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Current Name
Ancient Name
Krounoi, Krouni, Dionysopolis
Medieval Name
Karvuna (?) Karbona (?)
History of the name

Almost all ancient sources mentioned that initially the city name was Krounoi (Κρουνοι), and only later – due to a sea discarded Dionysos statue it was renamed Dionysopolis, i.e.”the city of Dionysos”. The name Krouni/Krounoi obviously has to do with the abundance of spring water sources in the region. The name Dionysopolis relates it directly to the Greco-Thracian god of wine and joyful celebrations Dionysos, which in turn suggests the presence of numerous vineyards and significant wine production within the ancient city surrounding area. This is indeed the case until today. The settlement double name indicates that initially it has the name Krunoi, while later, sometime around the middle or second half of the first century BC it was renamed for certain reason to Dionysopolis. However, there is also a possibility that it goes about two different ancient cities located very close, which later maybe joined together or for some reasons Krounoi ceased to exist.
The earliest (accidental findings) materials consisting mainly of ceramics are dated to the early Iron Age and it implies the existence of a small Thracian settlement around 8th-6th c. BC. How far it was connected- or continued by Krounoi – Dionysopolis remains so far unclear. Archaeological excavations conducted in the ancient city were rescue ones and rarely published.  The findings of the earlier period of city-existence are small in numbers: they consist mainly of amphorae as well as some Thracian and Greek potter fragments, but not earlier than 5th c. BC, while since 4th c. BC findings raise both in numbers and variety, especially during Hellenistic Age (late 4th-1st c. BC). Especially important is the recently excavated and relatively well preserved temple of the Great Mother-Goddess, who in this case was named Pontia (of Pontos – Black Sea). It existed continuously at least since early 3rd c. BC until late 4th c. AD. During Roman period the city kept its good position both as economic and religious & cultural centre. The Roman Dionysopolis is marked on the 3rd c. AD Tabula Peutingeriana.
It is not known if the name Dionysopolis has changed in Late Antiquity: 4th – early 7th c. AD. At Sometime during this period the old city was destroyed or abandoned and a new one, well fortified was established on top of the surrounding plateau. The later was captured, totally burn during the invasions of Avars and Slavs in the Balkans in late 6th - early 7th c. AD and then deserted forever. During 9th-10th centuries probably on the location of the big Late Antique fortress on the plateau a Bulgarian fortified town was established. Since 12th – 13th centuries onward in written sources, sea maps and portolani a port town Karvuna or Karbona is recorded in this region, but its actual location is still debated. The town of this name is marked North of Varna and Kastritsi and South of Kaliakra. It has been suggested by the Bulgariam scholar V. Beshevliev that the medieval name of the site originates from Greek word for coal. Alexander Kuzev and other scholars accepted that nowadays Balchik was the medieval Karvuna. However, lately the Bulgarian archaeologist and historian G. Atanasov suggests that the name is rather of Turk origin, given to the town in 12th – 13th c. by the Cumans, late nomads of Turk origin, who invaded Bulgaria and these lands. They applied here the name of an earlier settlement in theirs in the steppes called Karabouna.
The current name Balchik was given to the town maybe after the occupation in late 14th c. of Bulgarian Kingdom by the Ottomans. It is connected to the name of one of the latest local Bulgarian rulers in the region: Balik.

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
Balkan peninsula, Black Sea West coast
Administrative subdivision
Dobrich region, North-Eastern region
Some 30 km north of Varna on a bay open to the south at the foot of Dobrudja plateau.
Foudation Date
Krounoi / Dionysopolis was founded around 5th – 4th c. BC. The medieval town of Karvuna (?) was founded around 11th – 12th c.
Current condition
It is a Municipal centre with about 13 000 inhabitants. The town covers entirely the ancient city ruins near the coast and partially the Late Antique – Early Medieval fortress on the high plateau above it. The city port operated in present days mainly for exporting grain from the country and especially from Dobroudja Region (North-Eastern part of Bulgaria). In the summertime the town is flooded with tourists. Hotels and restaurants provide main source of income to local people. There are some light industry companies and well developed agriculture, viticulture and wine-producing. Fishing is also a typical local activity. Local marina allows berthing 60 yachts. Yacht tourism is well developed as it offers a variety of short trips along the North Black Sea coast and the popular resort- and spa complexes located there. Around Balchik there are two golf courses. In the outskirts of town is located the former summer palace Romanian Queen Maria having a remarkable architecture, built in the interwar period. It is located on a picturesque sea-coast and offers an wonderful view to the town and Cape Kaliakra. Within the palace is located the richest and most attractive botanic garden in Bulgaria with numerous rare and exotic plants, numerous kinds of roses and other flowers and bushes, as well as cactus fields. The garden is scientific area of the Faculty of Botany at the State University of Sofia and together with the palace is visited by tens of thousands tourists each year.

