re visiting the Black Sea yielding a lot of extra chapters of human history now we understand where to look and how to look.”
For locals and visitors, the excitement being exposed offshore does not feel far.
Bulgaria hosts a richness of archaeological history from Roman, Greek and other ancient societies, the likes of which tourists often look for in Mediterranean neighbours, Italy and Greece. But here, findings are being unearthed in a sped up process, specifically since 2007 when funding began showing up with Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union.
Nessebar rests on a stretch of coast a little more than 100 km by cars and truck from the Bulgarian city of Varna in the north, and almost 70 km from the peninsula of Sozopol in the south, where thick history is laying the foundations for an emerging Bulgarian archaeological trail.
In 2012, neighboring Solnitsata, labelled Europe’s oldest prehistoric town(albeit controversially) by its innovators, joined currently found marvels to the north of Nessebar such as the Varna Necropolis, the oldest gold treasure worldwide dating from around 4,500 BC, numerous years prior to the pyramids of Egypt.
While the Black Sea MAP discoveries are unfathomable for tourists to visit, scuba diving trips head down to Nessebar’s initial defensive walls from the time of the Thracians, and battleships from World War One and World War 2, along with the airplane of former Bulgarian Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, which was deliberately sunk in Varna Bay in 2011 to generate a synthetic reef.
To get a sense of what is out at sea, Georgieva recommends that divers visit what she calls the “open museum” of Nessebar’s fortifications, the exposed walls noticeable on the short walk around the edge of the island, along with comparable ruins in Sozopol.
However the discoveries made by the Black Sea MAP team are likewise being brought up into the light, and are presently on show in Lost Worlds, an exhibit touring Bulgaria where visitors can check out a digital recreation of the 2,400- year-old shipwreck and 3D printed designs made from scans of it while wearing virtual truth headsets.
Sunken Civilisation is a BBC Travel series that checks out legendary underwater worlds that seem too fantastical to exist today however are astonishingly real.
If you liked this story, register for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “The Important List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, provided to your inbox every Friday.