The Alexandrovo Tomb. 20 Years Later.


The Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF) and the National Archaeological Institute (NAIM – BAS), Faculty of History at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and the Regional Historical Museum – Haskovo (RIM – Haskovo) organized on 11th and 12th of May, 2021 the online conference “The Tomb of Alexandrovo – 20 Years Later”

It was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the Thracian tomb, located near the village of Alexandrovo (Haskovo Province, Bulgaria) by Bulgarian archaeologist Georgi Kitov and his field survey team. The conference also celebrated the 100 year jubilee of the NAIM-BAS.

The Alexandrovo Tomb is an impressive tholos from the early Hellenistic period (4th-3rd century BCE). The tomb’s interior is almost entirely decorated with wall paintings depicting vivid figure compositions with geometric and floral ornaments. The tomb was excavated in the period 2000-2004 during which the different parts of the monument were uncovered – the dromos, the rectangular antechamber and the dome shaped burial chamber. The wall paintings were investigated and treated by conservation teams between 2004 and 2008.

The monument was declared an Immovable Cultural Property of National Importance in Bulgaria. Since 2004 it has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.

The Conference Organizing Committee members:

  • Prof. Julia VALEVA DSc (Institute of Art Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences)
  • Prof. Dr. Totko STOYANOV (Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”)
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Hristo POPOV (National Archaeological Institute with Museum)
  • Assoc. Prof. Elena KANTAREVA-DECHEVA (Academy of Fine Arts, Plovdiv)
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Georgi NEKHRIZOV (National Archaeological Institute with Museum)
  • Assoc. Prof. Dr. Julia TZVETKOVA (Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”)
  • Ass. Prof. Dr. Daniela STOYANOVA (Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”)
  • Ass. Prof. Dr. Emil NANKOV (National Archaeological Institute with Museum)
  • Ass. Prof. Dr. Stanislav STANEV (Institute of Art Studies, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences /Balkan Heritage Foundation)
  • Dr. Angela PENCHEVA (Balkan Heritage Foundation)
  • Diana DIMITROVA (National Archaeological Institute with Museum)
  • Ivan VASILEV (Balkan Heritage Foundation)
  • Stanislav ILIEV (Regional History Museum Haskovo)

The committee selected 24 papers submitted by prominent scholars of Late Classical and Hellenistic funerary architecture and archaeology as well as conservators from around the globe.

The conference opened with speeches by representatives of the institutions involved in its organization: Assoc. Professor Hristo Popov (Director of NAIM – BAS), Mr. Ivan Vasilev (CEO of BHF), Assoc. Prof. Mira Markova (Dean of Faculty of History – Sofia University), Mr. Petko Dobrev (Director of RIM – Haskovo). Dr Will Raynolds, representative of the J. M. Kaplan Fund (the main sponsor of the conference) welcomed the participants. Welcome greetings on behalf of the Organizing Committee were expressed by Professor Julia Valeva.

All speakers united that we all must act and do our best to save Alexandrovo Tomb and give the opportunity to next generations to have the chance to enjoy this important piece of the world’s cultural heritage.

The conference papers were divided into three panels, as follows:

  • The Tomb of Alexandrovo

The papers in the first panel were focused on the tomb’s description and interpretations of its iconography. Emphatic interest was shown at the types of the depicted weapons not only in the famous hunt frieze but also in the banquet scene in the burial chamber and the fight scenes in the dromos and antechamber (E. Nankov, R. Stoychev). An interesting reading was suggested for the figure of the naked man brandishing an axe (D. Braund). The poorly preserved banquet scene was discussed as iconography in detail (J. Valeva), and as a reflection of real customs during the Thracian elite feast as described by Xenophon (Ch. Tzochev). Other presentations referred to specific topics as the graffito (N. Sharankov) and the depicted textile products (I. Borisova-Katzarova). The Alexandrovo Tomb was positioned within the cultural context of Early Hellenistic painting and funerary art in the Mediterranean (S. Steingräber), as well as within the closer cultural environment of its area (D. Dimitrova, S. Iliev). The discussions concerning the presentations in this panel showed the noteworthy progress classical studies have achieved as regards the significance of local iconographies within the iconographic koine based on Greek artistic tradition.

  • History and Archaeology

The second panel comprised presentations of monuments in Anatolia, among which the outstanding Mylasa tomb (L. Summerer). The impact of Persian and Greek iconography on the art of the Eastern Mediterranean in Early Hellenism was evoked again, as it is an important and ever enlarging discussion in classical studies (O. Palagia, M. Vassileva). Another presentation was dedicated to the Thracian context, this time to the funerary practices in the region of the town of Chirpan, north of Haskovo province, in which the Alexandrovo Tomb is situated (M. Tonkova).

  • Interdisciplinary studies, conservation and restoration of funerary architecture and decoration

The third panel covered the entire second conference day and showed to be of utmost importance and interest. Part of the talks presented the results of the Alexandrovo Tomb’s wall paintings chemical and physical analysis – of its paint binders (Nedeltcheva-Antonova et al) and its pigments (G. Avdeev et al.). Two non-destructive methods of documentation applied to the Alexandrovo Tomb were presented – a set of various photographic techniques (A. Cosentino et al.) and 3D laser scanning (M. Kamenova). The informative value of the modern methods of non-destructive photo documentation is currently being used not only in the Alexandrovo Tomb, but in the famous Philip’s tomb in Vergina as well, revealing a wealth of colour hues and enabling a more reliable reconstruction of the impressive frieze on its facade (H. Brecoulaki). The results of the geophysical methods of prospection in the Thracian mounds were also presented (N. Tonkov). Like in the two previous panels focus was set once again on the Alexandrovo Tomb, this time within its archaeological environment, as revealed after the archaeological survey, accomplished in 2020 (G. Nekhrizov, J. Tzvetkova). The effects of the application of modern technologies for the studies of ancient monuments was enthusiastically recognized and acclaimed by both panelists and attendees. Undoubtedly, we shall await further outstanding results in this sphere. The two final talks were also important, although of different character. The first one presented the structure of the ambitious project, initiated by the Balkan Heritage Foundation, whose aim is to create a database about the Thracian tombs within the territory of Bulgaria, and one day hopefully, those found in the confines of Greece and Turkey (European part) as well (A. Weichbrodt et al.). The last presentation raised the question of the preservation of Alexandrovo Tomb, which is in critical condition and needs prompt intervention by conservators (D. Gergova).

The conference proceedings are to be published online by the BHF and in print by the NAIM-BAS.