History Museum in Bulgaria’s Pavlikeni Gets Ancient Roman Stone Slabs as Donation for Newly Established Lapidarium

The History Museum in the town of Pavlikeni in Northern Bulgaria, which boasts a rich collection of Ancient Roman artifacts from a 2nd century villa and ceramics factory, has received a donation of two large Ancient Roman slabs for its newly established lapidarium.

The setting up of a lapidarium, a yard containing stone monuments and architectural fragments of archaeological value, of the Pavlikeni Museum of History was started in 2015 as a project of the museum and local community, reports Veliko Tarnovo-based daily Yantra Dnes.

So far it has collected Ancient Roman and other stone monuments from a total of eight towns in the Pavlikeni Municipality.

The lapidarium, which is still a work in progress, has now received two more large Roman stone slabs from the town of Musina.

Musina is located close to a famous 14-meter-tall Ancient Roman obelisk, the sole surviving structure of what was the memorial tomb (mausoleum) turned a heroon (shrine) or a Roman aristocrat from the huge ancient city of Nicopolis ad Istrum.

The two slabs weigh a combined total of 3 metric tons; they have been provided for the lapidarium of the Pavlikeni Museum of History by Dimitar Dimitrov, head of the “Future for Musina" NGO.

The massive stone monuments have been transported to the Museum yard in a joint effort of Pavlikeni Municipality, the Musina Townhall, and local agricultural producer Nikola Rachev.

“The monuments are decorated with relief depictions of bovine and ram heads with garlands. One of the slabs also shows a scene with a dog chasing after a deer," explains Kalin Chakarov, archaeologist from the Pavlikeni Museum of History.

He adds that the newly established lapidarium will help preserve the archaeological monuments of past ages for the local residents and the travelers visiting Pavlikeni.

On its Facebook Page, the Pavlikeni Museum of History has published an entire album with photos from the collection of stone monuments for its newly founded lapidarium.

The town of Pavlikeni is known for its Ancient Roman factory for the production of ceramic items (both household and construction artifacts) which was part from an Ancient Roman villa estate (Learn more in the Background Infonotes below).

The Roman ceramics factory from the 2nd-3rd century AD is even to be restored with funding from the Norway / EEA grants (even though for the time being, the restoration project has been delayed).

Pavlikeni Municipality was recently sentenced to pay a fine over the destruction of Ancient Roman ceramic artifacts back in the spring of 2015 during a water supply rehabilitation project which later resulted in rescue excavations and intriguing discoveries of Ancient Roman ceramic artifacts and structures such as pottery-making kilns.

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Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Roman ceramics factory and Roman military veteran’s villa near the town of Pavlikeni in Central Northern Bulgaria was found in 1971 by Bulgarian archaeologist Bogdan Sultov who excavated it for about a decade.

It is the best researched Ancient Roman ceramics factory in Southeast Europe. It also especially notable because today it has been turned into an open-air museum ceramics production during the Roman Era, featuring a large number of preserved ancient kilns as well as a restoration of the ancient manufacturing process housed in modern-day buildings made of ancient materials.

The Ancient Roman ceramics production center near Pavlikeni is located on a plot of 139 decares (app. 34.3 acres). It was part of the villa estate of a Roman military veteran, and is dated to the end of the 1st century AD.

The ceramic production started at the beginning of the 2nd century AD. Archaeological excavations have revealed a total of 52 kilns for baking household and construction ceramics which was traded and sold in the entire region.

The Ancient Roman villa estate with its ceramic factory was destroyed in 170 AD by the Costoboci, then rebuilt, and ultimately abandoned for good after 235 AD, possibly because of the barbarian invasion by the Goths and Carpi in 238-239 AD.

Archaeologist Bogdan Sultov’s excavations of the Roman ceramic center near Pavlikeni were terminated in the 1979 (Sultov passed away in 1982), and were resumed only in the summer of 2014 with funding from Pavlikeni Municipality. In 2015, the Municipality and the Pavlikeni Museum of History won a EUR 736,000 grant for the partial restoration and rehabilitation of the site. In addition to Ancient Roman buildings and kilns, the excavations there have revealed numerous ceramic vessels, tools, jewelry, and even Ancient Roman child toys.

