Bulgaria’s Government Stops Dubious Restoration of Ancient Serdica’s Ruins in Capital Sofia over Public Outcry

These views of the artificially looking archaeological restoration of the Ancient Roman ruins from the ancient city of Serdica in downtown Sofia have sparked a public outcry in the Bulgarian media leading the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture to pause and reevaluate the project. Photo: BGNES

This view of the artificially looking archaeological restoration of the Ancient Roman ruins from the ancient city of Serdica in downtown Sofia have sparked a public outcry in the Bulgarian media leading the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture to pause and reevaluate the project. Photo: BGNES

Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov has stopped temporarily the restoration of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia as a result of publications in the media questioning the construction and restoration methods and materials.

The restorations of ancient and medieval fortresses and castles, which are lavishly funded with EU money for the development of cultural tourism, have recently caused a heated public debate in Bulgaria over some cases of outrageously botched executions denigrating the historical monuments.

Now the archaeological restoration of part of the Ancient Roman ruins of Serdica in downtown Sofia, which is supposed to become part of a long-delayed open-air museum, has come under fire in a number of media publications because the reconstructed ruins seem artificial and different from the way they originally looked upon their excavation during the construction of the Sofia Metro back in 2009-2011.

You can compare what the ruins of Ancient Serdica looked like upon their excavation in 2010 and what they looked like upon their restoration in October 2015 in our PHOTO GALLERY.

You can also view the photos in our in our Facebook Albums HERE and HERE.

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture has announced in a statement that Culture Minister Rashidov has put on pause the construction works of the EU-funded BGN 16 million (app. EUR 8 million) project for the open-air museum of Ancient Serdica which was supposed to have been completed long ago but was last expected to welcome its first visitors in early 2016.

Rashidov is said to be putting together a working group of experts who are to analyze the execution of the project for the archaeological restorations in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital entitled “Ancient Cultural and Communication Complex ‘Serdica’".

A week ago, the Bulgarian Minister of Culture showed the Serdica ruins to Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, stating that, “This is an Ancient Roman city, and when this site is completed, it will look like a mini-version of Pompeii".

The main concern of the Bulgarian citizens, journalists, and bloggers who cried out over the archaeological restoration of the downtown Serdica ruins is that the modern-day materials and construction methods used in the project make the ancient structures appear unauthentic.

Some have even likened the already visible results from the restoration and construction works to plastic Lego bricks.

Deputy Sofia Mayor Todor Chobanov, who is also an archaeologist, has admitted to concerns on part of Sofia Municipality with respect to the execution of the Serdica open-air museum project.

Chobanov says the underground part of the future open-air museum at the so called Sofia Largo, the complex of government buildings in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital towering above the Ancient Roman ruins, is at a better shape unlike the open-air section.

“Seemingly, we are far from the desired results. In the underground zone, the things are less problematic but in the open-air part the new look [of the ruins] is a matter of concern. [The ruins] need to get special treatment with chemicals and other methods in order to get a better appearance. We are also worried about some of the masonry. We will request corrections in order to rescue the authenticity of the site," Chobanov has told the private Bulgarian TV channel bTV.

Serdica Restorations 3

The archaeological restoration of the Ancient Roman ruins in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia appears to be one more the cases of botched archaeological restorations in the country which appear to result from embezzlement, corruption, hastiness, inaccuracies, and/or inadequate supervision. Other notorious cases include the restorations of the Krakra Fortress in Pernik and the Yailata Fortress near Kavarna. Photos: BGNES

Serdica Restorations 4

Serdica Restorations 5In August 2015, Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture made it clear that 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 would be postponed until 2016 despite previous assurances that the so called Sofia Largo Project would be finished by October 2015.

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 open air museum at the Sofia Largo might be expanded with a dditional 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.

Background Infonotes:

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 Serdi who are believed to have been a Celtic tribe (some Bulgarian scholars hypothesize that the Serdi were a Thracian tribe, or a Thracian tribe which assimilated a smaller Celtic tribe while keeping its original name).

The name of the Serdi tribe 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.

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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.