Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Sees Growth in Visitor Numbers Thanks to Archaeology, Cultural Tourism

Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Sees Growth in Visitor Numbers Thanks to Archaeology, Cultural Tourism

The Forum of Ancient Roman city Augusta Traiana in the downtown of today's city of Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History

The Forum of Ancient Roman city Augusta Traiana in the downtown of today’s city of Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History

The city of Stara Zagora in Southern Bulgaria has seen an increase in the number of tourists visiting it largely thanks to its archaeological and historical heritage and the promotion of cultural tourism, according to a senior Bulgarian official.

Stara Zagora, which is Bulgaria’s fifth largest city in terms of population and ranks second after Sofia in terms of GDP per capita, is the modern-day successor of the Ancient Roman city of Augusta Traiana and the medieval Bulgarian city of Vereia whose ruins can be seen in the downtown, and are known as the Augusta Traiana – Vereia Archaeological Preserve.

What is more, as a settlement, Stara Zagora goes back even earlier, to the Neolithic, a heritage beautifully preserved and displayed in the its famous Neolithic Dwellings Museum.

Тhe Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana was probably founded ca. 107 AD by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) (after whom it was named) on the site of a previously existing Ancient Thracian settlement called Beroe. (Some recent research indicates it might have been founded by Trajan’s successor, Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD).) It quickly became the second most important city in the Roman province of Thrace after Philipopolis (Trimontium), today’s Plovdiv.

In 2015, the city of Stara Zagora was visited by over 100,000 tourists, seeing a 5% increase in tourist numbers year-on-year, and a 20% increase in the number of foreign tourists, Irena Georgieva, Deputy Minister of Tourism has revealed at the opening of an international culinary festival in the city, reports local news site Stara Zagora Info.

“Indeed, the region [of Stara Zagora] is seeing growth [in tourist numbers] which has its reasons – the Neolithic Dwellings, the Augusta Traiana Forum, the Regional Museum of History, the famous Stara Zagora Opera House, and Stara Zagora Municipality’s efforts to development this potential," Georgieva is quoted as saying.

The International Culinary Festival opened in Stara Zagora is a charity initiative of the Ministry of Tourism, a total of 17 foreign embassies in Sofia, GTC Bulgaria, the HRC Culinary Academy, and the International Women’s Club.

After its launch in Stara Zagora, the Festival will visit also Plovdiv, Burgas, Varna, Ruse, Blagoevgrad, Veliko Tarnovo, and Sofia.

It features traditional foods, drinks, and handmade souvenirs from a total of 17 participating countries including Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Romania, USA, UK, Venezuela.

The latest archaeological discovery in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora has been the finding of two family tomb sarcophagi from the Roman period during rescue excavations in March 2016.

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Learn more about the history of Augusta Traiana (known as Vereia in the Middle Ages) in the Background Infonotes below!

Also check out our recent stories about the archaeological discoveries and restorations from the Roman city of Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora:

Archaeologists Discover Marble Gladiator Head, Decipher Newly Found Inscription from Ancient Roman City Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora

Archaeologist Finds Gladiator Relief, Inscription Mentioning Roman Caesars in Ancient City Augusta Traiana in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora

Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Unveils Restored Ancient Mosaics from Roman City Augusta Traiana Showing ‘Silenus with Bacchantes’

Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora Promotes Neolithic Dwellings, Roman City Augusta Traiana as Tourist Destination

Background Infonotes:

The Augusta Traiana – Vereia Archaeological Preserve in Bulgaria’s Stara Zagora features the ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Ulpia Augusta Traiana founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) (after whom it was named) on the site of a previously existing Ancient Thracian settlement called Beroe. (Some recent research indicates it might have been founded by Trajan’s successor, Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD).)

It saw its greatest urban development later under Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 AD). It quickly became the second most important city in the Roman province of Thrace after Philipopolis (Trimontium), today’s Plovdiv.

The Roman city of Augusta Traiana covered a territory of about 500 decares (app. 125 acres). During the Late Antiquity, it was visited by several Roman Emperors including Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD), Caracalla (r. 211-217 AD), and Diocletian (r. 294-305 AD), which is seen as a testimony to its importance.

In the 2nd-3rd century, Augusta Traiana minted its own coins (a total of 874 of them have been found, as of 2016); it is known to have had commercial contacts with faraway regions and cities such as Sparta, Aquincum (today’s Budapest in Hungary), and the province of Syria.

In the middle of the 4th century, Augusta Traiana became one of the major Early Christian centers in the Balkans.

In the Late Antiquity (4th-6th century) the city of Augusta Traiana was once again known under its original Thracian name of Beroe. Much of it was destroyed by barbarian invasions – by the Goths in the 4th century, the Huns in the 5th century, and later by the Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars. The invasions of the Bulgars and Slavs in the late 7th century, around the time of the two peoples formed the First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD), effectively ended the life of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Beroe / Augustra Traiana as it was.

It became part of Bulgaria under Khan Tervel (r. 700-718 AD), who called it Boruy. The city was a major bone of contention during the numerous wars between Bulgaria and Byzantium and became known as Vereia after Byzantium conquered the eastern parts of the First Bulgarian Empire in the late 10th century. Bulgaria reconquered it during the early years of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).

In addition to its Neolithic, Ancient Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian heritage, the territory of the city of Stara Zagora is dotted with Ancient Thracian archaeological sites, including more than 30 known temples of the main god according to Thracian mythology, the Thracian Horseman.

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The Stara Zagora Neolithic Dwellings Museum is part of the Stara Zagora Regional Museum of History. It features what are described as “Europe’s best preserved homes from the early Neolithic period". It is based on discoveries made at a Neolithic settlement in the western part of the city dating back to the 7th-6th millennium BC first excavated in 1969 during rescue digs. In addition to the best preserved in situ early Neolithic dwelling in Europe, the museum also features an exhibition of prehistoric art.