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Hissarya, the Roman Spa Town

Nestled in a tiny valley in the border of the Sredna Gora Mountains, the pretty town of Hissarya often referred to as just Hissar, is a popular destination for Bulgarians looking for peaceful surroundings and a healthy environment. This town is famed for its mineral spas of which there are over 20 and a strong history with pre-historic remains excavated in the town centre. The town is home to 9,308 people but as one of the country’s biggest and most striking spa resorts it attracts thousands of local and international visitors each year.

Getting There

Hissaraya is located at an altitude of 364 m and lies 167 km to the east of the capital, 43 km to the north of Plovdiv, 26 km from Karlovo and 57 km from Panagyurishte. There is a regular public bus service to nearby Plovdiv, Karlovo, Panagyurishte, Strelcha and some of the smaller villages near to the town. The town can also be accessed by rail and is on the Dolna Mahala - Hissarya line.

A Dip Back in Time

Hissaraya’s past can be traced back to pre-historic days, but it really came to the fore when the Roman’s seized the town from the Thracians. They named it Augusta and Sevastopolis and it was a place synonymous with wealth because of its mineral springs. There were many palaces, marble baths, large stone streets, many statues to the Roman gods and even a sewage system. It played host to those in search of a cure for sickness from all over the Balkan Peninsula, the Aegean Islands and even Asia Minor. Sadly this beautiful gleaming white town was raised to the ground by the Goths in the 3rd century. It was rebuilt in the 4th with huge city walls to protect it from further attack. It flourished during the next two centuries under the control of the Byzantine Empire, but by the 6th century it had lapsed into slow decline. When it became part of the Bulgarian Kingdom and was renamed Toplitsa. In the Middle Ages, invading Ottoman Turks met with fierce local opposition and as a result they burned the town and killed all of its inhabitants. In the 17th century the Turks repopulated the area with predominantly Turkish inhabitants and gave the town its present name, which means fortress. The surrounding villages were inhabited by patriotic Bulgarians who joined Vassil Levski’s resistance movement to fight the Turks.

The Mineral Spas

Hissarya is once again prospering thanks to the growth in spa tourism. Its mineral springs are extremely pleasant with temperatures between 24 and 49 degrees C. They give out vast plumes of water at a rate of 40 litres a second. The environment around this area also helps; there is no industry whatsoever here and consequently no pollution. The curative properties of the water are world renowned and it is said to be particularly effective with kidneys, liver and gallbladder diseases, gastritis and diabetes. The best known spring is the Maiden Bath located in the Momina Banya area of the town, which has radioactive alkaline water. The town also offers a natural mud cure, which in conjunction with the mineral water increases the effectiveness of treatment here. Dotted about the town are plenty of public drinking fountains and spa hotels, but one of the biggest attractions is the mineral water beach.

Must See

The legacy of the town’s Roman past is visible everywhere with the ruins of many Roman public buildings, a small amphitheatre, churches and the barracks of the Roman garrison. Many of the archaeological finds in the area from pre-history to the Ottoman era are housed in the Archaeological Museum and are well worth seeing to understand the importance of this town throughout the ages. The well preserved Roman fortress, which gave the town its name, dominates the landscape with its irregular shape. The southern gate, which has been partially restored, is dubbed "The Camels", because prior to its restoration it looked like two camels facing each other. The walls built in the 4th century walls are in excellent condition at 10 m high and over 2,315 m in length. Particularly interesting are the quadrangle turrets. There used to be four main gates and a moat. Many Roman necropolises have been found here with the 4th century Hissarya Tomb being the largest and most famous and the burial ground of a wealthy Roman family. It consists of an arched passageway with a staircase leading to the burial chamber. The walls are decorated with amazing, colourful frescoes, and the floor of the burial chamber is covered with a magnificent mosaic. There are numerous historic churches including the old Christian Basilicas, which date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, the 10th-12th century Church Tomb, Momina Banya district’s Holy Virgin Temple, Verigovo Quarter’s St. Dimitur Temple, the St. Pantaleimon Temple and the Church of St. Peter and Paul to name but a few.

The Surrounding Area

It’s not just Hissaraya that has plenty of ancient ruins; the neighbouring village of Starossel is home to a splendid Thracian Temple discovered in 2000. Constructed around the 5th century BC, the temple is bordered by a huge stone wall. It has several sets of stairs leading to a long passage into the rectangular temple, which has a unique semi-circular arched ceiling and dome. Many burial mounds have been found close by and some still contained the mausoleums of Thracian rulers along with valuable items of gold jewellery, silver pieces and armaments. Whilst you are in Starosel, don’t forget to check out the Starosel Wine Cellar, which gives on-site tastings of its delicious wine. They also have a unique wine therapy and ritual Thracian dances are also performed here. The Piasachnik Dam, which is 30 km from Hissarya is a protected site of international significance famous for its migratory birds and fishing facilities. Just 22 m away from the town in the Sredna Gora Mountains is a Thracian royal residence on the Kozi Gramadi Peak, which contains the ruinsof a royal palace and an enormous 6th century BC fortress wall.

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