The excavations of the Roman ruins of Ancient Serdica in downtown Sofia, with the St. Nedelya Cathedral visible in the background, and the Sofia Hotel Balkan on the left. Photo: Vesti
The archaeologists carrying out excavations in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia have made new discoveries that have complicated their search for the Roman Forum of the ancient city of Serdica.
The site under excavation is located on the parking lot of the five-star Sofia Hotel Balkan (formerly the Sofia Sheraton) and the square around the St. Nedelya (Holy Sunday) Cathedral.
The latest discoveries there are a large Ancient Roman building with really massive walls, and a decumanus, an east-west-oriented Roman street which have been found in the location where the archaeologists presumed the ForumofSerdica might have been located.
The newly discovered building was erected in the 3rd century AD, and existed until the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 7th century AD, reports local news site Vesti, citing archaeologist Alexander Stanev from the Museum of Sofia History who is also the deputy head of excavations.
Not unlike some sections of the other Romanstreets found in the Bulgariancapital so far, the newly found street is about 6 meters wide.
According to Stanev, the newly discovered Roman building next to the street is “more impressive", because the foundations of its walls are about 1.5-1.7 meters wide.
This is three times the usual width of the Roman masonry in other buildings meaning that the structure in question was designed to sustain a large weight, and the building had at least two floors.
The finding of the massive Roman building and the street in the respective location in the area between the Sofia Hotel Balkan and the St. Nedelya Cathedral has now ruled out the possibility that the Forum of ancient Serdica was located there.
The spot in question had never been excavated before because ever since Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, it has always been a public square.
The excavations on the St. Nedelya Square in the Bulgarian capital Sofia have revealed more of the ruins of ancient Serdica. Photo: Vesti
Since the upper layers on the site have regularly been removed during the repaving of the square, the archaeologists have detected the Romanstructures just 20 cm below the level of the modern-day pavement.
“We are still unable to locate the Forum of Serdica. However, if we follow the formulas of Romanurbanplanning, it must be located in the underpass of the St. Petka Church,"Stanev says.
He refers to the 14th century AD St. Petka of the Saddlers (Samardzhiyska) Church which stands just a few dozen meters to the north of the St. Nedelya Square excavated by the archaeologists.
The ceramic pot containing a total of 2,976 Roman coins from the 1st-2nd century AD, with a combined weight of 13 kg bears an inscription saying that it was the property of Selvius Calistus, apparently a Romancitizen with a Greek surname.
Also check out our other recent stories about the new excavations of ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Sofia, and the restoration of the ruins at the Sofia Largo:
TheAncient 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.