Unknown Ancient Roman Thermae Discovered by Accident in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

The newly discovered Ancient Roman bath house in Bulgaria's Plovdiv dates to ca. 2nd century AD. Photo: Plovdiv24

The newly discovered Ancient Roman bath house in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv dates to ca. 2nd century AD. Photo: Plovdiv24

A previously unknown building of Ancient Roman thermae (public baths) has been discovered during the construction of a residential building in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis.

The well preserved walls of the Roman bath house have just been exposed in rescue excavations led by archaeologists Maya Martinova and Sofiya Hristova from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, reports local news site Plovdiv24.

The discovery has been made on private property located at 13 Otets Paisiy (“Father Paisius") Street in downtown Plovdiv, which is also known as Europe’s oldest city.

The project for the construction of a residential building there has been controversial, first of all, because it provided for the destruction of a home from the 1920s with a cultural heritage status, but also because later one of the archaeologists noticed that the builders had reached structures from the Antiquity period.

An inspection of Bulgaria’s National Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties over the late summer had found no irregularities with the project, and had allowed the construction to continue. So it did up until the Roman thermae ruins were exposed recently.

The inspection occurred after archaeologist Sofiya Hristova, who has been excavating the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval Nebet Tepe Fortress in Plovdiv, passed by the construction site, and noticed a large amount of ancient tiles extracted by the construction workers, and a destroyed Antiquity wall.

She alerted the respective institution, and is reported to have been threatened with physical violence by the executors of the project. Ultimately, however, she has been proven right, and Plovdiv Municipality has made possible the rescue excavations.

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The Ancient Roman thermae have been found during the construction of an apartment building in downtown Plovdiv. Photos: Plovdiv24

The Ancient Roman thermae have been found during the construction of an apartment building in downtown Plovdiv. Photos: Plovdiv24

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The newly discovered Roman bath house boasts “impressive architecture" and is Plovdiv’s 2016 “top find", according to local archaeologists, reports the local daily Maritsa.

The ancient thermae building is said to date back to the period when some of Plovdiv’s main archaeological landmarks were constructed, including the Antiquity Theater (also called “Antiquity Amphitheater"), which was voted recently the city’s top landmark and celebrated the 30th anniversary since its restoration, and the Ancient Roman Stadium.

Both of those were built in the early 2nd century AD, during the reigns of Roman Emperors Trajan (r. 98-117 AD) and Hadrian (r. 117-138 AD).

The Roman bath house is to be excavate for several more days in rescue digs by the archaeologists from the Plovdiv Museum before it is assessed by a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture which is then expected to issue recommendations to the owners of the property as to how to preserve the Roman ruins.

Bulgarian media have noted that the discovery of the ancient thermae in Plovdiv is reminiscent of a famous play called “The Roman Bath" authored in 1974 by Bulgarian playwright Stanislav Stratiev.

Some have noted that the destruction of the 1920s house by the builders has been for the better because it has made possible the discovery of the unknown Antiquity Roman bath house.

The area in downtown Plovdiv where the discovery has been made is believed to harbor more archaeological structures because it has not been researched in detail since it is densely developed, and the buildings are private property.

The area where the Roman bath house has been found is densely populated and has barely been explored by the archaeologists. Photos: Plovdiv24

The area where the Roman bath house has been found is densely populated and has barely been explored by the archaeologists. Photos: Plovdiv24

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Background Infonotes:

The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

Thanks to the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).

The hills, or “tepeta“, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity periodEumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)),Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.

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