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Current Name
Ancient Name
Medieval Name
Karvuna (?), Guarna, Gauarna, Gauarnе, Guavarna, Karnava
History of the name

During Antiquity the town has had the ancient Thracian name of Bizone. It is connected with similar Thracian names of Black Sea settlements such as: Visa, Karabyza and more. Until 1st century BC the town was situated on the high cliffs of cape Chirakman, and later, after the great earthquake in the 1st century BC, when large portion of the cliffs collapsed in the sea, was moved on the seaside bay while keeping its name. In the beginning of 5th century AD, mostly for strategic reasons the town was moved again on cape Chirakman. The name Bizone was preserved until the beginning of 7th century and disappears afterward as the settlement here was deserted for good. Around 10th century on the cape a Bulgarian settlement with unknown name – probably Karvuna was founded. Since 11th – 12th centuries, in various Medieval written sources, maps and portolani it was mentioned either as Karvuna or Karbona. There is a hypothesis about the origin of this name is that it is related to the Greek word for charcoal, which may have been produced in the vicinity of  the town using then existing forests. Recently, another idea has been introduced: that the name is rather of Turk origin, transferred by the Cuman tribe who in 12th – 13th centuries migrated in Bulgarian lands and populated some areas of Northeastern part of the country. Here they have transferred the name from one of their ancient settlements in the steppes: Karabuna. However, this version is in conflict with the archaeological findings discovered within the Medieval fortress and the necropolis nearby which were dated much earlier: in 9th – 10th centuries. The contemporary name Kavarna seems to have occurred in a later Medieval period, not earlier than 15th-16th  c. 

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
Balkan peninsula, Western Black Sea coast
Administrative subdivision
Dobrich Region, North-Eastern Region
The town is located some 50 km North-East of Varna and 10 km South of Cape Kaliakra. During various historical periods, the Ancient- and Medieval one was situated on Cape Chirakman at some 120 m high cliffs and in its foots. The site is at a beautiful bay, well protected from South by the cape and from North by the steep and high Dobroudja plateau.
Foudation Date
Bizone is one of the several apoikiai of Messambria on the Western coast of Pont Euxinos/ Black Sea. However, because the Ancient name has by no doubts a Thracian origin this is an indication that on the same location there was an older Thracian settlement. The apoikia was founded not earlier than the first half of 5th century BC and was among the few ones on the Black Sea coast whose population used the Doric Greek dialect. Bizone was destroyed heavily by an earthquake in c. 1st century BC when a large part of the ancient city and the front half of Cape Chirakman cliffs collapsed in the sea. During Roman period (1st – 3rd c.), the town flourished significantly having changed its location around the bay. During 5th century AD Bizone was transferred again on the well protected cape cliffs, where a new fortress was built and existed until the beginning of 7th c. AD. On the same location in from 11th the Medieval town Karvuna was re-established and flourished up to 14th century. After the Ottoman occupation of the region in late 14th-early 15th c., the town was transferred to another site – on the plateau some 2 km away from the sea, where it is still located.
Current condition
At present the area of the Ancient and Medieval town and the fortress on Cape Chirakman are not inhabited and are located some 2 km. south-east of the modern city of Kavarna, which is situated on the lowest terrace on the edge of the Dobrudja plateau. The modern town has a population of 11 000 and it is a medium-sized resort- and tourist center. In the town furniture and food processing industries have developed, which along with the traditional tourist business and fishing formed mostly the occupation and income of local people. Within the town and its vicinity the eco-, sea- and cultural tourism are well established too. It is starting point for regular tourist trips to the archaeological- and nature reserves situated nearby: Kaliakra and Yailata. The latter one is a beautiful site on the top of cliffs hanging over the sea, where an ancient Thracian cult center and in a little lower valley bellow a Late Antique fortress are located. Here, each year on July 1 gather thousands of young people to welcome the mid-year sunrise on the so-called July morning fest. The tradition emerged in the 70s of the 20th century as counter-culture manifestation against the then governing communist regime and inspired of the famous song by the British rock band Uriah Heep. Nowadays, in the summertime Kavarna has been transformed into a famous festival- and concert center for folklore and dancing festivals, but as well very popular annual jazz- and rock festivals. They feature a number of international music stars and attract thousands of home and foreign fans. Within the city take place many other cultural events such as art workshops, various theater performances and more. The town has an well-run City museum located in an old bath building from 15th century and exhibiting interesting archaeological artifacts from Antiquity (5th c. BC – 6th c. AD), mostly related to ancient sea-fare. In another museum building, Medieval archaeological findings of 6th – 15th centuries as well as many later artifacts and documents related to town history until the Second World War have been exhibited. In a typical for the region old house, an ethnographic exhibition with artifacts from the town and the surrounding villages has been arranged. The exhibition reflects everyday life and artistic culture in the Southern part of coastal Dobrudja. There is a small beach, a bit further away from the town, which is covered by fine sand and a harbor housing little yachts, fishing and tourist boats. Near Kavarna there are functioning several golf courses which every year host international completions of different tournaments.

