Construction Workers Busting Ruins of Ancient Thracian and Roman City Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia, Report Says
Construction workers rehabilitating part of the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia seem to be damaging the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica, a newspaper report alarms.
The construction in question is actually part of the execution of the long anticipated BGN 16 million (app. EUR 8.2 million) project for creating an open-air museum out of part of the remains of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica located at the so called Sofia Largo in the very downtown of the Bulgarian capital.
However, the workers appear to be working without regard for the damages they might be doing to the 3rd-4th century AD structures of Ancient Serdica, and maybe without archaeological supervision, reports the Bulgarian daily Presa.
Their machines are ripping off huge stones just meters away from unique archaeological monuments, the workers are removing huge Roman road slabs, and breaking a temporary concrete wall put up several years ago to protect the ruins, with the debris falling all over the place, the report says describing the rehabilitation work, and explaining that, technically, this is not “an invasion of the Huns” in Ancient Serdica even though it sure resembles one.
The concern expressed in the report might be exaggerated, however, as the creation of the in situ open air museum at the Sofia Largo is under the supervision of Assist. Prof. Dr. Mario Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Ivanov was in charge of the rescue excavations of ancient Serdica conducted in 2009-2010 during the construction of the Second Line of the Sofia Metro whose discoveries are yet to be exhibited in an open-air museum with the completion of the reconstruction project for the so called Sofia Largo expected in the fall of 2015.
The report notes that the concrete wall is supposed to be reduced to clear space for the construction of a viewing ground from where the tourists will be able to see the preserved ruins of Ancient Serdica. However, it is skeptical about the construction works pointing out the removal of the large stone slabs that made up the main streets of the Ancient Roman city.
The construction workers have assured that during the excavations the streets of Serdica were photographed to the smallest detail so that they can be recreated for the open air museum, and that the slabs have been moved away carefully in order to protect them. The newspaper notes, however, that passers-by can see some cracked and broken slabs from the ancient streets just lying around the construction site.
The workers have also started laying drainage pipes in order to protect the future open air museum of Ancient Serdica from rainy and snowy weather.
In April 2015, Bulgaria’s Cabinet and Sofia Municipality launched the last two phases of the long anticipated project for creating an open-air museum out of part of the remains of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica located at the so called Sofia Largo in the very downtown of the Bulgarian capital.
The Sofia Largo project, as it has become known, is supposed to exhibit in situ part of the remains of ancient Serdica uncovered in 2010-2012 in rescue excavations during the construction of the Second Line of the Sofia Metro.
The Serdica ruins located within the Sofia Largo (between the buildings of the Council of Ministers, the Presidency, and the National Assembly) will be exhibited under a glass dome, while the Ancient Roman ruins below the Knyaginya Marie Louise Blvd will be exhibited in the open.
The restoration and rehabilitation of the ruins of Ancient Serdica at the Sofia Largo has been delayed by political disputes as well as a number of court appeals over the tender for selecting an executer of the construction works. In the meantime, the open sections of the excavated ruins turned into a “swamp”, as described by headlines in the Bulgarian press, leading Sofia Municipality to carry out emergency conservation of the site in the fall of 2014.
A consortium of four firms (including “Roads and Bridges”, Patstroy, “Finance Group”, and “Restoration” Jsc) has been selected for the restoration and construction works, which are due to start immediately, and to be completed in mid October 2015. According to Bulgarian Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov, no archaeological artifacts have “fatally damaged” as a result of the delay, and the fact that they were left in the open for such a long period of time.
Thus, the second and third phases of the project entitled “Ancient Cultural and Communication Complex Serdica” will be executed providing for the rehabilitation of the archaeological remains of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city on two levels under the Knyaginya Marie Louise Blvd and within the Sofia Largo, under the Independence Square, with a total of area of 8,000 square meters. They will be connected into an all-out open air museum with recreational, exhibition, and performance space. The project is worth BGN 16 million (app. EUR 8.2 million), the bulk of which is provided from EU funding under Operational Program “Regional Development”.
The open air museum at the Sofia Largo might be expanded with additional archaeological structures which might be revealed nearby as a team of Bulgarian archaeologists is going to excavate the parking lot of a five-star hotel in downtown Sofia in search for the Roman forum of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica.
Also, in March 2015, Deputy Mayor of Sofia Todor Chobanov announced that in addition to the Sofia Largo project Sofia Municipality also planned to excavate and exhibit in situ the Western Gate of Ancient Serdica and the mosaics inside the St. Sofia Basilica.
The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica is the precursor of the contemporary Bulgarian capital Sofia. The oldest traces of civilized life in Sofia are from a Neolithic settlement dated back to 5000 BC located in today’s Slatina Quarter. There are also traces of life from the Charcolithic (also known as Aeneolithic or Copper Age) and the Bronze Age. After the Bronze Age the Sofia Valley was inhabited by the Ancient Thracian tribe serdi (some believe them to have been a Celtic tribe) which gave the name to the Ancient Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica. The city of Serdica was conquered briefly in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. Around 29 BC, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, the center of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), and saw extensive development with many new buildings. It is known to have been the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome”. In 343 AD, the Council of Serdica was held in the city, in the 4th century church that preceded the current 6th century St. Sofia Basilica. In 447 AD, the city was destroyed by the Huns. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), a new fortress wall was built whose remains have been excavated and can be seen today. This is when it was renamed Triaditsa. It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) in 809 AD when it was conquered by Bulgaria’s Khan Krum, and was known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name Sredets until the 14th century when it took the name of the St. Sofia Basilica.
The Sofia Largo is the architectural complex of government buildings in downtown Sofia erected in the 1950s, in the early years of the former communist regime. Regardless of their Communist Era architecture, today the buildings house the most important Bulgarian government institutions and are one of the most famous parts of Sofia’s cityscape. Parts of the ancient city of Serdica, which have been excavated, can be seen in the underpasses and the Serdica Metro Station right next to the Sofia Largo.