Museum of Sofia History in Bulgaria’s Capital Attracted 60,000 Visitors in 2016

Since 2015, the Museum of Sofia History (Sofia Regional Museum of History) has been housed in the former public bath house in the downtown. Photo: Museum of Sofia History

The Sofia Regional Museum of History, more widely known as the Museum of Sofia History, in the Bulgarian capital, welcomed a total of 60,000 visitors in 2016.

Of those, about 43,000 were Bulgarians, and 17,000 were foreign tourists, Erina Krasteva, PR official from the Museum of Sofia History, has revealed, as cited by News.bg.

The largest group of international travelers to visit the Museum, which has been housed in the former public bathhouse in downtown Sofia since 2015, came from Italy, followed by the UK, the USA, Greece, Spain, and France.

Krasteva points out that the Museum of Sofia History owns over 120,000 exhibits but only about 1,000 are on display in its permanent exhibition.

Some of the most interesting items from the Museum’s collection include:

an Ancient Roman cage cup (vas diatretum) with ornate decorations from the 4th century AD, which was discovered in 2001 during excavations of the Late Antiquity Mausoleum in Sofia’s Lozenets Quarter, and was under restoration for 12 years; a relief of ancient deity Mithra; the Kazichene Treasure, an Ancient Thracian treasure consisting of a gold, bronze, and clay bowl; authentic murals from the monasteries around Sofia (known as the Sofia Holy Mountain; the wedding carriage of Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand (r. 1887-1918); authentic furniture from 19th and 20th century Sofia homes (i.e. from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period and the time of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (1878-1944/46).

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The Ancient Thracian Treasure from Kazichene near Sofia consists of three bowls made of gold, bronze, and clay. Photo: Museum of Sofia History

Every year in May, the Museum of Sofia History organizes an annual exhibition entitled “Sofia Archaeology" which showcases the most interesting finds from all archaeological excavations and research from the previous year.

It is reminded that in 2016, the Municipality and the Museum completed the restoration of the ruins of a triangular tower from the Serdica Fortress, which have been preserved in the basement of a modern-day residential building located at 16 Knyagina Mariya Luiza (“Princess Maria Louise") Blvd in downtown Sofia, are now opened for visitors.

Krasteva says in 2017, Sofia Municipality is going to continue the excavations of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica on the St. Nedelya Square in the downtown, in which the Museum of Sofia History is partnering with the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology. Rescue excavations are carried out every year throughout the city on an as needed basis.

In 2017, Sofia Municipality is expected to open for visitors the Western Gate of ancient Serdica which has been under restoration since the summer of 2016.

The site is supposed to be an extension of the Sofia Largo Project, the large-scale restoration of Roman ruins of ancient Serdica, which was finally opened in April 2016 after years of delays, and produced highly criticized results. (Its execution (and other cases of outrageously botched restorations) have cast doubts over similar future projects in Sofia and elsewhere in the country.)

The carriage from the 1893 wedding of then Bulgarian monarch Ferdinand I is one of the most interesting Modern Age items in the collection of the Sofia Museum of History. Photo: Sofia Museum of History

Background Infonotes:

The Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica is the precursor of the contemporary Bulgarian capital Sofia. The oldest traces of civilized life in Sofia are from a Neolithic settlement dated back to 5000 BC located in today’s Slatina Quarter. There are also traces of life from the Charcolithic (also known as Aeneolithic or Copper Age) and the Bronze Age.

After the Bronze Age, the Sofia Valley was inhabited by the Ancient Serdi who are believed to have been a Celtic tribe (some Bulgarian scholars hypothesize that the Serdi were a Thracian tribe, or a Thracian tribe which assimilated a smaller Celtic tribe while keeping its original name).

The name of the Serdi tribe gave the name to the Ancient Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica. The city of Serdica was conquered briefly in the 4th century BC by Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.

Around 29 BC, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, the center of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), and saw extensive development with many new buildings. It is known to have been the favorite place of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome".

In 343 AD, the Council of Serdica was held in the city, in the 4th century church that preceded the current 6th century St. Sofia Basilica. In 447 AD, the city was destroyed by the Huns. During the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), a new fortress wall was built whose remains have been excavated and can be seen today. This is when it was renamed Triaditsa.

It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) in 809 AD when it was conquered by Bulgaria’s Khan Krum, and was known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name Sredets until the 14th century when it took the name of the St. Sofia Basilica.

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The Western Gate of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica (later the medieval Bulgarian city of Sredets), the predecessor of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia.

The Western Gate of Ancient Serdica is said to have been especially important because of a building located across from it outside of the fortress wall of the Roman city which is believed to have housed its customs.

Today the ruins of the Western Gate and the Roman customs building are located in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia (as are all ruins of ancient Serdica), next to the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral.

The Western Gate of Serdica was first discovered in 1974, and was excavated until 1980 resulting also in the unearthing of a pentagonal fortress tower, which was the northern tower of the gate, a section of the fortress wall, and a triangular tower were also unearthed.

In fact, the excavations of the Western Gate started back in 1974 because of the construction of a large building which today houses UniCredit Bulbank. Back then, the archaeological team led by Magdalina Stancheva from the Museum of Sofia History also exposed the ruins of the 11th century church St. Spas. During the 1990s, these ruins were exhibited in situ in the basement of the modern-day building.

The archaeological excavations were resumed in 2011-2013 by Sofia Municipality leading to the discovery of one of the main streets of the ancient city that led to the Western Gate. The part of Serdica adjacent to the gate was densely populated, and had water pipelines and sewerage that were repaired numerous times.

In 2012, the archaeologists unearthed seven-color floor mosaics with geometric motifs from the first half of the 4th century, i.e. the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD), inside a building which is believed to have been a large basilica with a colonnade and three parade entrances.

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The Sofia Largo is the architectural complex of government buildings in downtown Sofia erected in the 1950s, in the early years of the former communist regime. Regardless of their Communist Era architecture, today the buildings house the most important Bulgarian government institutions and are one of the most famous parts of Sofia’s cityscape. Parts of the ancient city of Serdica, which have been excavated, can be seen in the underpasses and the Serdica Metro Station right next to the Sofia Largo.

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