Numerous ancient authors and other written sources (Pseudo Scymnos; Anonymous Periplos, Pliny the Elder; Strabo and others) mentioned the ancient city in an almost identical version: the earlier city being named Krouni/Krounoi, which later was renamed to Dionysopolis. However according Pomponius Mela these were two distinctive sites: Krouni was the port, while Dionysopolis was the city (...“Est portus Crunos, urbes Dionysopolis, Odessos”…etc.). This statement of the ancient author is probably correct, but it is still unconfirmed by findings and archaeological data of excavations. Apart from and some Neolithic (6th millennium BC) and scarce Thracian pottery fragments of 8th-6th c. BC, the earliest archaeological finds in the city (most of which are still unpublished) are dated to the 5th and mostly to 4th c. BC and later. Based on inscriptions of Ionian dialect in Dionysopolis it has been concluded that in any case it was an Ionian apoikia, founded perhaps by settlers from Miletus, as are most of the colonies on the West Coast of Black Sea. A decree issued by the City Council & Assembly dated 3rd c. BC entitles a certain foreign citizen to enter the port freely, i.e. at this time it was already in existence (IGB, I2, 13 bis). Other, later inscriptions also indicated the existence of a boule (City Council) and demos (City Assembly), as well as of seven filae (tribes/ living quarters), thus confirming the mainly Ionian origin of city population. Significant finds of one probably Hellenistic vessel or drum with typical Egyptian drawings on it, as well as a terracotta figurine of Osiris the same period are good proofs about the commercial significance of Dionysopolis’ port. They indicated the relationships of the town with distant lands or maybe the fact, that at certain times there were settlers from Egypt. During the Late Hellenistic period (after 2nd c. BC) the city began to mint its own bronze coins and to serve the Scythian kings ruling on some close areas in Doboudja. The city-minting continued (with some breaks) well into the Roman time, up to mid-3rd c AD. Especially important is the recently excavated near the port and well preserved temple of the Great Mother-Goddess, or Cybele, who in this case was named Pontia (of Pontos – Black Sea), i.e. she was honoured as patron deity of sailors and the sea. The temple was founded in early 3rd c. BC and was active until the end of 4th c. AD. Numerous dedicated inscriptions, marble reliefs and sculptures have been discovered, which are now displayed in the City Museum. The ancient city was a regional religious centre for the entire Black Sea region because there have been found inscriptions dedicated by residents of Tyras (today Belgorod Dniestrovskiy in Ukraine) and other cities on the coast. The latest inscription found in the temple dates back to the beginning of 4th c. AD, in the reign of Diocletian (284-305) and it mentions a silver statue of the goddess dedicated there by this emperor. There was obviously also a temple dedicated to Dionysos in the city, which is still not discovered or localised, but several marble statues of the deity have been found. During Roman period the city grew substantially, which is confirmed by numerous findings of 1st – 3rd c. AD, some of them quite valuable. Among these stand out the findings from a stone-built mausoleum of a local physician /healer and priest who has had close connections with Early Imperial Rome. These are a large number of bronze, ceramic and glass vessels, surgical instruments, a bronze cult vessel: incense burner with representation of the myth of Iphigenia in Tauris in relief, etc.
The city was marked in the Tabula Peutingeriana (3rd c. AD), as Dionysopolis and located 24 Roman miles North of Odessos. Ammianus Marcellinus (4th c. AD) mentioned Dionysopolis together with Tomi and Callatis among the prominent cities in the province of Scythia. In the Synekdemos of Hierocles (6th c. AD), the city is still noted as one of the twelve big cities in Scythia. According to the Cosmographia by Ravennatis anonymi (beginnng of 8th century), Dionysopolis is located between Odessos (Varna) and Bizone (Kavarna) and is among „the well-known sea cities”. How exactly did the city look like and grew during Hellenistic and Roman period is hard to define as its ruins lay under the present day town and therefore they are poorly studied. The fortifications during that period were located along the coast in a low valley, below the Doboudja plateau steep slopes. Small and severely damaged parts of the fortress walls and of several towers have been discovered during construction works near the port and in the higher parts of contemporary town, but they are not published yet. By the end of 4th – early 5th c. AD, the lower city was abandoned aht its inhabitants moved to a new location on the high plateau above the bay. According to Theophanes the Confessor (9th c.) in AD 544 „the sea advanced on Thrace by four miles and covered it in the territories of Odessos and Dionysopolis and also Aphrodision. … By God’s command the sea then retreated to its own place”. It is assumed that as result of an earthquake in the Black sea, the subsequent high tide destroyed a part of- or entirely the ancient city and a new one was established and erected to the edge of the high flat plateau north of it. On that location in late 5th – early 6th c. AD has been built one of the largest and best fortified towns on the Western Black Sea coast covering a surface of c. 1.50 ha. This was needed due to the complicated and uncertain political situation: there were – numerous invasions of various Barbarian tribes on the Balkan peninsula, The fortress is well excavated but not properly published. It had a number of square, triangular and pentagonal towers along the walls. Like other towns and settlements in the region, the city suffered much of the barbarian incursions and its population withdrew southward. Most probably it was destroyed and burned during the Avars- and Slavs incursions on the Balkan peninsula and the Black sea region at the end of 6th c. AD or in the very beginning of 7th c. AD. The ancient city and the port were desolate for decades. Since the end of 7th c. AD the region became part of the First Bulgarian Kingdom territory. At the beginning of 9th c. on the ruins of the large Late Antique fortress settled Bulgarians in dugouts and semi-dugouts which were gradually surrounded for protection of embankments and deep fosses. Within the territory of contemporary military airfield there was discovered a big Bulgarian pagan necropolis. By the end of 10th c. the region and the town were included within the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire. As it fell in 11th-12th c. under the incursion of Pechenegs and Cumans, the local population withdrew to the hard to reach surrounding hills at the foot of the plateau.
As for Kavarna, similarly for Balchik debates are held about the location of medieval city of Karvuna. According to Alexander Kuzev, Karvuna held two of the high and hard to access hills in the city – Djanni bair and Sesame bair on a surface of about 0.60 ha. Unlike excavation in the fortress of Kavarna, the archaeological excavations in Gianni bair undug dwellings with numerous Byzantine coins dated to 11th – 12th c. (of Manuel I Komnenós, Alexios I Komnenós, John II Komnenós, as well as coins of various Bulgarian kings of 13th – 14th c.) and luxurious ceramic pots dated 11th – 12th import from Constantinople. Gold ornaments and numerous table wares with rich “sgraffito” decorations dating of 13th – 14th centuries were also found in the area. The city walls have been not found yet, but it is possible that they collapsed centuries ago because they were erected on the hills’ extremely steep slopes. The hill Djianni bair is accessible only from West and it is protected with ramparts constructed by earth and stones dated to the 12th c. On the hill there have been discovered relatively numerous representative findings and painted fine white clay pottery, but just like in Kavarn, there are no monumental constructions.
The earliest mention of Karvuna is in the Anonimous Bulgarian Chronographia of 11th or rather of 12th century. In this legendary depiction of Bulgarian history it is said that Bulgarians populated the land of Karvuna abandoned by „Greeks and Romans from 130 years”. It is assumed that this Greek name, which is not found in Antiquity, has been assigned to the Northeast Bulgarian region after its conquest in 971. The name of the city Karvuna, founded probably in 11th century gave name to the entire area „Karvuna hora” (i.e. Karvuna Region), which is noted in the 1230 Charter of the Bulgarian King Ivan Asen II, provided to the merchants of Dubrovnik in Dalmatia. In a Patriarchate of Constantinople document dated 1325, the first known regional bishop is mentioned, namely „Methodius, Metropolitan of Varna and Karvona”. This means that the Metropolitan/Bishop of Varna had also ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the entire population of Karvuna hora.
Probably during the 40s of the 14th century on the Karvuna hora territory emerged an independent Bulgarian Principality (Despotate) whose first ruler was Balik, called by John Kantakuzenos the „Despot of Karvuna”. In 1346 Balik involved the Principality in the civil war in Byzantium supporting the legitimate government headed with the Empress-mother Anne of Savoy. He sent in her support a unit of 1000 heavily armed horsemen headed by his brothers Theodore and Dobrotitsa. The names of Balik and Karvuna are found as well on a damaged tombstone inscription found in Aksakovo, near Varna, on which one reads „+ George... of Balik ... of Karvuna”.
Karvuna is mentioned once again in a document of Constantinople Patriarchate dated 1369. The text reads: “The Synod voted to provide as additional to the above mentioned Metropolitan of Messemvria and Anchialo the Holy Metropolitan see of Varna and its holdings – Petrich, Provat, Galata, Kichevo, Emona and Karvuna.” These fortresses were transferred for rule to the Messembria Metropolitan see most probably because the Varna Metropolitan see was temporarily vacant without any legally elected Metropolitan. In July 1370 to the newly elected Varna Metropolitan Alexios were transferred for rule additional fortresses listed twice: “Patriarchate fortresses of Varna: Karnava (Kavarna?, Karvuna?), Kranea, Keliya or Lykostomion, Geraneya, Tristra, Kaliakra” and further:  Belonging to Varna: Karnava, Kranea, Keliya or Lykostomion, Geraneya, Tristreya, and Kaliakra. The changeling name Karvuna – Karnava – Kavarna is one of the reasons for the lack of consensus among scholars in defining the location of the capital of Dobroudja Despotate.
Following his return from Constantinople about 1360, Despot Dobrotitsa, now reigning over the Despotate, moved his residential palace from Balchik (Karvuna) to a better protected fortress on the seaside – Cape Kaliakra.
Karvuna was conquered by the Turks probably at the very end of 14th century together with other nearby towns and fortresses.
Since 15th century onward in all written sources only the name Balchik is mentioned. The local Bulgarians left it and until the 18th century the city was populated exclusively by Turks.