The earliest artifacts discovered on Cape Chirakman where later ancient Bizone was located dated from the Eneolithic (end of 5th millennium BC). They consist of ceramics, stone tools, flint knives, еtc. Bizone was a Thracian settlement with indigenous population established ca 9th – 7th centuries BC according to dated pottery fragments from Early Iron Age discovered onsite. The Megarian colony Messambria Pontica founded here its apoikia Bizone around the beginning / first half of 5th c. BC and it has quickly grown into an important commercial center for the region. During excavation and underwater researches numerous amphorae seals (over 1200) and a number of well preserved amphorae from various wine producing regions in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea areas, as well as Attic and Asia Minor ceramics have been discovered. A lot of stone- and lead anchor stocks found underwater provided important evidence about very extensive trade relationships Bizone in Pre-Roman period. This was conditioned by a well-protected from North and South winds bay and a harbor suitable for mooring during long periods of the year.
The town grew especially during Hellenistic period as an important port for importing goods from all areas mentioned above, as well as from Greece. Local merchants supplied these goods to Thracian tribes and the Scythian who at certain time penetrated end established their settlements in the interior of North-Eastern Thrace (modern Eastern Dobrudja). In exchange they bought cereals and various raw materials for export to Greece and Asia Minor cities. For the amounts of treasures accumulated by Thracians in this exchange suggested a large treasure of gold horse ornaments and other objects discovered nearby Bizone at the beginning of 20th century (sold then abroad) and other similar findings of gold decorations in Thracian tombs around Kavarna. Probably in 1st century BC or sometime later, the town was devastated by an extremely powerful earthquake, which destroyed not only part of the cape and most of the ancient city, but as well changed the shape of the coastline. The event had a great impact on the Ancient world of that time as it was mentioned by almost all ancient authors: Strabo, Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder and in Description of Pont Euxinos (of early 1st century AD), while in AD 131 Flavius Arianus called Bizone a desert place, obviously meaning the city on the cape.
During Roman period (1st-3rd c. AD), the settlement moved downward and occupied the low terrace in the valley on the sea coast, where the port was located too. However, after the numerous barbarian incursions during 3rd – 4th centuries AD, at latest in early 5th c. AD the town moved again upward to the cape. Then, a new fortification on the top of the plateau of cape Chirakman, some 120 m above the valley below has been built. The Late Antique town was destroyed and deserted after the invasions of Avars and Slavs during early 7th century.
Sometime in the beginning of 9th century on its location in the West side of Cape Chirakman an early-Bulgarian settlement of dugouts and semi-dugouts was established. During the 10th century, after the adoption of Christianity by Bulgarians, a small one nave church was built there. Probably the settlement was protected by earthwork ramparts and ditch enclosing from West the isthmus of the plateau. This seems to has been one of the few sites in which life continued uninterrupted after Byzantium conquered the Bulgarian Kingdom by the end of 10th century. This has been evidenced by findings of coins and ceramics, and in 11th – 12th centuries the settlement even grew as inhabited area. During 12th and 13th centuries the old Early Byzantine fortifications were partially reconstructed. A town emerged known as Karvuna, but was that its real name, remained so far controversial. A contemporary Bulgarian historian considered that both the fortress on the cape and the port in its foot were called with the name of modern town Kavarna ever since 14th century. On some sea-fare maps dated 14th century between Varna and Kaliakra is located a port called Gauarna, Gauarnе or Guavarna. There are some maps dated 15th century on which North of Varna are marked simultaneously Carbona and Gauarna, but generally redrawn maps in that time had many mistakes. Moreover, in two documents from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, under control of Varna Metropolitan in 1370 are transferred the Patriarchate fortresses among which reads the name Karnava, while the previous year six other fortresses are transferred among which reads Karvuna. It is not logical that the office of the Patriarch issues documents for transferring spiritual control over fortresses with wrong names, and even if a name is mistaken, it is unacceptable to issue one year after another a document for transfer of spiritual control over the same fortress. There are some reasons for rejecting the fortress located on Cape Chirakman as the Medieval Karvuna. It is well known that the separated from Bulgaria local nobles established the Karvuna Despotate and until the 60s of the 14th century had their stronghold in a town somewhere in Dobroudja, on the coast. At the located on Cape Chirakman town no luxurious goods and first quality ceramics have been found, not to speak about a large church. The fact is that during the excavation carried out on the plateau there have not been found well-build large buildings, which might have served as residence of the Despots. However, another Bulgarian historian considered that on Cape Chirakman was located in fact Karvuna, the Medieval town and capital of the Dobroudja Despotate. In a List of distant and close cities compiled by Russians at the end of 14th century, Kavarna was marked as a town between Varna and Kaliakra.
The town was marked and mentioned in numerous Medieval maps and portolani dated 13th – 17th century with the name Carbona, as well as in some portolani of that period always between Varna, Kastritsi and Kaliakra with the name Karvuna or Karvona. The case was maybe resolved in a description of the Black Sea west coast dated 1738, which states that the village was called by the Turks Kavarna and by the other locals Karbona. The fortress was captured by the Ottomans by the end of 14th century and afterward was used by them until the crusade campaign of Vladislav III Jagielo in 1444. Its taking by his army has been mentioned by Andreas de Palazzio, a member of Vladislav’s army and contemporary historian. Afterward its destruction by the crusaders, the fortress was abandoned and the town was transferred Westward on the location of the modern city. Late, a Christian necropolis was formed within the fortress’ ruins.