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The Ancient Roman Obelisk located between the towns of Lisecheri and Musina, Pavlikeni Municipality, Veliko Tarnovo District, in Central North Bulgaria is a surviving structure from a memorial tomb (a mausoleum) of Quintus Julius, an aristocrat from the glorious Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum located nearby, who lived in the 2nd century AD. It later became a heroon, i.e. a cult shrine for a deceased hero, which existed in the 2nd-4th century AD. Today it is still known among the locals as a Markov Kamak (“Marko’s Stone"). It is about 14 meters tall, and is consists of 15 massive stone blocks placed on top of one another. It is one of the tallest preserved ancient archaeological structures in Bulgaria.

A second identical obelisk existed nearby; its ruins were identified by visiting geographers and archaeologists in the late 19th century. At present, the sole surviving obelisk is hard to access because it is located about 300 meters off the nearest road (but is nonetheless visible from it).

The Roman Obelisk near Bulgaria’s Lesicheri was first described by Bulgarian writer and politician Petko Slaveykov in the 19th century. In 1871, it was explored by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who identified the ruins of a second obelisk which had collapsed earlier. According to his description, he found nearby fragments from marble reliefs and the ruins of a monumental building. Kanitz wrongly concluded that the Obelisk was part of the aqueduct bring water to the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum from the Musina Cave.

Some 30 years later, the site of the sole surviving Roman Obelisk was also explored by the Czech-Bulgarian brothers Karel and Hermann Skorpil, the fathers of modern-day Bulgarian archaeology, who were also the first to photograph it. They hypothesized that the obelisk was part of a colonnade (arc) of triumph erected in honor of Emperor Trajan’s (r. 98-117) victory over the Dacians north of the Danube, at about the same time when the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum was constructed not far to the east. They also recorded the local legend which led the locals to call the Obelisk “Marko’s Stone". Interestingly, the legend does account for the collapsed second obelisk. According to this tale, two local heroes, one named Deli Marko, were competing for the heart of a woman living in Nicopolis ad Istrum (today’s Nikyup). Marko was supposed to erect two tall pillars while the other man had to build an aqueduct to Nicopolis ad Istrum. The woman liked the second hero better so she tricked Marko (who was winning) into falling asleep; meanwhile, his rival completed the aqueduct and won. Upon waking up and realizing the deceit, Marko threw one of his boots and brought down one of the obelisks he had built. His boot ricocheted and fell all the way across the Danube, in Wallachia.

The site of the Roman Obelisk was excavated for three seasons in the 1980s by archaeologist Ivan Tsarov, presently (2016) the Director of the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, who discovered parts of a pediment, a slab with relief decoration, fragments from friezes, including the lower half of a depiction of the face of Gorgon Medusa, a lion statue, a damaged depiction of the Thracian Horseman (also known as Heros, the supreme deity of the Ancient Thracians), a Ionian capital, and inscription fragments. These artifacts are part of the collection of the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.

After putting the fragments of the inscription together, Tsarov concluded that the Roman Obelisk near Bulgaria’s Lesicheri was in fact part of a memorial tomb of Roman aristocrat Quintus Julius who lived in Nicopolis ad Istrum in the 2nd century BC, and was a member of the Boule (city council) The memorial later was used as a heroon, a shrine dedicated to an Ancient Greek, Thracian, or Roman hero, which existed until the Christianization of the Roman Empire the 4th century AD

Part of the inscription reads: “Quintus Julius, city councilor and priest of Rome, who in his lifetime and in good sense erected in honor of himself, his father, and his mother…"

According to Tsarov’s model reconstruction, the mausoleum with the two obelisks was built on top of a stone podium with a monumental staircase; its entrance was “guarded" by the statues of two marble lions. (The left lion statue was found during the archaeological excavations, while the right statue is lost.) The statue of the Thracian Horseman was placed on a special pedestal before the staircase. It is possible that the face of the statue had the facial features of the deified Quintus Julius. It is also possible that inside the mausoleum there was a life-size statue of the Roman aristocrat as testified by a discovered fragment of a relief of a human back.

The mausoleum of which only the sole Roman Obelisk near Bulgaria’s Lesicheri survives was destroyed in the 4th century AD – either in a barbarian invasion, or as a result of anti-pagan measures after the Christianization of the Roman Empire.

The territory of the town of Lesicheri also features remains from an Antiquity temple and the aqueduct supplying Nicopolis ad Istrum from the Musina Cave. These structures were independent of the Roman Obelisk and the heroon it was part of.

The Roman Obelisk and the memorial near Lisicheri resemble similar Ancient Roman structures preserved in North Africa.

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