Within the limits of present City of Balchik there have been located two relatively important fortresses. On the low altitude terrace above the sea are located the remains of Hellenistic, Roman and Late Antique fortress, covered completely today by the modern city. The second Late Antique/ Early Byzantine fortress (probably from the 5th – 6th c. AD) covered relatively large territory starting from the port Westward to the slopes of the high plateau above the town. During archaeological excavations, sections of the Eastern fortification wall with one square in shape tower have been discovered. Part of the Western wall with one tower has been investigated near the present day city bus station. They are not available to the public now because this is the most intensively populated area of the modern town.
In the Northern part of the modern town, in the “Horizont” neighbourhood, on the edge of the high and flat plateau the second Late Antique fortress of 5th – 6th c. AD is located. Part of it was used also by Bulgarian inhabitants during the Middle ages. The fortification has an almost rectangular layout, elongated to the Southeast-Northwest direction and covers some 1.50 hectares of surface. The Eastern wall follows the plateau ridge with slight bend on north part and is 770 m long, but without any towers. Large round towers are located only in the Southeast- and Southwest corners. The South wall is 250 meters long and has two rectangular in shape towers. The Westwrn city wall is 485 m long with nine triangular towers where the stairs to the walls top are located, alternating with large square towers, which in a later period were reconstructed in pentagonal shape. The gates are located in the Southern part of the West wall and on the North wall near the bend. These are protected by both pentagonal and square towers. The wall was built in opus implectum, and it is three meters thick. The fortress was designed and built probably to serve as a large military camp for deployment of troops during the continuous fights of the Early Byzantine Empire in 5th - early7th c. AD against Barbarian invasions from North across the Danube River. A large architectural complex with stone walls and surface of ca 0.35 hectares was discovered within the fortified area. There was revealed also the layout of a large urban area, or rather of a military camp. Until the end of 6th century life was more intensive on the territory of the old city. Both fortresses of Dionysopolis were finally abandoned in the beginning of 7th century during the Avar- and Slavs invasion of AD 614. No significant remains of the Middle Ages structures apart from dug-outs have been discovered so far within the boundaries of the ancient fortifications.