The Early Byzantine and Medieval fortress situated on the 120 m high cliff of Cape Chirakman was built probably in 5th c. AD. Its construction reminds very much the fortification system preserved on the nearby Cape Kaliakra. It consists of a series of fortification lines blocking the narrow isthmus. The first line is some 1 200 meters south-west of the cape tip. It is an earthwork/ rampart with a ditch which was built during the First Bulgarian Kingdom (c. 9th – 10th centuries). Some 750 m from the cape tip, at isthmus narrow neck there was a partition wall, which is not seen today. Collected data are certain that the Eastern part of the plateau was surrounded by partition wall on the isthmus neck, with a gate in the middle, and by a fortress wall in the more accessible North-Eastern part of the cape. The fortress wall is 1.8 meters thick with a tower in its West section. Along the wall there have been discerned three solid towers-bastions, a postern and stairway. On the Western wall have been discovered the foundations of a large building with walls thick up to 3 meters, which is described as garrison building. It is also possible that it was used as a standalone tower-donjon. Probably a second fortress wall with U-shaped towers provided additional fortification to the North-eEst slope. Within the fortress there were found ruins of houses and foundations of a basilica with walls made of stones. The Late Antique fortress and the town were destroyed during the early 7th century Avar incursions in the region.
During the First Bulgarian King a settlement fortified with earthworks and ditch emerged on the same location. During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, probably in 13th century the space in the plateau eastern part was fortified with a short wall blocking the narrowest part of the isthmus with an area of about 0.23 ha. The foundations of the Late Antique fortress wall were used as a base. The new fortification was built of stones and white mortar with a system of wooden grates for alignment. Despite the extensive archaeological studies between 1970ies-1990ies, no traces of Despots’ residence or other large public building or a church have been found. The ruins of a small Medieval church destroyed during 14th century were discovered, and upon them houses were built later.
The Medieval fortress and settlement on cape Chirakman have been excavated firstly in 1951-1955. Besides the architectural ruins from several Ancient and Medieval periods there have been discovered also pottery vessels, iron tools and weapons, horn- and bone made artifacts, as well as various cult related pagan and Early Christian objects and many coins. Sections of the Late Antique and Medieval necropolises have been investigated as well. Results of the excavations have been published in 1962. Since mid-70s until end of 90s of the 20th century the archaeological excavations on Cape Chirakman were conducted by teams of the National Museum of Archaeology in Sofia under guidance of various archaeologists, but only a few preliminary publications are available as a result of their work. During that period were discovered and underwent partial conservation some sections of the fortress walls dated from various periods, as well as the foundations of numerous buildings. Certain findings as ceramics, bone, metal and stone artifacts, as well as coins are exhibited in the Middle Ages section Archaeological Museum of Kavarna. During the same period numerous underwater archaeological expeditions took place in the aquatory of Kavarna bay, around Cape Kaliakra, near the Ancient locality and Late Antique fortress Yailata, situated North of the town as well as in some other locations in the region. Numerous amphorae, amphora stamps, anchor-stocks from Ancient period and Medieval iron anchors, Ancient and Late Medieval ceramics, have been discovered and displayed as well in the museum.


