Bulgaria’s Nikyup Set to Hold First Festival of Ancient Roman Nicopolis ad Istrum

The ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Ministry of Culture

The ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Ministry of Culture

The town of Nikyup near the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria is going to hold its first ever festival dedicated to the heritage of the huge Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose ruins are located nearby.

The first Roman Festival of Nicopolis ad Istrum is going to take place on Saturday, August 13, 2016, Nikyup Mayor Yordanka Atanasova has announced, as cited by Radio Focus Veliko Tarnovo.

The ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum, whose name means “Victory City on the Danube River", are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo. It was founded by Roman Emperor Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus) (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Dacian tribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) at the intersection of the two main roads of the DanubianRoman provinces – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was partly rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD which in turn was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval city in the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

The archaeological exploration of Nicopolis ad Istrum first started in 1900, while the presently ongoing excavation efforts were restarted in 2007.

Unfortunately, the Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum still remains a largely unknown destination for cultural tourism. Recent data has shown that in 2015, it was visited by fewer than 4,000 tourists, a number which is nonetheless an increase compared with previous years.

The initiative for organizing a festival with historical reenactments at Nicopolis ad Istrum was first announced in March 2016 alongside a campaign to recruit volunteers for the 2016 summer excavations of the Roman city.

The call for volunteers from Bulgaria and abroad issued at the beginning of the year by the town hall of Nikyup and lead archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Pavlina Vladkova from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History has generated much interested. It has resulted in the selection of a total of 26 applicants from Bulgaria, Romania, Switzerland, and the USA who are going to enjoy archaeology and history lectures and field trips to other major archaeological sites (including the Ancient Roman villa and pottery making factory in Pavlikeni, and Novae, another major Roman city whose ruins are found near the Danube town of Svishtov) as part of their program.

In addition to the volunteers, who are going to have a first-hand experience of the first Roman Festival of Nicopolis ad Istrum, the event will be open to the general public, with Bulgarian and international visitors being invited to attend.

Thus, on August 13, 2016, the ruins of the Roman city will be opened for visitors between 9 am and 6 pm, with the official program of the Festival starting at 10 am.

According to Mayor Atanasova, the historical reenactments will seek to recreate the life in Nicopolis ad Istrum in the 2nd-3rd century AD. They will feature Roman crafts, commerce, gladiator battles, cuisine, and medical practices.

The largest international group of reenactors will be from the Romanian Black Sea city of Constanta whereas the largest groups of Bulgarian reenactors will come from Sofia and Plovdiv, with the participation of a group for Ancient Roman reenactments from the town of Debelets. The director and script writer of the Festival also comes from Plovdiv. The reenactments will be hosted by a Veliko Tarnovo-based club called “Tradition".

The first Roman Festival of Nicopolis ad Istrum is funded with a total of BGN 9,333 (app EUR 4,600) by Veliko Tarnovo Municipality under a project entitled “Roman Life, Culture, and Cuisine in Nicopolis ad Istrum".

Learn more about the Ancient Roman city of Nicpolis ad Istrum in the Background Infonotes below!

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The ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Ministry of Culture

The ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Nicopolis ad Istrum in Central North Bulgaria. Photo: Ministry of Culture

Background Infonotes:

Nicopolis ad Istrum (also known as Ulpia Nicopolis ad Istrum) was an Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city (not to be confused with Nicopolis ad Nestum in today’s Southwest Bulgaria).

Its ruins are located near today’s town of Nikyup, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, 18 km northwest of the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central Northern Bulgaria. Its name means “Victory City on the Danube River". It was founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (r. 98-117 AD) to honor his victories over the Daciantribes between 101 and 106 AD (most probably in 102 AD) on a plateau on the left bank of the Rositsa River. This is where the two main roads of the DanubianRoman provinces intersected – the road from Odessus (Odessos) on the Black Sea (today’s Varna) to the western parts of the Balkan Peninsula, and the road from the Roman military camp Novae (today’s Svishtov) on the Danube to the southern parts of the Balkan Peninsula.

(Ulpia) Nicopolis ad Istrum was first part of the Roman province of Thrace but after 193 AD it was made part of the province of Moesia Inferior. Nicopolis ad Istrum flourished in the 2nd-3rd century, during the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty (96-192 AD) and the Severan Dynasty (193-235 AD). It further developed as major urban center after the reforms of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). Its organization was similar to that of Roman cities in Thrace and Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon. It was ruled by a council of archons, a city council and an assembly, with local priests worshipping Ancient Roman and Greek deities such as Zeus, Hera, Athena, Asclepius, Dionysus, Mithras. At the time, Nicopolis ad Istrum was inhabited by Thracians, Roman military veterans, and settlers from Asia Minor. Nicopolis ad Istrum is known to have minted 900 different emissions of bronze coins. The city had orthogonal planning, with an agora (city square), a cardo maximus and a decumanus maximus (main streets), a market place, other public buildings and residential areas, limestone-paved streets and underground sewerage, as well as three aqueducts and several water wells, many of which has been unearthed in archaeological excavations.

The fortress walls of Nicopolis ad Istrum were erected only after the city was ransacked by a barbarian attack of the Costoboci, an ancient people possibly linked to the Getae (Gets) inhabiting an area in today’s Western Ukraine. The city square (agora) featured a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan mounted on a horse, a number of other marble statues, a Ionic colonnade, a three-nave basilica, a bouleuterion (a public building housing the boule – council of citizens), a building to the cult of goddess Cybele, a small odeon (theater), thermae (public baths) as well as a building which according to an inscription was a “termoperiatos" which can be likened to a modern-day shopping mall – a heated building with shops and closed space for walks and business meetings. A total of 121 stone and brick tombs and sarcophagi have been found by the Bulgarian archaeologists excavating the city’s necropolis. Some villas and other buildings in the residential parts of Nicopolis ad Istrum have also been excavated.

Nicopolis ad Istrum is sometimes described as the birthplace of Germanic literary tradition because in the 4th century AD Gothic bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila) (ca. 311-383 AD) received permission from Roman Emperor Constantius II (r. 324-361 AD) to settle with his flock of Christian converts near Nicopolis ad Istrum in the province of Moesia, in 347-8 AD. There Ulfilas invented the Gothic alphabet and translated the Bible from Greek into Gothic.

The Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was destroyed in 447 AD by the barbarian forces of Attila the Hun, even though it might have been abandoned by its residents even before that. It was rebuilt as a fortified post of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) in the 6th century AD. The Early Byzantine fort covered about one forth of the Ancient Roman city – 57.5 decares (app. 14.2 acres) out of a total of 215.5 decares (app. 53.2 decares), and was also the center of a bishopric. The Early Byzantine fort was destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD by an Avar invasion. Later, it was settled as a medieval cityin the Bulgarian Empire between the 10th and the 14th century.

Nicopolis ad Istrum was visited in 1871 by Austro-Hungarian geographer and archaeologist Felix Kanitz who found there a statue of the wife of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 AD). The city was first excavated in 1900 by French archaeologist J. Seur whose work, however, was not documented, and in 1906-1909 by Czech archaeologist B. Dobruski. In 1945 and 1966-1968, there were partial excavations led by T. Ivanov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Systematic excavations were started in 1970 and were led again by T. Ivanov. Between 1985 and 1992, Nicopolis ad Istrum was excavated by a joint Bulgarian-British expedition from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia and a team of the University of Nottingham. The joint Bulgarian-British excavations were resumed in 1996. The Nicopolis ad Istrum archaeological preserve is managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History. In 1984, the Ancient Roman city Nicopolis ad Istrum was put on the Tentative List for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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