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Some Notes on Maintaining Authenticity in the Presentation of Archaeological Sites in Bulgaria

Milena Kamenova and Lyudmil Vagalinski

Cite this as: Kamenova, M. and Vagalinski, L. 2020 Some Notes on Maintaining Authenticity in the Presentation of Archaeological Sites in Bulgaria, Internet Archaeology 54.

1. The Development of the Archaeological Heritage Conservation System in Bulgaria

Bulgaria can be proud of its good tradition regarding the legal protection of cultural heritage. The first official document in this respect was issued in 1888, only ten years after the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. The aim of the 'Temporary Rules for Scientific and Literary Enterprises' was to protect historical heritage in all its diversity, including the protection of architectural remains. In 1890, the 'Law for Search of Antiquities and for Supporting Scholarly Institutions and Libraries' was promulgated, whereby conservation through State protection and financing of architectural remains were established (Figure 1). In 1911, the Law on Antiquities was implemented, through which the 'preservation of Antiquities' is established as an activity of high societal importance, and to achieve this, a mechanism and an administrative state structure were built, with the Ministry of Education taking a leading role. In 1957, the National Institute of Monuments of Culture was established as the main body dealing with conservation activities. In 1969, the Law on Monuments of Culture and Museums was adopted, which was subsequently modified in the Cultural Heritage Act (2009), which, to date, follows established international principles.

Figure 1
Figure 1: The Law for Search of Antiquities and for Supporting Scholarly Institutions and Libraries. Image: Georgi Ivanov
Table 1: Key periods and their characteristics in the development of the archaeological heritage conservation system in Bulgaria
Period Negative Positive
Pre World War II No training system for staff in this field was established
Conservation activities were not systematically documented
The Ministry of National Education was the main manager. It implemented the discovery and preservation of archaeology through the National Archaeological Museum, which operated through a specialised expert unit. At a local level the municipal administrations, museums, archaeological societies and school clubs played a crucial role
The restoration of archaeological heritage was carried out by professionals with specialised knowledge in the field of architectural history and who were familiar with European experience in the preservation of historical sites
Making an archaeological site comprehensible became an important tool for involving the public in the archaeological heritage
World War II to political changes in 1989 Strong nationalist approach following the celebrations of 1300 years of the Bulgarian state
Lack of free market initiative and competition
Well-structured system with the state taking a leading role; exclusive state ownership of archaeological heritage
Decentralisation of the system
Multidisciplinary approach
Successful interaction between experts and craftsmen at the sites
Sufficient funds
1989-2014 (the end of the European program period System breakdown, no local level structures, reduction of expert capacity
Considerable reduction of funds provided by the State budget
Poor staff policy
Legal discrepancy between the State's ownership of all archaeological remains and private properties that potentially contain archaeological sites
Significant financing by European funds
Development of many previously unpopular sites in small municipalities
Creation of more active public opinion on the archaeological heritage
Accumulation of experience in analysis, design, conservation and restoration
Post 2014 (see Figure 2) Strong centralisation, deficiency and clumsiness of control system
Shortage of funding for conservation and restoration at both national and municipal level
Insufficient use of Euro-funding opportunities
Lack of proper connections among different stages of protection: research, conservation/restoration and management
Shortage of practical training in conservation/restoration
Discrepancy between three main laws (Cultural Heritage, Territory Planning, and Forests). It causes serious problems in defining boundaries and regimes of archaeological sites and in changing the purpose and ownership of the plots with archaeological remains
Lack of clear state strategy for the archaeological heritage
No plans for preservation and management even for national archaeological reserves (33) and World Heritage Sites (7), though they are obligatory according to The Law of Cultural Heritage
Insufficient investment of the earnings back into the archaeological sites
Still weak marketing of the archaeological heritage
Shortage of public discussion about development of archaeological sites
Illegal treasure hunting on a vast scale
The archaeological sites are still an exclusive state property
Current Bulgarian legislation concerning archaeological heritage is good and implements all relevant international charters and conventions
Expert state control on each phase of conservation design
Obligatory approval of any conservation project by the relevant archaeologist
Design, conservation/restoration projects can be carried out only by licensed experts
Obligatory field conservation after excavations
Accumulation of experience in analysis, design, conservation and restoration
Gradual increase of public interest – for a good example of attractive presentation see
Intensive digitization of the archaeological heritage
Figure 2
Figure 2: Participants in the protection of archaeological heritage in Bulgaria, current stage. Image: Authors

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2. Some Thoughts on the Authenticity and the Attractiveness of Archaeological Sites

Archaeological sites are a unique reminder of a certain epoch and culture. Their most precious and significant characteristic is their authenticity, without which they lose their value and cannot be considered cultural heritage.

Another important characteristic of an archaeological site is its attractiveness and appeal. Only by drawing public attention to this can we be certain that we have succeeded in our main purpose – to preserve a certain piece of history for future generations. That is why we should strive, by all means, to make a given archaeological site both attractive and understandable, but at the same time preserve its authenticity. This is a very difficult task, bearing in mind that any intervention in an archaeological structure results in the reduction of its authenticity. Finding a balance between authenticity and attractiveness needs an individual solution for each archaeological site and it should be tested beforehand in the local community.

