‘George Washington Street’ Collapses on Ruins of Western Gate of Ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia

The section of George Washington Street in Sofia which collapsed on part of the ruins of the Western Gate of ancient Serdica in Bulgaria's capital Sofia. Photo: Sofia Regional Museum of History

The section of George Washington Street in Sofia which collapsed on part of the ruins of the Western Gate of ancient Serdica in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. Photo: Sofia Regional Museum of History

Part of the surviving ruins of the Western Gate of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica, the predecessor of today’s Bulgarian capital of Sofia, have been buried under a collapsing street, which, however, is said to have caused no damages on the ancient structures.

The Western Gate of Ancient Serdica is said to have been especially important because of a building located across from it outside of the fortress wall of the Roman city which is believed to have housed its customs.

Today the ruins of the Western Gate and the Roman customs building are located in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia (as are all ruins of ancient Serdica), next to the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral.

They were excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s; however, in the 1990s and 2000s, the site of the ruins was neglected and abandoned. The archaeological excavations were resumed in 2011.

As recently as 2015, Sofia Municipality made it clear that it had big plans for the all-out excavation, conservation, and restoration of the ruins of the Western Gate of ancient Serdica as part of the entire archaeological complex together with the Roman ruins at the Sofia Largo, the St. Nedelya Square, the Amphitheater, and the underground museum in the necropolis of the 4th century St. Sofia Basilica, which is said to be the oldest functioning Christian temple in Europe, and whose name the Bulgarian capital Sofia took during the Middle Ages.

The collapsed section of George Washington Street and the ruins of Serdica's Western Gate and customs. Photos: TV grabs from bTV

The collapsed section of George Washington Street and the ruins of Serdica’s Western Gate and customs. Photos: TV grabs from bTV

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Western Gate Serdica 12 Western Gate Serdica 13Interestingly, the road part of which collapsed on the ruins of Serdica’s Western Gate is named “George Washington Street”.

The ruins of the Western Gate of Serdica are very close to the Sofia Largo, the complex of massive government buildings in downtown Sofia. Photo: TV grab from bTV

The ruins of the Western Gate of Serdica are very close to the Sofia Largo, the complex of massive government buildings in downtown Sofia. Photo: TV grab from bTV

The street, which has been closed off for years because it borders the Ancient Roman ruins,  collapsed as a result of recent torrential rains.

The collapse was first announced by the Sofia Regional Museum of History (also known as the Museum of Sofia’s History), an institution of Sofia Municipality, which said a 10-meter long section of the street had collapsed partly.

This has covered with rubble about 50 square meters of the ancient ruins, including part of a colonnade and stone and brick pavements, but no damage to the Roman structures has been detected.

The Museum has moved to evaluate and clear the rubble, and strengthen the foundations of George Washington Street.

The archaeological remains of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica, which is known as the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), dot the cityscape in the downtown of contemporary Sofia.

The ruins of the Western Gate and customs of Ancient Serdica. Photos: TV grabs from bTV

The ruins of the Western Gate and customs of Ancient Serdica. Photos: TV grabs from bTV

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An Ancient Roman inscription found in the ruins of Seridca’s Western Gate and customs. Photo: TV grab from bTV

The municipal authorities, however, have been criticized for many years for failing to properly take advantage of the city’s ancient heritage by exhibiting it in situ, a goal that they declared long ago as part of the long anticipated project for the rehabilitation of the so called Sofia Largo.

In 2015, Sofia’s Deputy Mayor Todor Chobanov said the area around the western gate of Ancient Serdica, which is located near today’s Catholic cathedral “St. Joseph, will be restored, and will be used for small-scale events such as concerts. To achieve this goal, the authorities plans to rebuild the ancient fortress wall.

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Maps showing the location of the Western Gate and customs of Ancient Serdica (and all of ancient Serdica against the backdrop of the downtown of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia. Maps: UlpiaSerdica.com

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A photo from the excavations of the Western Gate of Serdica in 1960s. Photo: TV grab from bTV

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 Western Gate of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica (later the medieval Bulgarian city of Sredets), the predecessor of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia.

The Western Gate of Ancient Serdica is said to have been especially important because of a building located across from it outside of the fortress wall of the Roman city which is believed to have housed its customs.

Today the ruins of the Western Gate and the Roman customs building are located in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia (as are all ruins of ancient Serdica), next to the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral.

The Western Gate of Serdica was first discovered in 1974, and was excavated until 1980 resulting also in the unearthing of a pentagonal fortress tower, which was the northern tower of the gate, a section of the fortress wall, and a triangular tower were also unearthed.

In fact, the excavations of the Western Gate started back in 1974 because of the construction of a large building which today houses UniCredit Bulbank. Back then, the archaeological team led by Magdalina Stancheva from the Museum of Sofia History also exposed the ruins of the 11th century church St. Spas. During the 1990s, these ruins were exhibited in situ in the basement of the modern-day building.

The archaeological excavations were resumed in 2011-2013 by Sofia Municipality leading to the discovery of one of the main streets of the ancient city that led to the Western Gate. The part of Serdica adjacent to the gate was densely populated, and had water pipelines and sewerage that were repaired numerous times.

In 2012, the archaeologists unearthed seven-color floor mosaics with geometric motifs from the first half of the 4th century, i.e. the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), inside a building which is believed to have been a large basilica with a colonnade and three parade entrances.

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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.

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