The modern port is located on the site of the Ancient- and Medieval pier. Modern port strengthening facilities were constructed at the North and South sides of the bay, mostly for protection against constant coastal erosion by the sea. The port is suitable for little boats and yachts. Interesting 19th – early 20th century warehouses are preserved on shore. The port is visited occasionally by tourist boats too.
Past: Following its foundation in 5th century BC, the ancient Bizone and its port were located in the foot of modern town in the valley lower part. The port occupied a shallow, but relatively comfortable bay in the foot of once heavily jutting into the Black sea Cape Chirakman. Until 4th century AD on the same location there were pier facilities and breakwater. During underwater research works there have been discovered parts of stone- and brick built walls, which are considered as ruins of the Ancient town trhat collapsed in the seaafter a devastating earthquake in 1st c. BC. During underwater expeditions in 1969 and 1971, a stone pile has been discovered in the Eastern part of the bay. It is located at 140 meters East of the shore at depths from 3.5 to 7 meters. It was defined as immersed breakwater built in 5th – 6th c. AD.. According to the findings the port complex (eventually with the breakwater), has been operational from 1st – 2nd up to 6th c. AD. On the shore, a complex of over 20 artificial caves dug-out in the soft cliffs, which served as warehouses and contained many grain storages in form of large jar have been investigated. The artifacts found within dated them from 5th – 6th. AD. In 197, in the West part of the bay near Cape Chirakman have been discovered some more similar caves. Near the caves, underwater were found one lead anchor stock and Early Greek ceramics of 5th-4th c. BC. This is probably the earliest ship berth dating from the foundation of Bizone. Until present no traces of an artificial pier in Bizone aquatory have been found. It is generally accepted that the Ancient port of the town was a natural formation. The suggestion asserting the existence of an artificial port facility in the Eastern part of Kavarna bay is not confirmed by underwater surveys.
During Antiquity the port should have been located in the Eastern part of the bay. Certain grounds for its localization provided the statement from Ottoman period that ‘ships stop a little Eastward from the town, in front of a white cliff wall [called] Dzheragman-tepessi, standing 10-15 meters above the sea...’ During underwater research conducted in that area at 8 meters depth. an Ancient lead anchor stock has been discovered.
By underwater archaeological expedition in 1988 was established that sometime during the Middle Ages, the piers under Cape Chirakman were dislocated from its Eastern to its Southern slopes and the ships were staying some 400 meters away from the shore. Their cargo was transferred to smaller vessels or boats, which reached the shore. Several iron anchors dated 16th – 18th centuries were discovered deep in the sand at 8-11 meters depth in that area.
The port is noted with the name Guavarna on relatively late produced maps of 14th-15th centuries: the ones of Guilelmo Soloari dated 1385, that of Masia de Valadestes of 1413 (the toon marked as Gauarna); of Gabriel de Valesca issued in 1447 and Niccolo Fiorini (15yh c.), while on the map of Grazioso Benincasa dated 1474 after Varna (Uarna) and Kastritsi were listed both a town named Carbona followed by another one: Gauarna.
The medieval port of Karvuna/Carbona, was mentioned in several maps and portolani of 13th – 17th centuries. However the distances in all these maps are different and this provides additional reason for the controversies concerning the name of port Karvuna and allows many scholars to locate it on different places at three modern towns: Kavarna, Balchik and Kranevo. In some portolani dated to 13th – 14th centuries there are the following notes: From the mentioned Galata of Varna to Karbona 20 miles North-East (Compass in sailing dated 1296); From Varna to Kastritsi on North-East there are 20 miles. From Kastritsi to Karbona there are 30 miles… (Italian portolan dated 14th century); From Kastritsi to Karvona there are 10 miles (Venetian portolan dated 14th century).


