The best-preserved sanctuary of Roman Bulgaria is not in a big city but lies on the outskirts of a village in the southeast. There, from a karst rock on one of the rolling hills, water springs. Long before the arrival of the Romans, the water was seen as having curing powers, and attracted people seeking to restore their health. These were the Thracians, who venerated springs as the abode of nymphs, mythical creatures believed to live in the water.
In the 2nd Century AD Titus Flavius Beithykenthos, son of Esbeneios, a soldier from Thracian origin, reached the end of his 30-year military career, and was given state land where today lies the village of Kasnakovo. The springs were part of the property. The new owner decided to give the shrine some boost. The waters were caught in three arched artificial caves in the rocks – one central and two at the sides.
A colonnade was built, and an inscription above the central spring told visitors that this was the shrine of Aphrodite and the Nymphs, and that the building was financed by Titus Flavius and his wife, Claudia Montana.
In the next centuries the sanctuary expanded. Buildings for pilgrims appeared, as well as a theatre-shaped zone, which probably hosted performances.
When Antiquity ended and pagan cults were banned, the shrine fell into disrepair and its most imposing buildings disappeared. But the sanctuary was not forgotten nor the was memory of its healing waters. People continued to flock and pay respects to the divine creatures which they believed inhabited the area. Even today they gather around the springs on Spasovden, or Ascension Day. They light candles by the waters and sacrifice a lamb. It is hardly a coincidence that in Bulgarian folklore Spasovden marks the beginning of the Week of Rusalii, supernatural creatures who generally bear ill will towards people but would sometimes bring health. According to historians, the Rusalii are indeed the heirs of the nymphs of Thracian times.
The first excavation of the nymphaeum at Kasnakovo began in 1945-46, and in 1968 the site was declared a monument of national significance. A luxurious villa, probably belonging to Titus Flavius or his kin, was recently discovered on a hill near the springs.
Today the most impressive nympheum in Bulgaria remains a place of interest. Its three springs continue to babble in their artificial caves, and the Titus Flavius's inscription still adorns the central one. The location is as idyll as it used to be in Antiquity, with greenery and vast skies, and frogs jumping around the sacred waters of the nymphs.