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Beehive tombs

The Kazanluk Tomb is of the beehive type. Thirty-four Thracian tombs have so far been discovered in Bulgaria and all of them have pre-classical vaults (false vaults) made during the period 5 th - 3 rd Century B.C. The plans of this type of tomb were varied. Some of them, apart from the burial chamber, contain a corridor and other rooms. Fifteen of the tombs found in Bulgaria have round burial chambers. The rest have square burial chambers. The round chambers were roofed with a false beehive dome, while the square ones had a flat roof or a false vault. The tombs were made of ashlar with dry joints, or of briks and mortar.

There are various opinions concerning the origins of beehive dome tombs in Thrace. Some scholars relate them to the Mycenaean beehive tombs; others see a connection with the tombs in Asia Minor, while a third view is that their origin is related to the other monuments found in Bulgaria - dolmens, rock-cut tombs, circular sanctuaries for cremation surrounded by stone rings or walls. The false beehive dome may be regarded as an imitation of the earliest cone-shaped houses. A model of a round house with conical roof has been found in a tomb with false beehive dome in Crete. In any case, Thracian tomb architecture with its forms, structure and details is first and foremost related to the religious beliefs and ideology of Thracian society. This form of architecture was not mechanically transferred from any other place. The form of the tombs depends entirely on the level of building technology and the material resources of the society in question. The round domed tombs were built predominantly in the southern part of Thrace, in the area inhabited by the Odrysae tribes, which had achieved a higher level of socio-economic development.

The Kazanluk Tomb was most probably constructed for one of the Odrysae chieftain-kings. It is possible that the tomb may have been that of Seuth III, since his capital city is only 8 km from the Tomb. The Kazanluk Tomb bears a close resemblance to brick tombs No 2 and 3 in the necropolis of Seuthopolis. The plan of the Tomb indicates that it was built for an eminent Thracian. It consists of the three chambers required by the Thracian cult of the dead: an antechamber for the chariot, horses or slaves which accompanied the dead man in after-life; a corridor (or dromos), which was a small room for the things needed in after-life; and a burial chamber for the body itself. The three premises have different shapes and dimensions. The burial chamber is round with a diameter of 262 cm and 320 cm high; the corridor has a rectangular shape with an average height of 116 cm and is 197 cm long and 224 cm high; the antechamber is 260 cm long, 210 cm wide and 265 cm high.

The three chambers are connected by entrances placed along a central axis. Only the two interior entrances are preserved today and they lead from the antechamber into the corridor and from the corridor to the burial chamber. Only the foundations of the outside entrance to the tomb remain. The relationship between the chambers is significant from the point of view of architectural composition. The use of the well-known principle of three chambers arranged in an enfilade is here systematic. The relationship is also manifested in the shape and size of the chambers. A comparison of the measurements of the different chambers indicates that the architect planned the most important room first - the round burial chamber. The diameter of the burial chamber was the basic measurements. The architect has related the size of each chamber to the dimension of the preceding one.

This relationship between the dimensions of the chambers is by no means accidental. The architect had to solve a difficult task in designing the Tomb. He wanted to make a small tomb, but one that had powerful psychological and aesthetic impact. In order to achieve this he covered the walls of the Tomb with original murals of high quality. But murals alone were not sufficient, despite the fact that they were executed in a way that stressed the significance of each successive room, so as to achieve a gradation of impact. The importance of the burial chamber was emphasized not only by means of the murals but also by the very size of the chamber. The antechamber, however, because of its function, also had to be rather large. The architect could not apply the classical architectural approach - to make the size of the chambers of the enfilade smaller or larger. He solved the problem in a different, original way implementing the contrast principle. He designed the antechamber in a simple, austere way: a flat ceiling and vertical walls. The corridor is only half the width of the antechamber and the architect increased its impact by covering it with a false vault. He thus achieved two purposes: he neutralized the impact of the size of the antechamber and prepared the way for the powerful impact of the volume of the burial chamber. The same principle was used in the execution of the murals in the Tomb.

The Tomb stands on top of a rocky hill, and has been constructed without deep foundations. The building consists of an interior brickwork wall, and an outside wall of hewn ashlar joined with clay. After the plan had been marked out on the ground, the rooms of the Tomb were built in the same sequence as they had been designed - first the round burial chamber, then the corridor and finally the antechamber. The burial chamber is built using bricks of different widths but the same height and length. The complex beehive shape was constructed using specially made curved bricks that were different for each row. This means that the builders knew exactly what shape of bricks they had to make, and how much the brick would shrink during baking. Obviously the Thracians were very experienced in the use of brickwork. In fact, they used bricks for building two centuries before the Romans.

The false dome of the Tomb is topped not by brickwork but by a granite key-stone, wider at the top so as to strengthen the top part of the dome. The entrance to the corridor has a trapezal shape, formed by hewn stone blocks. The entrance was closed with a single metal door hinged into the architrave and the threshold. This door was probably stolen together with the rest of the articles in the Tomb. The walls are plastered in two layers - a rough and a fine layer. The floor is covered with several layers of beaten clay with pebbles, covered with a thick layer of rough mortar, followed by a layer of fine mortar and a layer of Pompean red stucco.

The corridor is also constructed of specially made bricks and mortar. The brickwork starts from the floor (as in the burial chamber) and slopes slightly towards the centre; the angle of slope increases towards the ceiling. At the top the slope of the vault turns sharply inwards and together with the opposite wall forms the triangular cross-section of the corridor. The entrance from the antechamber has a shape similar to the cross-section of the corridor. At the top the walls form an elegant pointed arch. The walls and floor in the corridor are plastered in the same way as those in the burial chamber.

After the building was roofed, the two chambers were enclosed in external masonry for protection. The protective masonry is built up directly from the terrain. The masonry, however, is not merely piled unsystematically. It is carefully laid with uniform thickness throughout, using hewn stones and clay for the joints. The masonry wall evenly envelopes the brickwork and thus bears some of the load of the mound and serves as an insulation against water. The stone wall shapes the west, east and south walls of the antechamber. The rough stonework is covered with clay and a layer of mortar followed by a thin layer of ochre-coloured stucco. There is no evidence concerning the flooring. The floor was most likely made of pounded clay. The roof of the antechamber is not preserved. The even slope of the long walls is a result of the collapse of the light timber roof structure. The bare walls gradually slide down the slope of the mound. The flat roof was made of beams and boarding. The south facade of the Tomb was probably very carefully finished. The entrance is not preserved but the hewn stone slab found in the antechamber was probably used to close the entrance to the Tomb (the dimensions of the slab do not fit any of the interior entrances).

The spatial design of the Kazanluk Tomb, and in particular, the careful execution of the two brickwork chambers - the corridor and the burial chamber - indicate that the builders had considerable knowledge of the art of building.

Glad I could be of enlightenment to ya! Chelz

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