Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Municipality Wins Court Battle to Link Antiquity Odeon with Roman Forum

Part of the ruins of the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv Municipality

Part of the ruins of the Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv Municipality

The municipal authorities in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv have won a court battle against a number of local store owners allowing the Municipality to improve access to the ruins of the Antiquity Odeon, an Ancient Greek and Roman public space for musical and theatrical performances and competitions, located in the modern-day downtown.

Thus, the area of the Odeon will not only be opened up providing for its better exhibition in situ but it will also be connected directly with the western part of the Ancient Roman Forum of Plovdiv whose excavations were recently completed, and even flooded.

The court battle with the owners of the stores blocking the access to Plovdiv’s Antiquity Odeon from the north started three years ago, after Plovdiv Mayor Ivan Totev ordered the facilities to be torn down and removed, and their owners took the Municipality to court.

Now the Plovdiv Administrative Court has ruled in favor of the municipal authorities who will be able to clear a total of 500 square meters of space next to the city’s Central Post Office linking the Odeon and the Forum, reports the 24 Chasa daily.

The store owners are not entitled to any compensations, according to the verdict, and the former commercial space will become part of the urban planning of the central square of the Bulgarian city, which is also known as “the oldest city in Europe".

The Antiquity Odeon has been reconstructed in 2015 as part of the efforts of the local authorities to exhibit the city’s Ancient Thracian and Roman heritage. The reconstruction project was worth BGN 230,000 (app. EUR 118,000).

It was actually the second stage of the reconstruction of the Ancient Odeon; the first stage took place in 2002.

Now the Plovdiv authorities would like to build upon the recent archaeological discoveries in the downtown made in excavations since 2012. Thus, their plan provides for linking the Odeon with the central square, the Antiquity Forum.

The Ancient Odeon of Plovdiv will be made into a top attraction, not unlike the restored Ancient Theater and Ancient Roman Stadium (which was restored between 2009 and 2012).

Plovdiv Mayor Totev has also announced that by the end of 2015 the Municipality will start the long-anticipated tender for the reconstruction of the square.

The tender for the redesign of the square has recently been won by the Portuguese architectural firm FORA.

It provides for the exhibition in situ of the major archaeological monuments in Plovdiv’s downtown, and their integration with the modern-day infrastructure.

The reconstruction of the downtown square will also be accompanied with rescue excavations that will likely reveal more of the archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage of Bulgaria’s Plovdiv.

A total of BGN 10 million (app. EUR 5 million) will be invested in the reconstruction project for the square which is supposed to be ready by 2019, the year when Plovdiv will be the European Capital of Culture.

The Mayor of Plovdiv has also reminded that the Municipality is negotiating with the owners of the city’s former department store for the exhibition and management of unseen parts of the Ancient Roman stadium of Philipopolis, as the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was called in the Antiquity period, which are located in the store’s basement.

“We are about to sign a contract allowing us to manage the archaeological structures in the basement for the next 25 years," Totev is quoted as saying despite earlier reports that the agreement had already been signed.

The previously unknown eastern section of the Roman stadium of Philipopolis was discovered by construction workers and then explored by archaeologists back in 2004 during the reconstruction of the former department store on Plovdiv’s main street.

However, the building has remained closed for more than a decade for lack of tenants, and has only recently been bought by Austrian investors who are presently renovating it, and planning to open there a five-storey store of the Swedish fashion retailer H&M.

Plovdiv Municipality has been seeking an agreement with the new owners providing for exhibiting in situ the preserved Roman archaeological structures of the ancient stadium

Тhe preserved structures include six rows of marble seats, including seats with lion ornaments indicating where the noble citizens of Philipopolis would sit, stone blocks and arches supporting the seats, parts of the city aqueduct, and part of the arena.

During their excavations back in 2004, the Bulgarian archaeologists also found a room containing animal bones leading them to hypothesize that this was where the wild animals were kept before they were released on the arena for gladiator fights.

Background Infonotes:

Odeon is the name for a public Ancient Greek or Roman building built for musical and poetry shows and competitions. The word comes from Ancient Greek, and means “singing place" or “building for musical competitions". The first Odeon was built in Ancient Sparta around 600 BC. Three Ancient (Roman) Odeons have been discovered in Bulgaria so far – in Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Nicopolis ad Istrum in Northern Bulgaria. It is believed that the Plovdiv Odeon was first used as a bouleuterion, a building for the council of citizens (boule) in ancient city-states (poleis) but was later used as a space for theatrical performances.

The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe" is the Turkish word for “hill") is one of the seven historic hills where today’s Bulgarian city of Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

The hills, or “tepeta", are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills") as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills").

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.