Latest Archaeological Discoveries in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia Tangle Up Search for Roman Forum of Ancient Serdica

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 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.

Since June 2015, archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Museum of Sofia History have been excavating a previously unexplored plot in search, among other things, for the Roman Forum (public square) of ancient 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 Forum of Serdica 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.

The newly discovered Ancient Roman street is similar to the Serdica streets unearthed during the rescue excavations of the Sofia Largo where the ruins are being restored to create an open-air museum (amidst a controversy about the execution of the restoration and construction works).

Not unlike some sections of the other Roman streets found in the Bulgarian capital 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

The excavations on the St. Nedelya Square in the Bulgarian capital Sofia have revealed more of the ruins of ancient Serdica. Photo: Vesti

Photo: Vesti

Photo: Vesti

Before the start of the present digs, the archaeologists presumed this was the likely location of the Roman Forum of Serdica.

Since the upper layers on the site have regularly been removed during the repaving of the square, the archaeologists have detected the Roman structures 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 Roman urban planning, 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.

“It is absolutely possible that Serdica did not have a Forum since from all of Roman cities excavated in the [the Roman province of] Thrace, a Forum has been found only in Philipopolis (Plovdiv)," Stanev reminds.

“But, technically, there must be a Forum since it was part of the public and religious life of any Roman city," he adds.

The archaeological excavations of ancient Serdica on the St. Nedelya Square in downtown Sofia are set to continue in 2016.

Once they are completed, there are plans for the conservation and restoration of the newly exposed ruins of Serdica in order to link them with the open-air museum at the Sofia Largo.

A view of the excavation site in front of the Sofia Hotel Balkan, with the buildings of the Sofia Largo in the background. Photo: Vesti

A view of the excavation site in front of the Sofia Hotel Balkan, with the buildings of the Sofia Largo in the background. Photo: Vesti

The treasure of silver coins which was discovered on the St. Nedelya Square in September 2015 is presently being restored, and will be put on display in the Museum of Sofia History.

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 Roman citizen 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:

Bulgarian Archaeologists to Search for Roman Forum of Ancient Serdica in Sofia’s Downtown

Archaeologists Start Search for Roman Forum of Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

Bulgarian Archaeologists Seeking Constantine the Great Statue, Roman Building from Ancient Serdica in Downtown Sofia

Archaeologists Discover Massive Roman Building from Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

Archaeologists Discover Treasure of Silver Roman Coins during Excavations of Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

In Photos: 2010 Excavations vs. 2015 Restoration of Ancient Serdica Ruins in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

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

Bulgarian Government Puts Off Opening of Ancient Serdica Open-Air Museum in Sofia till 2016

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 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.