Archaeologist Urges Promotion of Ancient Roman City Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov as Cultural Tourism Destination

Archaeologist Urges Promotion of Ancient Roman City Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov as Cultural Tourism Destination

The ruins of the 2nd-3rd century AD principium (headquarters) and the 5th-6th century AD basilica and bishopric complex in the Ancient Roman city of Novae in Bulgaria's Svishtov before their archaeological restoration. A view from the south. Photo: Borba daily

The ruins of the 2nd-3rd century AD principium (headquarters) and the 5th-6th century AD basilica and bishopric complex in the Ancient Roman city of Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov before their archaeological restoration. An aerial view from the south. Photo: Borba daily

Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova, an archaeologist from the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo, has urged the promotion of the Ancient Roman city of Novae, whose ruins are located in the Danube town of Svishtov, as a cultural tourism destination.

Vladkova is the lead archaeologist in one of the five Bulgarian and Polish archaeological expeditions carrying out the 56th annual excavations of Novae, which is said to be the best researched Roman military camp on the entire former territory of the Roman Empire.

While urging the Bulgarian government to implement an overarching policy for promoting historical and archaeological sites such as Novae, the archaeologist also points out that the Roman city has been managed by Svishtov Municipalities. However, in spite of the efforts of the municipal administration, a lot more needs to be done to promote Novae as a major destination for cultural tourism.

“If this place is promoted well, it will attract a lot of tourists. We, too, are trying but I don’t think it is the job of the archaeologists, I think it should be a government policy because this is the most representative archaeological site on the entire Lower Danube," Vladkova argues, as cited by Radio Focus Veliko Tarnovo.

In 2014, the local authorities in Svishtov unveiled the partial restoration of the ruins of Novae with almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) of EU funding. However, the archaeologist explains that the restored ruins are just a small section of the Roman city.

“The structures exhibited in situ are two huge [architectural] complexes which have been fully excavated and are unique in all of Europe. These are the principium, i.e. the headquarters of the [Roman] legion, and the bishopric complex, which includes a basilica and a bishop’s residence. These are two structures. The former dates to the 2nd-3rd century AD, and the latter – to the 5th-6th century AD. They are from different construction periods, and represent different periods in the history of Novae," explains Vladkova.

“There is no other Roman military camp located outside of a modern-day town which has been so studied so meticulously and comprehensively. Its planning, organization, the different types of buildings cover a very long historical period – from the 70s in the 1st century AD when the First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica) arrived there until the end of the 6th century AD," elaborates the Veliko Tarnovo archaeologists, arguing that Novae is one of the most suitable places for the development of cultural tourism in Bulgaria.

The ruins of the 2nd-3rd century AD principium (headquarters) and the 5th-6th century AD basilica and bishopric complex in the Ancient Roman city of Novae in Bulgaria's Svishtov after their archaeological restoration in 2013-2014. A view from the north. Photo: Borba daily

The ruins of the 2nd-3rd century AD principium (headquarters) and the 5th-6th century AD basilica and bishopric complex in the Ancient Roman city of Novae in Bulgaria’s Svishtov after their archaeological restoration in 2013-2014. A view from the north. Photo: Yantra Dnes daily

UPDATE: A day after Prof. Vladkova’s interview about the promotion of Novae as a cultural tourism site she announced the discovery of a new Latin inscription in the Roman city dedicated to ancient deities Apollo and Diana.

Background Infonotes:

The Roman Military Camp and Late Antiquity city of Novae is located 4 km east of the Bulgarian Danube city of Svishtov in an area called Staklen (meaning “made of glass" – because of the Ancient Roman glass fragments on the site). It was a legionary base and a Late Roman city which formed around its canabae, a civilian settlement near a Roman military camp, housing dependents, in the Roman province Moesia Inferior, later Moesia II, set up after the Roman Empire conquered Ancient Thrace south of the Danube in 46 AD. It had a total area of 44 hectares (108 acres), according to a decree of Roman Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD).

Novae is located near the southernmost point of the Danube where in 48 AD the 8th August Legion (Legio VIII Augusta) was stationed after participating in the suppression of a Thracian uprising. In 69 AD, it was replaced by the First Italian Legion (Legio I Italica), which was headquartered there for the next almost 4 centuries, at least until the 430s AD, and was a major force in the defense of the so called Lower Danube limes (frontier) against barbarian invasions together with other Roman strongholds such as Sexaginta Prista (today’s Ruse), Durostorum (today’s Silistra), and Ratiaria (today’s Archar). A testimony to the importance of Novae was that it was visited by three Roman Emperors: Trajan (r. 98-117 AD), Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD), and Caracalla (r. 198-217 AD). The most prosperous times for Novae was during the Severan Dynasty (r. 193-235 AD).

In 250 AD, about 70,000 Goths led by Gothic chieftain Cniva invaded the Roman Empire by crossing the Danube at Novae; regardless of the siege, however, the fortress of Novea did not fall into the hands of the Goths. With the continuing Goth invasions and settlement in the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire and East Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the 4th and the 5th century AD, in 418-451 AD Novae became the residence of Ostrogoth Chieftain Theodoric Strabo who was a rival of his kinsman, Theodoric the Great, King of the Germanic Ostrogoths (r. 475-526 AD).

The last traces of major construction at Novae date to the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD). At the end of the 6th and the early 7th century Novae was attacked by the Avars and the Slavs which led the Ancient Roman and Byzantine city to decline. In the late 5th and 6th centuries Novae was the center of a bishopric. Novae was last mentioned as a city in written sources in the 7th century AD. In 2014, the local authorities in Svishtov unveiled the partial restoration of the ruins of Novae with almost BGN 6 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) of EU funding.