Bulgaria’s Plovdiv to Exhibit in Situ Part of 2nd Century Roman Stadium in Former Department Store’s Basement
Unseen parts of the Ancient Roman stadium of Philipopolis, as the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was called in the Antiquity period, will be exhibited in situ inside the basement of a former department store, after Plovdiv Municipality has now signed an agreement with the building’s owners.
The previously unknown eastern section of the Roman stadium of Philipopolis was discovered by construction workers and then explored by archaeologists back in 2004 during the reconstruction of the former department store on Plovdiv’s main street.
However, the building has remained closed for more than a decade for lack of tenants, and has only recently been bought by Austrian investors who are presently renovating it, and planning to open there a five-storey store of the Swedish fashion retailer H&M.
Now Plovdiv Municipality has made an agreement with the new owners providing for exhibiting in situ the preserved Roman archaeological structures of the ancient stadium, reports local news site Plovdiv24.
Apparently, there is much to show because the preserved structures include six rows of marble seats, including seats with lion ornaments indicating where the noble citizens of Philipopolis would sit, stone blocks and arches supporting the seats, parts of the city aqueduct, and part of the arena.
During their excavations back in 2004, the Bulgarian archaeologists also found a room containing animal bones leading them to hypothesize that this was where the wild animals were kept before they were released on the arena for gladiator fights.
“A commission from the Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties carried out explorations and gave us directions what to do with the archaeological structures,” explains architect Stefan Stefanov who designed the current reconstruction of the building, as cited by the 24 Chasa daily.
Under the memorandum signed by Plovdiv Mayor Ivan Totev with the Austrian owners of the former department store, Plovdiv Municipality will be entitled to exhibit the archaeological structures, and include them in the city’s museum and cultural tourism network. The reconstruction of the building itself could be completed by the end of 2015.
Plovdiv’s Ancient Roman stadium was built in the 2nd century AD, and had a capacity of 30,000 people. It was used for sports events and gladiator fights, including fights with animals.
The stadium was about 250 meters long, and most of it remains under the main street of today’s Bulgarian city of Plovdiv even though part of its small section has been exhibited in situ near the Dhzumaya Dzhamiya mosque.
Another section of the Roman stadium of Philipopolis has been exposed in the basement of a former movie theater, which, however, is presently closed. Another commercial building in Plovdiv’s downtown also features exhibited archaeological structures from the 2nd-4th century AD.
The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkish word for “hill”) is one of the seven historic hills where today’s Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times. The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi. During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.
In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire. In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills. Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.
Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD. In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.
Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.