Dr Georgi Kitov (1943-2008), the head of the team, did not have much work to do on the site. The survey was over and the rest of the team were busy with the final clean up, so he got into his car and headed to nearby Dimitrovgrad. On his return to Aleksandrovo he glimpsed something unusual in the near distance.
About two kilometres from the road the mound of Roshava Chuka, or Bushy Rock Peak, stood out among the low hills. Kitov was familiar with it. Roshava Chuka was much bigger than the mounds he had just excavated, at 15 metres high and 70 metres in diameter. Partly overgrown with scrub and trees it was close to Aleksandrovo, but far from the future motorway (yet to be built in 2012). It was unexplored.
Despite the distance, in the clear winter air, Kitov spotted two gaping holes on the surface of the mound. Someone had been digging at Roshava Chuka, and he was obviously not an archaeologist.
An hour or so later, Kitov and three members of his team arrived at Roshava Chuka, to inspect what was visibly illegal excavations. The first one was short and ended in a stone wall. The second was longer and led to a four-metre shaft. The shaft led to a stone slab covering the corridor of the tomb which was obviously under the mound. The stone was broken. Inside, there was darkness.
Kitov hesitated. Bulgarian archaeologists can only excavate sites approved by a special commission at the Archaeological Institute. These permissions, called otkrit list, are issued every year and include descriptions of the excavation methods to be employed and the sites that will be surveyed. In this case, Kitov had otkrit list for the two little mounds only. On top of that, he had already violated the rules. That very year, while excavating the Starosel Tomb, one of his greatest discoveries, Kitov has dug into three mounds more than his permit allowed. As with Roshava Chuka, his reason for taking the risk was the fresh traces of treasure hunters.
At Aleksandrovo, after some consideration, Kitov did precisely the same. He climbed down the shaft and squeezed through the narrow hole into the passageway, which led him to an antechamber. The antechamber opened to a dark, round space, filled with rubble.
Bent double in the low entrance, Kitov stepped over the remains of the stone double doors and entered. It was only then that he realised that this 17 December was indeed a red-letter day.
Frescoes of a kind never seen before covered the walls. Men on foot and on horseback, chasing and killing deer and wild boar, appeared from the gloom. Kitov had just discovered the second frescoed Thracian tomb in Bulgaria, after that in Kazanlak.
Excavations in 2003 led to further discoveries. The tomb was built of stone blocks of regular shape, and its corridor was 15 metres long, one of the longest ever found in Bulgaria. The antechamber had also been painted, and its walls portrayed badly preserved but still enchanting figures of horsemen and dancers. The chamber, about three metres high and three in diameter, had a stone couch and a second frieze. Below the hunters there was a dining scene but, sadly, it was in very bad condition.
The tomb dated from the second half of the 4th Century BC, and had long since been plundered. The doors and the couch were smashed to pieces, and found in the corridor was a pick and a brass military decoration with a lion. The pick was from Antiquity, but the decoration was quite new. It turned out to be part of a Bulgarian army uniform from the 1930s-1940s. Its presence shed new light on local rumours, heard by Kitov, that sometime before several people had entered a peculiar “room with drawings” near Aleksandrovo.
When the survey ended, the frescoes were restored and preserved. Their condition, however, was extremely vulnerable, so the tomb was sealed. The general public got the chance to experience, at least partially, the charm of the murals in 2009, when a Japanese government-sponsored informational centre opened at Roshava Chuka. Officially called the Museum Centre for Thracian Art (open between May and October from 9 am to 5 pm, except Mondays), it contains photographs of prehistoric shrines and Thracian monuments from the area, plus a life-size model of the Aleksandrovo Tomb and the frescoes.
In 2012, the Bulgarian government announced the start of a campaign for the inclusion of the Aleksandrovo Tomb on the UNESCO world heritage list.