Bulgaria’s Sandanski to Open Archaeological Park of Newly Restored Early Christian Buildings from Roman City Parthicopolis
The southwestern Bulgarian town of Sandanski is going to open an archaeological park of restored Early Christian historical monuments form the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Parthicopolis around September 10, 2015, Sandanski Municipality has announced.
The Early Christian complex in Sandanski, including two Christian basilicas – the Bishop’s Basilica and Bishop John’s Basilica, a martyrium, and a holy well (a spring of holy water), also known as an “ayazmo” – have been under restoration since 2013 under an EU funded project entitled “Sandanski – the Dawn of Early Christianity”.
The project, which is supposed to provide a boost for cultural tourism in the town of Sandanski, a spa resort located near Bulgaria’s border with Greece, is worth BGN 6.1 million (app. EUR 3.1 million), of which Sandanski Municipality has contributed BGN 160,000 (app. EUR 82,000).
“Our discoveries do deserve the attention not just of the tourists, but of the experts as well,” Vladimir Petkov, Director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology.
Sandanski Municipality reminds of some of the recent archaeological discoveries from the ancient city of Parthicopolis made as the local archaeologists were working on the further excavation and restoration of the Early Christian complex.
Earlier in August 2015, the archaeologists excavating the so called Bishop’s Basilica of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Parthicopolis in Sandanski discovered the last fragment from a marble slab with a christogram, a Christian symbol consisting of a monogram of letters standing for the name of Jesus Christ.
Parthicopolis was an Ancient Roman city located in the Roman province of Macedonia; its ruins can be found in the downtown of today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is known to have been an important center of early Christianity, having been located just some 100 km away from the Ancient Greek town of Philippi where Apostle Paul established the first Christian community in Europe. A testimony for the significance of Parthicopolis as an Early Christian center is the fact that it was mentioned during the Nicaea Council. The town of Parthicopolis was destroyed in barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.
The Bishop’s Basilica is the largest of four ancient basilicas found in Parthicopolis, today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It consists of an entire complex of early Christian buildings, and was the seat of a bishopric in the late Antiquity. It was first discovered in 1989 by Vladimir Petkov, then and current director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology, and has been excavated ever since. Towering at 16 m and with a length of 30 m and width of 22 m, the basilica is unique for its Early Christian mosaics and murals, including depictions of fish and birds.
The Bishop’s Basilica must not be confused with Bishop John’s Basilica, which is also one of the four ancient basilicas in Parthicopolis in today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is especially known for a mosaic inscription found in the center of its narthex stating that it was built by a “Bishop John”; hence, it has also become famous as Bishop John’s Basilica. In 2013, the Sandanski Municipality started the partial restoration of the two basilicas, the Bishop’s Basilica and Bishop John’s Basilica, and the Early Christian complex in Parthicopolis with an EU grant of BGN 6.1 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) under Operational Program “Regional Development”. The basilicas and the adjacent buildings were destroyed by arson during barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.
The Sandanski Museum of Archaeology was founded in 1936, and is one of the five archaeological museums in Bulgaria specializing in ancient archaeology. It is situated over the foundations of Bishop John’s Basilica. Its exhibits feature a unique collection of later Roman marble gravestones and tablets and Early Christian mosaics.