The well-presented archaeological site has a positive emotional impact on visitors, if it stimulates their imagination. Visitors should receive additional information about the site, placed in a wide cultural and spatial-temporal context. Site appeal should be estimated by the educational and emotional impact on the visitor rather than the profit it makes.

Authenticity is the main value of the archaeological heritage and it has different aspects:

One of the characteristics of architectural remains is the knowledge they hold as a testimony to a specific culture. While this knowledge has to be reached scientifically, it is important that it is made available to the public. What is understandable to the specialist (archaeologist, restorer, architect, etc.) is often unclear for a visitor.

If we consider the problem of authenticity outside the context of the presentation of the site and instead pose questions for further scientific interpretation, the issue may resolve due to the development of technology. The only way to avoid conflict with science and to allow development of the place as a cultural and visitor-accessible site, is to apply an interdisciplinary approach of documenting all stages of archaeological survey. An example of such an approach is the use of LiDAR, photogrammetry and 3D scanning in the antique city of Heraclea Sintica, near the present city of Petrich (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3: Documenting archaeological heritage in different levels – LiDAR, photogrammetry, 3D scanning in the ancient city of Heraclea Sintica, near the present-day city of Petrich. See also Image: Authors

It is easy to talk about authenticity when we have a 4-6m high Roman curtain wall still standing, or a functioning water system of Roman baths. However, the majority of archaeological sites in Bulgaria are less well -preserved for various reasons. It is very difficult to preserve a fragile archaeological structure once it has been exposed and removed from its protection within the earth's layers, and when it is subjected to nearly seventy frost-and thaw-cycles every winter. But below-ground archaeology is completely incomprehensible for the non-specialist. Visitors cannot imagine the whole structure and so the site will not hold their interest. And yet in trying to make it comprehensible, it is very difficult to guarantee the authenticity of the material, because any intervention in the restoration inevitably changes the original (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4: Roman villa in Cabyle (near the city of Yambol) – ruins and virtual reconstruction. Image: Milena Kamenova

Several Bulgarian sites restored in the last ten years have resulted in negative outcomes, despite the fact that their respective conservators followed Article 9 of the Venice Charter, which recommends that 'any extra work … must bear a contemporary stamp'. In order to make the archaeological sites more understandable, solid reconstructions were carried out, often surpassing the original construction. This approach helps to visualise the site in form and volume, but it harms the archaeological ruins (Figure 5).

Figure 5
Figure 5: Contemporary reconstructions – the medieval fortress of Krakra (by the city of Pernik) and the Roman city of Abritus (now Razgrad). Image: Authors

Creating such large and heavy structures requires solid foundations that destroy cultural layers. The incorporation of new columns and beams into the ancient structure ironically leads to its destruction, and the original ruins look insignificant compared to the restored elements. A large-scale restoration with modern materials breaks the connection with the context. Such a restoration approach might be acceptable in an urban landscape with the surroundings of other buildings, but it is not suitable in natural, rural settings. Applying modern materials does not necessarily compromise the scientific value, as it provides a degree of intelligibility, but it spoils the perception of the site by damaging the harmony and authenticity of the context. When we have destroyed the visual qualities of the surroundings, we have significantly reduced the value of the site, because it can no longer be perceived outside the surrounding context.

Figure 6
Figure 6: The reconstructions and the context – the Lower Danube Roman legion's camp and late antiquity city of Novae (left; near the city of Svishtov) and the late antiquity fortress of Roman Pautalia (now the city of Kyustendil). Image: Milena Kamenova

Aiming to avoid the conflict with the new materials, some archaeological sites were rebuilt (e.g. Figure 6), where the fortress wall and towers were erected to their maximum height. But the question of the balance between authenticity and attractiveness still stands.

The response seems clear at today's level of technological advances. Augmented and virtual reality preserve the material authenticity of a site and, at the same time, present the site in its entirety. However, it lacks a strong emotional response. Virtual reality may yet prove sufficient for the next generation, but it is not enough for ours. We still need to feel the attractive charm of the ruin, displaying in itself the patina of ages. We still need to enter the space of an ancient temple or palace to feel its greatness. The notion of attractiveness is actually determined by the intellectual and emotional grounding of the visitor, and most of us depend on creating the right mindset in people for the fullest perception of cultural heritage.

In order to achieve a richer experience and deeper understanding of the archaeological site, different types of attractions were made whereby the visitor can become a participant. More and more frequently, sites use a combination of archaeology, creative industries and various types of arts, lighting and sound shows, re-enactment festivals and other methods, such as the 'Sounds and Views' show on the hill of the medieval capital Tarnovo, or the 'Opera on the Peaks' festival in Belogradchik fortress and re-enactments in the Roman ruins of Sexaginta Prista in Ruse (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Figure 7: Archaeological heritage and creative industries, art and re-enactment at the city of Veliko Tarnovo (left) and in the city of Belogradchik. Image: Milena Kamenova

It is the emotional impact that provides intrigue and excitement. If the main aim is to inspire visitors, then we should try to transmit the spirit of the site. We cannot talk about authenticity if we lose the 'genius loci'. There is no universal restoration formula, even for similar archaeological sites, except, perhaps: Find, feel and follow the 'genius loci'!

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