Bulgaria's Plovdiv Clears Ground for Restoration of Early Christian Great Basilica

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Clears Ground for Restoration of Early Christian Great Basilica

This is what the site of the Early Christian Great Basilica in Bulgaria's Plovdiv looks like before its renewed excavation and restoration. Photo: Plovdiv24

This is what the site of the Early Christian Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv looks like before its renewed excavation and restoration. Photo: Plovdiv24

The local authorities in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv have started clearing the area of the remains of the so called Great Basilica, an impressive Early Christian monument which will be excavated, restored, and exhibited as part of a long anticipated project funded by the America for Bulgaria Foundation, a Sofia-based NGO.

The municipal workers in Plovdiv have started removing trees and other vegetation from the site of the Great Basilica, and are also going to reinforce the existing fence around it, local news site Plovdiv24 reports.

The project for the excavation and restoration of the 5th century Great Basilica in the Southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv is going to focus on the recovery, restoration, and conservation of its Early Christian mosaics.

The restoration and excavation of the Great Basilica of ancient Philipopolis, as Plovdiv was known after the conquest of Ancient Thrace by King Philip II of Macedon in 342 AD, is a long awaited project which will be funded with a grant of BGN 4.9 million (app. EUR 2.5 million) by the America for Bulgaria Foundation, a Bulgarian-U.S. NGO.

Lead archaeologist Elena Kisyakova, who first found the Early Christian church in 1982, has made it clear that the project will focus on the restoration, conservation, and exhibition of the Great Basilica and its mosaics, and only partial excavations will be done on an “as needed" basis.

A reconstruction of the outside view of the Great Basilica in the ancient city of Philipopolis in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo by

A reconstruction of the outside view of the Great Basilica in the ancient city of Philipopolis in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo by “Свети места” svetimesta.com

The project for Plovdiv’s Great Basilica, which is sometimes likened to similar historical monuments from ancient Constantinople and Ravenna, the last capital of the Western Roman Empire, is the second of this kind, after in 2010-2014 Bulgaria Culture Ministry, Plovdiv Municipality, and the America for Bulgaria Foundation collaborated for the excavation and restoration of another Early Christian monument, the so called Small Basilica dating back to the 5th century AD.

The Small Basilica project was financed by the America for Bulgaria Foundation with a BGN 1 million (app. EUR 511,000) grant, and was formally opened for tourists in May 2014.

Background Infonotes:

The Early Christian Great Basilica (or Bishop’s Basilica) is located in the center of the ancient city of Philipopolis, which is itself in the downtown of today’s Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria. It was discovered in 1982 by a team of archaeologists led by Elena Kisyakova. The excavated remains of the Great Basilica were fenced off as part of conservation efforts but have not been excavated further ever since. Back in 2002, Plovdiv Municipality sold the property to a private firm even though it contained a formally recognized monument of culture. As a result, once the scandalous deal unraveled, it took the municipality and the central government seven years of court trials to regain the ownership of the Great Basilica site. The Philipopolis Bishop’s Basilica is impressive in size – its length totals 86.3 meters (the combined length of its naos with the apse is 56.5 meters), and its width is estimated to be 38.5 meters. The entire floor of the three-nave basilica is paved with unique Early Christian mosaics covering a total area of 700 square meters. The mosaic floors were created in two construction stages. The color mosaics feature primarily geometric motifs and images of birds typical of the second quarter of the 5th century. About 70 different species of birds have been identified, some of which appear to be unknown to contemporary ornithology. Based on the mosaics, the Early Christian Bishop’s Basilica in the ancient city of Philipopolis is dated back to the first half of the 5th century BC, the Late Roman – Early Byzantine period. It was destroyed in the middle of the 6th century, possibly during a barbarian invasions. It was built on the foundations of an earlier building of similar size and potentially with similar functions.