Archaeologists Find Stoa, Main Street, Sewerage of Late Antiquity City Parthicopolis in Bulgaria’s Sandanski

The newly discovered structures from the stoa and north-south main street (cardo maximus) of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Parthicopolis in Bulgaria's Sandanski. Part of the already existing recently restored Early Christian Archaeological Park is visible in the lower left corner. Photo: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

The newly discovered structures from the stoa and north-south main street (cardo maximus) of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city of Parthicopolis in Bulgaria’s Sandanski. Part of the already existing recently restored Early Christian Archaeological Park is visible in the lower left corner. Photo: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

The stoa, a covered public walkway with a colonnade, the main street, and the sewerage of the Late Antiquity city of Parthicopolis have been unearthed by archaeologists during excavations in the town of Sandanski in Southwest Bulgaria.

The archaeological team of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology has found columns from the stoa of Parthicopolis as well as a 12.5-meter-long section of the cardo maximus, the main north-south oriented street of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine city, reports local news site IlindenPress.

The newly discovered structures date back to the 5th-6th century, possibly the time of the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

They have been dug up in the downtown of today’s Sandanski, a spa resort near Bulgaria’s border with Greece, right next to the Archaeological Park of newly restored Early Christian basilicas and other building which was opened for visitors in the spring of 2016, and instantly become a cultural tourism hit among tourists.

The discoveries have been made on private property during rescue excavations, after the demolition of a local pub called “The Three Musketeers” (hence the archaeological site itself bears the same name).

Sources from the archaeological team are quoted as emphasizing that the Early Christian basilicas and the newly unearthed stoa and main street were the center of public and economic life of ancient Parthicopolis, which rose as a major regional center in the wider Roman province of Macedonia in the 4th-6th century AD, after the waning of the nearly Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Heraclea Sintica near Bulgaria’s Petrich.

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The newly unearthed main street of Parthicopolis is covered with large granite slabs, with preserved Antiqutiy sewerage underneath. Photo: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

The newly unearthed main street of Parthicopolis is covered with large granite slabs, with preserved Antiqutiy sewerage underneath. Photo: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

The newly found 12.5-meter-long section of the cardo maximus is 3.7 meters wide, and is paved with large granite slabs which have been well preserved. Each slab measures between 0.45 and 0.80 meters in length and width.

Part of the Antiquity sewerage system of Parthicopolis has been found preserved underneath the main street.

The Sandanski archaeologists note that Parthicopolis had very precise urban planning, with the streets intersecting one another at perfect right angles, and with a good sewerage system.

Previous excavations have led to the discovery of a column from the stoa of the Late Antiquity city with an inscription from the time of the reign of Roman Emperor Caracalla (r. 211-217 AD), reading, “Marcus Aurelius Capitonian and Terentiana Julia, they were priests /donated/ to their hometown the columns of stoata”.

West of the newly discovered cardo maximus, the researchers have stumbled upon two small structures whose floors have not survived but were probably made of clay, with a canal lead out of one of them.

The archaeologists have found a number of artifacts, including Antiquity pottery, glass, and coins.

The newly found archaeological structures from ancient Parthicopolis in Sandanski have been assessed by a commission from Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture. It is expected that they are somehow going to be exhibited in situ for tourists as an expansion of the already existing Early Christian Archaeological Park.

“The owner [of the private property] is positive that he is going to cooperate [with us] for the conservation and exhibition of this discovery which dates back to the time of Emperor Justinian the Great. This was when city saw its second zenith,” says Vladimir Petkov, Director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology as cited by local news site Kmeta.

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The newly found archaeological structures are located on private property right next to the Early Christian Archaeological Park of Sandanski, which has attracted a lot of tourists since its opening in the spring of 2016. Photos: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

The newly found archaeological structures are located on private property right next to the Early Christian Archaeological Park of Sandanski, which has attracted a lot of tourists since its opening in the spring of 2016. Photos: Sandanski Museum of Archaeology

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The nearby Early Christian complex in Sandanski, which includes two Christian basilicas – the Bishop’s Basilica and Bishop John’s Basilica, a martyrium, and a holy well (a spring of holy water), also known as an “ayazmo”, was under restoration from 2013 until 2016 under an EU funded project entitled “Sandanski – the Dawn of Early Christianity”.

The project, which has already given a boost to cultural tourism in the town of Sandanski, near Bulgaria’s border with Greece, was worth BGN 6.1 million (app. EUR 3.1 million), of which Sandanski Municipality has contributed BGN 160,000 (app. EUR 82,000).

The Archaeological Park in Sandanski features over 1,000 cultural and archaeological artifacts. These include the most interesting artifacts of the recent archaeological discoveries from the ancient city of Parthicopolis made as the local archaeologists were working on the further excavation and restoration of the Early Christian complex.

Background Infonotes:

Parthicopolis was an Ancient Roman city located in the Roman province of Macedonia; its ruins can be found in the downtown of today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria.

It is known to have been an important center of early Christianity, having been located just some 100 km away from the Ancient Greek town of Philippi where Apostle Paul established the first Christian community in Europe.

A testimony for the significance of Parthicopolis as an Early Christian center is the fact that it was mentioned during the Nicaea Council. The town of Parthicopolis was destroyed in barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.

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The Bishop’s Basilica is the largest of four ancient basilicas found in Parthicopolis, today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It consists of an entire complex of early Christian buildings, and was the seat of a bishopric in the late Antiquity.

It was first discovered in 1989 by Vladimir Petkov, then and current director of the Sandanski Museum of Archaeology, and has been excavated ever since. Towering at 16 m and with a length of 30 m and width of 22 m, the basilica is unique for its Early Christian mosaics and murals, including depictions of fish and birds.

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The Bishop’s Basilica must not be confused with Bishop John’s Basilica, which is also one of the four ancient basilicas in Parthicopolis in today’s Sandanski in Southwestern Bulgaria. It is especially known for a mosaic inscription found in the center of its narthex stating that it was built by a “Bishop John”; hence, it has also become famous as Bishop John’s Basilica.

In 2013, the Sandanski Municipality started the partial restoration of the two basilicas, the Bishop’s Basilica and Bishop John’s Basilica, and the Early Christian complex in Parthicopolis with an EU grant of BGN 6.1 million (app. EUR 3.1 million) under Operational Program “Regional Development”. The basilicas and the adjacent buildings were destroyed by arson during barbarian invasions, possibly by the Slavs who tried to capture Thessaloniki in the second half of the 6th century.

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The Sandanski Museum of Archaeology was founded in 1936, and is one of the five archaeological museums in Bulgaria specializing in ancient archaeology. It is situated over the foundations of Bishop John’s Basilica. Its exhibits feature a unique collection of later Roman marble gravestones and tablets and Early Christian mosaics.

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