Bulgarian Government Puts Off Opening of Ancient Serdica Open-Air Museum in Sofia till 2016
The long-anticipated opening of the open-air museum of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia will be postponed until 2016 despite the latest assurances of the Bulgarian government that the so called Sofia Largo Project will be finished by October 2015.
The construction works for the setting of the open-air museum with the uninspiring name “Ancient Cultural Communication Complex Serdica” have been inspected by Bulgarian Minister of Culture Vezdhi Rashidov.
Rashidov says the construction works will be done by November 15, 2015, but since the project for the restoration and exhibition of the ruins of Ancient Serdica is funded with EU money its administrative completion will require several more months which is why the formal opening will be held in 2016.
The project for exhibiting the Ancient Roman ruins at the Sofia Largo, i.e. the architectural complex of government buildings in downtown Sofia erected in the 1950s, in the early years of the former communist regime, has been funded with BGN 16 million (EUR 8.2 million) in EU funding under Operational Program “Regional Development”.
The deadline for absorbing the EU funding is the end of 2015 which is why the construction has to be completed in November; however, according to Rashidov, the Bulgarian government will need “3-4 months” for administrative procedures and completing the paperwork before going ahead with the formal opening of the Ancient Serdica museum.
The archaeological structures that will be part of the open-air museum at the Sofia Largo include the ruins of a residence, seven homes, and colorful mosaics from the Late Roman period as well as a church and an inn from the Middle Ages.
The Roman mosaics in question which are being restored at present have been described as the “jewel” of the future open-air museum of Ancient Serdica.
Part of the museum will be covered with 800 square meters of glass domes which can sustain a weight of 250 kg.
The architectural project for exhibiting part of the ruins of Ancient Serdica under three glass domes has been been presented recently.
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.
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 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 excavating the parking lot of a five-star hotel in downtown Sofia in search for the Roman forum 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.