Bulgaria’s Cabinet Grants Plovdiv Municipality Management Rights for Early Christian Great Basilica amidst Mosaics Restoration
Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers has granted the southern Plovdiv Municipality management rights for the Early Byzantine Great Basilica, a major archaeological monument where archaeologists and restorers are presently working on the excavation and restoration of its stunning Early Christian mosaics.
The management rights for the site officially known as Archaeological Complex “Great Early Christian Bishop’s Basilica Philipopolis” (Plovdiv was known as Philipopolis after the conquest of Ancient Thrace by King Philip II of Macedon in 342 AD) will be held by Plovdiv Municipality for a period of 10 years, the press service of Bulgaria’s Cabinet has announced.
The Bulgarian government expects that during that period the local authorities in Plovdiv will achieve “the preservation, exhibition, restoration, and promotion of the cultural site, and its integration into the life of the city” as a top site for cultural tourism.
Furthermore, Plovdiv Municipality is expected to manage the Early Christian Great Basilica in accordance with Bulgaria’s Cultural Heritage Act, and in cooperation with the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.
In a similar fashion, in July 2015, the Bulgarian government granted the northern Veliko Tarnovo Municipality 10-year management rights of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress.
Last week the archaeologists and restorers working on the excavation and conservation of the 5th century AD Byzantine Great Basilica in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv have made a series of new intriguing discoveries at the Early Christian temple.
These include the unearthing of more of the impressive Late Antiquity mosaics – including mosaics of unique species of birds and an ornate floor panel with motifs connected with the Levant (i.e. Syria, Lebanon, etc.), a wall indicating the true size of the building as well as a partly preserved bishop’s inscription.
The restoration and excavation of the Great Basilica of ancient Philipopolis is a project funded with a grant of BGN 4.9 million (app. EUR 2.5 million) by the America for Bulgaria Foundation, a Bulgarian-U.S. NGO.
Starting in May 2015, the team of archaeologist Elena Kisyakova began to unearth and remove for restoration the two layers of Early Christian mosaics at the Early Byzantine temple.
The lower and earlier layer of Byzantine mosaics contains primarily geometric motifs such as depictions of crosses, while the upper and later layer features depictions of birds.
As of October 1, 2015, the archaeologists and restorers have dismantled about 30% of the upper layer of the mosaics at the Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv.
This is the upper layer of the mosaics in the southern nave of the temple. The removed mosaics have been taken to a storage place for conservation and restoration, and when that is done, they will be brought back to the restored temple.
During their work, the archaeologists have unearthed a previously unknown richly decorated mosaic floor panel featuring Middle Eastern (Levantine) motifs dating back to the 4th-5th century AD.
The Early Byzantine Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv was discovered in the 1980s but its ruins and unique floor mosaics have been re-buried with soil and sand as a means of preserving them in anticipation of the resolution of legal disputes over the property, and the securing of sufficient funding for the further excavation and conservation of the site.
The lower layer of the mosaics is covered with several centimeters of mortar leading the archaeologists to assume that at some point in the life of the Great Basilica in Plovdiv, which was one of the largest public buildings in Southeast Europe in the Late Antiquity, it was decided to cover its initial mosaic floor with mortar in order to create new mosaics which feature primarily depictions of birds.
Lead archaeologist Elena Kisyakova, who first found the Early Christian church in 1982, has made it clear that the project focuses on the restoration, conservation, and exhibition of the Great Basilica and its mosaics, and only partial excavations will be done on an “as needed” basis.
Also check out our other recent stories with photos from the excavations and restoration of the Early Christian Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv:
The Early Christian Great Basilica (or Bishop’s Basilica) is located in the center of the ancient city of Philipopolis, which is itself in the downtown of today’s Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria. It was discovered in 1982 by a team of archaeologists led by Elena Kisyakova. The excavated remains of the Great Basilica were fenced off as part of conservation efforts but have not been excavated further ever since.
Back in 2002, Plovdiv Municipality sold the property to a private firm even though it contained a formally recognized monument of culture. As a result, once the scandalous deal unraveled, it took the municipality and the central government seven years of court trials to regain the ownership of the Great Basilica site. The Philipopolis Bishop’s Basilica is impressive in size – its length totals 86.3 meters (the combined length of its naos with the apse is 56.5 meters), and its width is estimated to be 38.5 meters.
The entire floor of the three-nave basilica is paved with unique Early Christian mosaics covering a total area of 700 square meters. The mosaic floors were created in two construction stages. The color mosaics feature primarily geometric motifs and images of birds typical of the second quarter of the 5th century. About 70 different species of birds have been identified, some of which appear to be unknown to contemporary ornithology. Based on the mosaics, the Early Christian Bishop’s Basilica in the ancient city of Philipopolis is dated back to the first half of the 5th century BC, the Late Roman – Early Byzantine period. It was destroyed in the middle of the 6th century, possibly during a barbarian invasions. It was built on the foundations of an earlier building of similar size and potentially with similar functions.