At present are preserved and partially restored sections of the West Medieval fortress wall with the gate on Cape Chirakman, ca 2 km of the modern town. There are also sections of the wall with semicircular towers dated 5th – early 7th century, as well as sections of the wall with towers on the North-Eastern slope of the plateau. All these sections are also partially restored. Inside the fortification are visible the foundations of many late Antiqe- and Medieval buildings, though the Medieval fort is not well preserved.

Medieval Sites

Early Byzantine and medieval fortifications are located south-east of the modern town. The site is not easily accessible because it is on the high steep cliff cape Chirakman. In addition to the fortifications of Bizone – Karvuna from Late Antique- and Medieval periods, there are visible ruins of houses and business buildings from both periods, as well as of a big early Christian basilica (5th – 6th centuries). Judging from an inscription found a long time ago at Cape Chirakman referring for construction of a church in the same period, it was dedicated to St. St. Cosmas and Damian.
The Archaeological section of Historical Museum of Kavarna is located in a restored old Turkish bath. It was built in 15th century and is a solid stone-built domed edifice. It is located at the beginning of the valley leading to the modern port at 0.5 km from downtown. The exposition offers to the visitors rich collections of Ancient anchors, amphorae stamps and amphorae from various wine producing centers collected during archaeological excavations at Cape Chirakman, around the city and during underwater surveys in the bay and surrounding areas. It has s well collections of beautiful ceramics and glass ware, lamps and various objects of everyday life from Hellenistic (4th -1st c. BC) and Roman (1st – 3rd c. AD) periods, as well as of Late Antique (4th – 6th c. AD). In the Treasury room coins of various periods used by the inhabitants of Bizone and Karvuna are on show, as well as valuable gold Thracian horse-trapping ornaments from a tomb dated 3rd century BC discovered near the town. Copies of Ancient- and Middle Ages maps present the ideas for navigation on the Western Black Sea coast through the ages. Within the museum courtyard, in a nice lapidarium with marble and limestone reliefs and inscriptions of various periods, amphorae and stocks from anchors are on display. In Kavarna, in a separate building is exhibited the Medieval history and archaeology of the town with rich collection of Medieval sgraffito-type ceramics (13th – 14th centuries), iron tools and weapons, coins, bone and clay made objects of everyday laife, etc. All these artifacts have been discovered during archaeological excavations on land or underwater within the Medieval town and its vicinity.

Textual Sources

Strabo, VII, 6, 11;
Skymnos, v.758;
Pomp.Mela, II, 2, 22Ann. PPE, 75-77;
Plin., Hist. Nat. IV, 11, 44;
Fl. Arr., 24;
Tab. Peut.,  segm.VII;
Rav. Geogr. IV, 145;
St, Byz.,T 400;
Eutrop. VI, 10.
„Списък на крепостите подчинени на варненския митрополит (юли 1370 г.)” – В. Гюзелев. Извори за средновековната история на България (VІІ–ХV в.). В австрийските ръкописни сбирки. София, 1994, 194.
Решение на Константинополската патриаршия за добавяне към епархията на несебърския митрополит на селища от Варненската митрополия” (1369 г.) –
В. Гюзелев. Извори за средновековната история на България (VІІ-ХV в.). В австрийските ръкописни сбирки и архиви. София,1994, с. 192.
Атлас № ІІ, 5; ІІ, 8; ІІ, 10; ІІ, 11; ІІ, 12...


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А. Салкин. Антични пристанищни съоръжения в залива на град Каварна. – ФАР, 1987, 25-28.
Ал. Кузев. Каварня и Карвуна. – В: Български средновековни градове и крепости. Варна, 1981, 272 и сл..
В. Гюзелев. Добруджа от края на ХІІ до ХV век. – В: История на Добруджа, 2. В. Търново 2004, 305 и сл.
А. E. Salkin. Bizone. – In:Ancient Greek Colonies in the Black Sea 2. Thessaloniki, 2007, 37-50.
М. Лазаров. Древното корабоплаване по Западното Черноморие. Варна, 2009.
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Writer / Date
Аlexander Minchev, February 2013
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