Today: The modern port of Balchik is located on the site of the ancient and medieval quay. Embankments were built in both north and south part of the bay. The port is conditioned for small freight and passenger ships and yachts. Mostly bulk cargo is loaded – mainly cereals. The warehouses from the 19th century are preserved ashore and nearby there is a small beach.
Past: Several Bulgarian researchers were involved with the problem of the port of Dionysopolis. During underwater surveys, a wall buried during the sea regression in past centuries was found. It is built by well-shaped stones and is 2.55 m thick. The wall is oriented North-South and runs parallel to the new breakwater on its Eastern side. Underwater and on shore there were found amphorae of ca 4th-3rd c. BC., originating from the ancient wine-producing centres Heraclea Pontica and Island of Thasos Among the fragmented ones there were also amphorae made in other wine producing centres in the Aegean and Black Sea. The Hellenistic port was used probably with no significant changes during the Roman and Late Antique period. During the Middle Ages, on the maps of Petrus Visconti, between 1311 and 1321, and on the Pietro Sanudo map dated 1321, the port of Karvuna (Carbona) is marked to be North of Varna and Kastritsi ports, but before cape Kaliakra On maps dating from the end of 14th century and 15th century the name of Karvuna vanished and was replaced with Kavarna (Gauarna. Gauarne, Garnalla). In maps dated to the end of 15th century and 16th century, both names (Carbona and Gauarna) are written one above the other. However these maps were produced based on information of older originals and they have many additions, corrections and changes in ports names, especially after the Black Sea was closed for sailing due to the Ottoman conquest at the end of 15th century. Most probably these maps contain many mistakes and wrong locations.
The Medieval port of Balchik  is marked on the oldest known portolan chart Compass in sailing dated to 1296 and connected to the damaged Pisa map where there is a note that “from the mentioned Galata of Varna to Carbona [there are] 20 miles Northeast.” On a Venetian portolan chart from 14th century it is noted that “from Varna to Catrichi from Northeast to Southwest there are 10 miles. From Catrichi to Carbona there are 10 miles”.
In an Italian portolan chart dated to the beginning of 15th century it is indicated that “to Varna from West to East there are 6 miles. Varna is a city from where to Kaliakra there are 50 miles. From Varna to Kastritsi on Northeast there are 20 miles. From Kastritsi to Carbona there are 30 mile”.


