Ancient Serdica resurrected
A unique archaeological in situ museum is put on display in downtown Sofia
14 September, 2012
The first Christian Emperor Constantine the Great, who made Christianity a lawful religion in Roman society and moved the capital city of his empire to the East, referred to Serdica as "my Rome." Little-known is the fact that he took the decision to move the capital to Byzantium while being in Serdica to later run the empire from this very city, which now is the capital of Bulgaria.With the fall of the empire, the Roman heritage of Serdica literally sunk into oblivion, to be unearthed as late as the recent months amid excavations for the construction of the city metro system. So, just a few weeks ago a unique archaeological in situ museum was put on display in downtown Sofia, telling the history of Roman Serdica. Most curiously, the centre of the Roman city and the modern centre of Sofia overlap each other with the two main boulevards, Todor Alexandrov and Marie-Louise lying literally over the two main streets, Cardo Maxima and Decumanus Maximus of the Roman Empire-era place.The earliest vestiges of life within the territory of Sofia date back to the Neolithic period. In the eighth century BC, by the thermae there was a Thracian city, which with the Roman conquest was named Serdica after the Thracian Serdi tribe living in the region. During the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus, the city was an administrative centre, named Ulpia Serdica.Thick fortress walls with turrets guarded the city in the days of the Romans. It had four gates, corresponding to the four winds. Each of the gates was crowned with a large stone with a solemn inscription on it. The one over the north gate is displayed in the al fresco museum; the eastern gate is exhibited in a passageway; part of the west one is in the churchyard of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph and the southern one remained under the insulae.The forum of the Roman city is now beneath the St Nedelia Square and nearby lie the remains of a more or less preserved Roman building as well as of one of the ancient Christian churches, that of St George. The latter was part of an enormous edifice of which only the central round building is extant, known now as the Rotunda.The excavations for the Serdica metro station unveiled vestiges of noblemen's mansions, inhabited in the fourth and fifth century and believed to belong to local rulers. One of these has a patio, arched galleries, mosaic-covered living areas and baths. Mosaic flooring featuring various geometrical figures over an area of 30 sq m with a stylised rosette and a laurel wreath in its central part was discovered in one of the rooms.The complex encompasses the ancient stone Church of St Petka. At Serdica metro station, many of the artefacts are on display, such as pottery, architectural elements, etc., found during the excavations amid stone benches, greenery and eight mosaic floorings, replicas of the Roman originals. Archaeological dig is going on to retrieve ancient Serdica in the centre of the modern city.
The Rotunda of St George is among the few well preserved Roman buildings.
Many artefacts found during the excavations are now on display at Serdica metro station.
Roman Cardo Maxima and Decumanus Maximus cross in the centre of the modern city.
Noblemen's mansions, streets and mosaic come to light.