Bulgaria’s cultural heritage endangered

Research on the heritage of Bulgaria is today is an important aspect of Bulgarian cultural advancement as well as important for the development of a tourist industry in the future. Although it has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years, Bulgaria’s per capita income levels remain among the lowest within the European Union. At the same time, the international market for antiquities has grown exponentially and this encourages massive looting of sites. This combination makes the undiscovered archaeological riches within the borders of Bulgaria particularly vulnerable. Below is a selection of recorded incidents of looting that have taken place in Bulgaria over the past several years. It is this type of activity that feeds the illicit antiquities market.


September 2011
The Bulgarian Customs Agency caught smugglers at the Turkish border with a statue of a Roman goddess or a female aristocrat

August 2011
Bulgarian Antiquities Police Bust Illegal Antiquities Storage

June 2011
Canadian authorities returned to Bulgaria 21,000 antiquities illicitly trafficked into the country

May 2011
Two are arrested overnight when caught digging Thracian burial mound.

March 2011
Customs Officials seize coins at Kalotina


December 2010
Bulgarian police halt illegal antique trade and illegal archeological digs in the area of the ancient city of Nove

November 2010
Bulgarian Police Bust Illegal Medieval Coin Auction

Bulgarian police bust antiquities ring in the western town of Kyustendil and two nearby villages, capturing 1 silver rhyton, a number of decorated ancient artifacts with images including statuettes, knives, bronze lamps, pottery vessels, rings, and 74 ancient coins from different time periods.

October 2010
Bulgarian police arrest a crime group trafficking in illicit archaeological finds, including a 2-meter marble statue of Aphrodite.

September 2010
Bulgarian police seize 3000 looted coins in the southern city of Yambol.

Ring of antiquities looters arrested

Bulgarian police recovered around 380 antique artifacts after a search in private homes in Sofia and a village nearby Vratsa, detaining five persons under suspicion of illegal treasure hunting.

November 2010
Bulgarian police recover over 2000 looted items near northern town of Shumen.

A local businessman in Bulgaria’s central town of Kazanlak is being searched for after he dug up the central town garden in an attempt to find ancient gold.


October 2009
A professor from the city of Ruse has been charged with leading an organized crime group for illegal treasure hunting.

September 2009
Three treasure hunters where caught with archaeological items in the western Bulgarian town of Bobovdol

Plundering the Past

March 2009
Italy has returned 2201 historical treasures to Bulgaria’s National Historical Museum, that were smuggled from Bulgaria

July 2009
“Treasure Hunting is a National Tragedy for Bulgaria”

Between 30 000 and 33 000 people are involved in the looting of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage.

January 2009
Italy Returns Thousands of Looted Coins to Bulgaria


July 2008
Over 300 antique objects were seized at a police raid in the home of a 57-year-old citizen of Bulgaria’s Gorna Oryahovitsa

June 2008
An expose on Bulgarian illicit antiquities is published outlining connections to international organized crime.

February 2008
The Bulgarian Directorate for Combating Organized Crime captured a group of 19 treasure-hunters who carried out illegal archeological excavations and sold antiquities.


December 2007
“There is not a single dig or site or historical monument in the country that has never been looted” says Vassil Nikolov, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Museum of Sofia.

October 2007
Bulgaria’s special police unit combating organized crime busted Thursday a channel for smuggling antiques in five Bulgarian cities seizing antiquities valued at several million dollars.

August 2007
Since October of 2006, 16,000 artifacts have been seized by looters in Bulgaria reports the Daily Telegraph.

An overview of Looting in Bulgaria

April 2007
A British national is seized at Varna airport after an attempt to smuggle 54 ancient coins dating from the 4th to 2nd century BC.

March 2007
Nine silver philae recently acquired by Greek Museums are sought by the Bulgarian government with evidence from the looters who found them in Bulgaria.


December 2006
National Geographic Magazine calls Bulgaria the El Dorado for looters of ancient sites.

February 2006
Over 10,000 Coins Stolen from Veliko Tarnovo Museum


October 2004
Customs officers at Bulgaria’s Malko Tarnovo checkpoint have busted the illegal export of 23 antiquities included eight Roman, Hellenic and Byzantine coins made of silver and copper, as well as a bronze latch depicting a lion’s head, a bronze mace, and ceramic tobacco pipes.