Antiquity Tomb Found in Downtown of Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia during Rescue Excavations
An Antiquity tomb from what used to be the so called Eastern Necropolis of the Ancient Thracian and the Ancient Roman city of Serdica has been unearthed during rescue archaeological excavations in the downtown of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.
The tomb, or, rather, a masonry grave has been found right between the early 20th century St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (which is the largest Christian temple in Bulgaria and Sofia’s best known landmark), and the 4th century AD St. Sofia Basilica, the oldest functioning church in Europe.
Antiquity tombs from Roman Serdica are frequent discoveries in the Bulgarian capital. Another such tomb was found by chance in 2018. They mostly date to the period between the 2nd century AD and the 4th century AD.
In 2017, an entire section of the Eastern Necropolis of Serdica was discovered during rescue excavations for the construction of the future five-star Hyatt Hotel in Sofia. Unfortunately, none of the numerous archaeological structures underneath the future Hyatt have been preserved for exhibition in situ.
The newly discovered Antiquity grave near the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and St. Sofia Basilica has no burial inventory, the Museum of Sofia History (also known as the Sofia Regional Museum of History) has said, as cited by BNT and BGNES.
The tomb was discovered during rescue excavations as part of a project for street rehabilitation. Another archaeological discovery was made during similar circumstances in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna – the Southwestern Gate of the ancient city of Odessos.
The Museum of Sofia History has described the discovery of the Antiquity tomb as “normal” given the location in the area known to have been the Eastern Necropolis of ancient Serdica.
Tombs from the 2nd – 4th century AD are believed to be hidden underground all today’s St. Alexander Nevsky Square.
In Roman Serdica, funeral processions would start at its downtown, today the site of the Sofia Largo featuring the main buildings of the Bulgarian government, and would then proceed down Via Sacra, the road to the holy hill of the ancient city – the area around today’s St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the St. Sofia Basilica, and the Monument of Bulgaria’s greatest freedom-fighting hero Vasil Levski.
For the time being, the fate of the newly found Antiquity grave in downtown Sofia remains unknown. The repair works that led to the discovery of the tomb are planned to be completed in August 2019.
Luckily, at least some of the Roman Antiquity tombs that have been discovered in the area have even been exhibited in situ.
In 2013, Sofia Municipality opened what has become known as the Underground Museum of the necropolis of the 4th century St. Sofia Basilica.
The museum features in situ remains of the ruins of three earlier churches under the surviving Late Antiquity, Early Christian temple, and over 50 graves and tombs from the 3rd-5th century AD, including the Tomb of Honorius, a citizen of Serdica buried at the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century.
The Underground Museum of the necropolis at the St. Sofia Basilica welcomes dozens of thousands of visitors per year.
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.
The St. Sofia Basilica is located in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, and is said to be the oldest functioning church in Europe. It is a cross basilica with three altars featuring Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed floor mosaics. It was first built in the 4th century AD on the site of several earlier places of worship, which was also the site of the necropolis of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica, even though it was rebuilt in the 6th century into its current form.
This is believed to be the fifth structure built on the site. Its last reconstruction was during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565 AD), which makes it a contemporary of the Hagia Sophia Chruch in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. The St. Sofia Basilica is also famous for hosting the Early Christian Council of Serdica, probably held in 343 AD, and attended by 316 bishops.
During the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), it gained the status of a metropolitan church, and in the 14th century it gave its name to the city which had been known by its Slavic-Bulgarian name of Sredets. In the 16th century, after Bulgaria’s conquest by the Ottoman Turks, the St. Sofia Basilica was turned into a mosque with the destruction of the 12th century murals and the addition of minarets.
However, two earthquakes destroyed one of the minarets in the 19th century, and the mosque was abandoned. It has been restored since 1900. In 2013, the ancient necropolis and tombs underneath the St. Sofia Basilica, some of which have murals, were turned into an underground museum open for visitors. It includes the Tomb of Honorius, a citizen of Serdica buried at the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century.
Your contribution for free journalism is appreciated!