Unknown Roman Quarter in Outskirts of Ancient Philipopolis Discovered by Accident in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

The demolition of an early 20th century building with the status of a cultural monunent (whatever is left of it is visible on the right) has led to the discovery of a previously unknown Ancient Roman quarter in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Pod Tepeto

A previously unknown but wholly preserved Ancient Roman residential quarter has been discovered by accident in the city of Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria, after the illegal demolition of a beautiful early 20th century house – leading to rescue archaeological excavations.

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, which is also considered Europe’s oldest city because of the prehistoric settlement and fortress on the Nebet Tepe hill, is the successor of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Philipopolis, and was also known as Trimontium in the Roman period (1st-4th century AD).

While much of Plovdiv’s stunning archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage has been researched, there is a great deal left to be explored.

At the end of 2016 and in early 2017, archaeologists discovered the earliest aqueduct of Philipopolis and also found a Roman inscription revealing that the first de facto “mayor" of Roman Philipopolis was a man named Titus Flavius Cotys (also spelled Kotys), son of Rhescuporis, an aristocrat who was a descendant of the royal family of the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom (5th century BC – 1st AD).

Buildings from an unknown Roman Era residential quarter have now been exposed at Plovdiv’s Tsar Asen I Street, near the main building of Plovdiv University “Paisiy Hilendarksi" (“Paisius of Hilendar"), after a local businesswoman, Zhanet Pavlova, illegally decided to demolish an beautiful early 20th century building with the status of a local monument of culture, reports local news site Pod Tepeto.

The newly discovered Roman quarter in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv was located in the outskirts of the ancient city of Philipopolis. In 2012, a Roman Era tomb with murals of the Miracles of Jesus Christ was discovered in the same area. Photos: Pod Tepeto

-+The building in question used to house a musical department of Plovdiv University. Pavlova has been slapped a fine of BGN 5,000 (app. EUR 2,500) for deciding to demolish it even though she had been aware of the early 20th century building’s status as a cultural heritage property.

The businesswoman has also been ordered to preserve whatever has been left of the building but the report notes this order by the local authorities is ludicrous given that all that has been left of it is the corner of two walls, with two windows.

Pavlova’s plans for developing the property, however, have been halted when the construction works exposed a large number of Ancient Roman ruins.

This has led the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology to immediately start rescue excavations of what appears to have been a residential quarter of Roman Philipopolis.

The Roman Era homes in question are said to have been located in the outskirts of the ancient city, very close to its fortress walls.

Five years ago, in 2012, just nearby, rescue excavations led to the discovery of an ancient tomb whose slabs feature murals depicting Biblical images of the Miracles of Jesus Christ.

The restored tomb with the highly intriguing depictions was shown to the public for the first time only in 2015, and is now permanently exhibited at the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology.

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 powerfulAncient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / 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 makingPhilippopolis 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 underKhan (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 tunnelwhich, 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.