“I was glad and honored to have been invited to participate at the very interesting, stimulating and vivacious conference on the Alexandrovo tomb and its tomb paintings 20 years after its discovery, organized by the Balkan Heritage Foundation and 13 Bulgarian colleagues specialized in Thracian culture and art. Particularly active and meritorious in the organization were the “female trias” Julia Valeva, Julia Tzvetkova, Angela Pencheva and Georgi Nekhrizov. It was for me the third invitation for a conference or congress in Bulgaria – this time unfortunately only in a telematic way (which worked very well anyway) – after the more “intime” Kazanlak Conference in October 2016 and the International Congress of Thracology in Kazanlak in September 2017 when I could visit for the first time (accompanied by several Bulgarian colleagues as Maria Cicicova and Julia Valeva) the Alexandrovo Tomb (the copy) and the modern Museum built near the tumulus of the famous tomb. I really hope that the papers of the two congresses will be soon published! Visiting the impressing Alexandrovo Museum sponsored by the Japanese and participating now at the Conference I remembered with a certain emotion the famous discoverer of the Tomb – the late Georgi Kitov – whom I met almost 24 years ago in 1997 with his excavation team in Shipka near Kazanlak enjoying his hospitality together with the Japanese photographer Mr. A. Suzuki from Tokyo University and drinking a good bottle of Tuscan wine together.
The first part of this Conference was dedicated mainly to iconographic and art historic aspects whereas the second part was dealing mostly with problems related to the technique, conservation and restoration of Thracian tomb architecture and painting. The two sections emphasized the interdisciplinary character of the Conference. Most of the papers were presented by Bulgarian colleagues and specialists of course but thanks to the participation of David Braund (Great Britain), Stephan Steingräber (Germany/Italy), Olga Palagia (Greece), Latife Summerer (Turkey), Antonino Cosentino (Italy), Hariclia Brecoulaki (Greece) and Anjo Weichbrodt (Switzerland) the Conference had an international character too and was very helpful for a scientific opinion exchange between specialists from different fields. Almost all papers were followed by lively discussions.
The number of the painted tombs in Thrace is limited and the Alexandrovo Tomb belongs doubtlessly to the most interesting and important cases offering an almost complete decoration with figural, vegetal and architectural elements and even with a unique graffito and inscription. It dates from the later 4th cent. B.C. which means from the beginning of the Early Hellenistic period when monumental tomb architecture and tomb painting reached a remarkable and partly new akmè not only in Thrace, but also in Macedonia, Crimea, Asia Minor, Alexandria, Southern Italy (Apulia, Campania, Lucania), Southern Etruria and even in Rome using partly similar partly different decorations and iconographic themes. In spite of a certain number of publications related to many aspects of the Alexandrovo Tomb during the last two decades it was time after 20 years for a new up to date and discussion among specialists.
In the first section of particular interest were the contributions of D. Braund on the figure of the naked hunter with the axe, of E. Nankov on the military equipment depicted in the tomb, of J. Valeva on the reconstruction of the (unfortunately very badly preserved) funerary banquet scene in the main chamber of the tomb and of N. Shanrankov on the graffito of the head of a young man in profile and the inscription. Although the idea of a possible “portrait” and signature of an artist was fascinating (and would be unique in Thracian painting) obviously we have to deal here with the head and name of a person perhaps related to a later burial in the tomb and not to the painter-artist. The papers of O. Palagia and L. Summerer offered extremely interesting comparison examples in Macedonia and Asia Minor (Mylasa).
Specially the second section of May 12th was of great interest and innovative character under several aspects such as chemical and physical analyses of pigments and binders, Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry, non-destructive photo documentation, 3D Laser Scanning, geophysical methods of prospection and archaeological surveys. H. Brecoulaki presented a very brilliant paper on the scientific investigation and revisualization with new methods of the famous hunt frieze on the façade of Tomb II (Philipp Tomb) at Vergina, which is actually the most important heritage of original ancient Greek painting.
I remained particularly impressed by the very challenging but extremely useful project of a systematic data base of all Thracian tombs in Bulgaria (and perhaps in the European part of Turkey too) organized by the Balkan Heritage Foundation. D. Gergova’s final speech was partly a “cry” for the – much needed – restoration and conservation of the Alexandrovo Tomb, which unfortunately is actually in quite bad conditions. I am wondering why the responsible Bulgarian National Authorities are not able or not willing to organize as soon as possible the necessary measures for the preservation of this unique Thracian tomb and its decoration cooperating possibly with foreign specialists too. It seems to be that in the former (communist) era the Bulgarian State – of course for ideological reasons too – was more interested and engaged to preserve its archaeological heritage. Let’s hope that this conference and its publication will shake up the Bulgarian authorities and have some positive results!
At the end of my short report I would like to remember Mario Torelli – the famous Italian archaeologist, etruscologist and ancient historian who passed away last September (2020) in Sicily and who had always a very special interest for the Thracian tomb paintings, particularly for the Kazanlak World Heritage Tomb. He had organized in the last two decades several Conferences and Convegni on ancient pre-Roman tomb paintings especially of the Late Classical and Hellenistic period.”