Basarabi Cave Complex

Basarabi Cave Complex is a medieval cave complex located in the town of Basarabi, Constanţa County, Romania.

The complex of cave monuments in Basarabi was discovered in 1957 during the limestone quarry activities. The complex used from the second half of the 9th to the half of the 11th century consists of a number of galleries, dwellings, crypts, tombs, six chapels and a quarry from the same epoch, where limestone was cut out. All the composing elements of the architectural complex are dug into the chalky limestone hill at different levels, into the vertical walls of the ancient quarry.

The main conclusions regarding the location, the role and the significance of the cave monuments were already drawn, though studies about them are not yet finished. Dobruja was under Byzantine Empire rule during those centuries, rule again established at the mouth of the Danube after a short period of its political and military decline from the beginning of the 7th cent. A representative elements series of this archaeological complex is specific for the Dobrujan Romanian population. The limestone deposit exploiting system in open-air scales and terraces, used since ancient times in Roman quarries (including Dobruja) was unknown to migrant populations. Many of the excavated tombs were built according to older, Roman traditions. Two types represent ceramics: the local, Dridu type and the imported Byzantine one, inheriting older, Greek and Roman traditions. Regarding building conceptions, religious frameworks, with apses, central and side naves, though little, keep exactly the plan of Roman-Byzantine basilicas (including those in Dobruja) from the 4th-6th cent. A.D. The entire ensemble, with its rich figurative and symbolic decoration, represents an especially important document for our history, until now unique in eastern parts of Europe.

Decoration consists of human figures, orants, riders, animals, birds, laic and religious symbols etc. A large interest group is represented by fantastic figures like monsters and dragons. These ones, together with also on the walls represented halberds are of northern, Viking origin, a fact also confirmed by anthropological analysis of two skeletons. The same northern origin, accepted by all scientists, is proven by the image of a Viking ship. Beside other elements excavated from the 10th-11th centuries in Dinogetia (Tulcea County), specific also to Vikings, these discoveries were linked to the trade route between Scandinavian areas and Constantinople, known under the name “the route from the Varegs (= Vikings) to the Greek”.

A special attention must be given to the large number of inscriptions carved into the walls, using the Greek, proto-Glagolitic, Glagolitic alphabet and Runic signs. It is proven, that Greek, proto-Glagolitic and Glagolitic alphabets were used by a Romanic population. Recently even a number of Romanian language inscriptions were deciphered, containing specific religious idioms. The language of the Asiatic Runes and mixed inscriptions is still unknown. It may be Proto-Bulgarian, as suggested by a lot of Bulgarian scholars, or Turanic, as implied by Romanian scholars. It is said that the names included are of Romanian (Latin) origin, such as "Petre" and even the possibly Nordic "Rainpilpe".

After the cave complex was discovered, between 1957 and 1962 first protection measures were taken, with a wooden structure covering and protecting it against rain and wind, but this didn't much lower temperature differences. Between 1971 and 1974 final preservation and conservation works took place, especially in the area of the cave churches and galleries. But only three protection-building segments of seven were completed, covering a surface of 924 m². In 1975 these works were stopped as a result of financial difficulties. In 1981 local authorities and an architecture institute elaborated a project to protect segments 4 to 7 of the complex. The main functional elements were to be covered by a building to assure its protection and museum functionality, with platforms for visitors and exhibition spaces, consolidation of the chalky limestone slope, reconstitution of original elements in special rooms and inside the galleries.