The big Late Antique fortress of 5th – 6th c. AD in the “Horizont” neighbourhood has been excavated during the 70s and 80s of the 20th century and is partially conservated and reconstructed. The Southern, Western and North walls are well preserved and conservated. Archaeological excavations take place even today. Within the city boundaries there have been are discovered small sections of the ancient fortification systems (still unpublished and not visible today).
The Medieval site located on Djanni bair is well investigated. There were discovered a number of houses and dugouts with abundance of richly ornamented table ware of 11th – 14th centuries, as well as gold and silver ornaments of same time..

Medieval Sites

Balchik has a History Museum which contains exposition presenting the town history and archaeology up to early 20th c. The newly arranged exposition contains several ancient anchors made of stone and iron collected, during the past decades under the water, many findings of regular archaeological excavations in the city, as well as from the late Ancient fortress and the Medieval town. The exhibition contains small number of prehistoric materials mostly of Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods (late 6th – 5th millennium BC), interesting ancient import ceramics (including Egyptian ones) and various household artefacts from Hellenistic- (late4th-1st c. BC) Roman (1st-3rd c. AD)and Late Antique (4th-early7th c. AD) periods, glass vessels and bronze statuettes, the reconstruction of a richly decorated with bronze figurines Roman chariot of 2nd – 3rd c. AD, which was discovered in a burial mound nearby the modern town. eyc. The exhibition contains also rooms showing the finds of the Medieval settlement (11th – 14th century), as well as of artefacts and historical materials from 16th – early 20th century. Central place in the exhibition occupy the numerous finds discovered in the temple of Great Mother of Gods Pontia (Cybele): marble statues and reliefs of various deities, architectural details, slabs with inscriptions in Greek and Latin dating from 3rd c. BC to 4th c. AD.

Textual Sources

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Аlexander Minchev, February 2013
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