Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia Opens Much Criticized Open-Air Museum of Ancient Roman City Serdica
Bulgaria’s Cabinet and Sofia Municipality have opened the long-delayed open-air museum of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica, popularly known as the Sofia Largo project, which has been much criticized over the past 7-8 months because of the quality of the archaeological restorations.
The open-air museum is located in the very downtown of Sofia, and exhibits in situ lots of archaeological structures from the Ancient Roman city of Serdica at the Sofia Largo (the complex of buildings from the 1950s housing the Bulgarian Cabinet, President, Parliament offices, and Constitutional Court), and under the Knyaginya Maria Louisa Boulevard.
The long formal name given to it by Sofia Municipality is the Ancient Cultural and Communication Complex “Serdica”.
The Serdica open-air museum has been opened by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov, with Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova unable to attend, in the presence of another half a dozen members of the Cabinet.
“The cultural and historical treasures of Sofia are [sheer] beauty, and that is why I am glad that as of today the tourists and residents of the city will be able to enjoy one more which we have restored, the ancient complex “Serdica” in the Sofia Largo,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has stated at the opening ceremony.
Borisov, who served as Sofia Mayor in 2005-2009, has reminded that back then Sofia Municipality modified the project for the construction of the second line of the Sofia Metro in order to preserve the archaeological layers. Because of that, the new metro line built in 2010-2012, was laid at a depth of 27 meters below the Knyaginya Maria Louisa Boulevard.
Much of the territory of the newly opened open-air museum was in fact exposed during the rescue excavations for the construction for the subway.
“We are going to continue to develop the Ancient Serdica complex, and we plan work on other [archaeological] sites in Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Burgas, and Varna because we have a lot of places which we need to show to tourists and [archaeology] lovers,” adds the Bulgarian Prime Minister who recently opened two other archaeological parks: the new Early Christian Archaeological Park in the southwestern town of Sandanski and the fully renovated Archaeological Preserve of the Ancient Roman colony Deultum near Debelt in Southeast Bulgaria.
Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov and Regional Development Minister Liluyana Pavlova have reminded that the Sofia Largo project, which was started during the First Borisov Cabinet in 2009-2013, was delayed in 2013-2014, and have expressed satisfaction that it has finally been completed despite the public criticism of part of the archaeological restorations.
Pavlova has pointed out that the partial restoration of Ancient Serdica at the Sofia Largo, which was financed with almost BGN 16 million (app. EUR 8 million) in EU funding, is just one out of a total of five cultural projects with a combined budget of BGN 53 million (app. EUR 27 million) in EU funding, together with the “Square 500” National Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the underground museum at the St. Sofia Basilica, and the Museum of Sofia History (Sofia Regional Museum of History).
She has added that a total of BGN 280 million (app. EUR 140 million) from EU Operational Program “Regional Development” were invested in Bulgaria’s cultural tourism sites between 2013-2020, and that another BGN 200 million (app. EUR 100 million) are slated for the 2014-2020 period.
Over the past couple of years the restorations of ancient and medieval fortresses and castles, which are lavishly funded with EU money for the development of cultural tourism, have caused a heated public debate in Bulgaria over some cases of outrageously botched restorations denigrating the historical monuments.
The archaeological restoration of part of the Ancient Roman ruins of Serdica in downtown Sofia came under fire in a number of media publications in the fall of 2015 because the reconstructed ruins seemed artificial and different from the way they originally looked upon their excavation during the construction of the Sofia Metro back in 2009-2011.
This led the Ministry of Culture to stop temporarily the project in October 2015 in order to figure out a way to make the restored ruins “look older” and to modify the original project.
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.
The main concern of the Bulgarian citizens, journalists, and bloggers who cried out over the archaeological restoration of the downtown Serdica ruins has been 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. The most criticized part are the restorations along the Knyaginya Maria Louisa Boulevard, while the underground part of the open-air museum at the so called Sofia Largo has been in a better shape unlike the open-air section.
In 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 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 6th century AD church and an inn from the Middle Ages.
The Roman mosaics have been described as the “jewel” of the future open-air museum of Ancient Serdica. Part of the museum is be covered with 800 square meters of glass domes (a total of three 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.
At the opening of the open-air museum of Ancient Serdica, the Bulgarian and Sofia authorities have made it clear that they intend to expand and the develop further the complex by adding newly areas in Sofia’s downtown such as the downtown square at the St. Nedelya Cathedral and the Western Gate of Ancient Serdica as the archaeological excavations at these sites continue to progress.
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.
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.