Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia Finally Opens Second Part of ‘Sofia Largo’ Restoration of Ancient Serdica

Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia Finally Opens Second Part of ‘Sofia Largo’ Restoration of Ancient Serdica

The second part of the Ancient Serdica complex in downtown Sofia has been opened three years after the first part. Photo: Museum of Sofia History

For its official holiday, September 17, the Day of St. Sophia and her three daughters, Saints Faith, Love, and Charity, Bulgaria’s capital Sofia has finally opened the second part of the restored ruins of the Ancient Roman city of Serdica located at the so call Sofia Largo in the city’s downtown.

The first part of the partly restored ruins from the inner city of the Ancient city of Serdica, at the so called Sofia Largo project, later renamed to “Ancient Serdica" Cultural and Communication Complex, was opened back in 2016 to much criticism and after great delays.

The restoration was widely criticized by pundits as having been botched, particularly because of the new materials used – since the original archaeological structures excavated back in 2010 during the construction of the second line of the Sofia Metro were dismantled, and then built anew.

The Sofia Largo is the complex of massive government buildings from the 1950s housing the Bulgarian Cabinet, Presidency, Parliament offices, and Constitutional Court, located at Independence Square in downtown Sofia, which covers much of the inner city of ancient Serdica.

Here you can compare photos of Roman Serdica’s ruins from before (2010) and after (2015) the Sofia Largo restoration.

The Western Gate of Serdica’s inner city located nearby at George Washington Street has also been restored to much better reviews.

The opening of the rest of the restored Serdica ruins is part of the year-long celebrations of Sofia’s 140th annversary as capital of Bulgaria.

The part of the Ancient Serdica complex, which was opened in 2016, is located underneath Independence Square, under three glass domes, and on the side of the perpendicular Knyaginya Maria Luiza Boulevard.

The second part of the Ancient Serdica complex, which has been opened now, more than 3 years later, is all underground, and lies near the first one, right underneath the boulevard.

It was locked in the past three years and individual visitors were not allowed in, and was only made accessible to organized tourist groups with tour guides.

Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova (left) at the opening of the second part of the Ancient Serdica complex. Photos: Museum of Sofia History / Mayor’s Facebook Page

Located in the picturesque Sofia Valley between the Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains) and the Vitosha Mountain, Sofia was first inhabited in the Neolithic as testified by the impressive prehistoric homes and artifacts from the Slatina Neolithic Settlement and by structures recently discovered in the city’s very downtown.

Subsequently, it was populated by the Serdi, supposedly a Celtic tribe, which mixed with Ancient Thracian population. In the Roman Era, the city of Serdica became a major Roman city.

In 271 AD, it became the capital of the Roman province of Dacia Aureliana, after Roman Emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275 AD) transformed the province of Moesia Superior after vacating Dacia Traiana beyond the Danube. Around 283 AD, Dacia Aureliana was divided into two provinces, Dacia Mediterranea, with its capital at Serdica, and Dacia Ripensis (“Dacia from the banks of the Danube") with its capital at Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria).

Serdica is known to have been the favorite city of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306 – 337 AD) who used to say, “Serdica is my Rome", and even considered moving the capital of the Roman Empire there before he chose Constantinople (Byzantium).

In 343 AD, Sofia, in particular the St. Sofia Basilica and the St. George Rotunda, hosted the Early Christian Serdica Council with the participation of more than 170 Christian bishops from all over the Roman Empire. The St. Sofia Basilica is said to be the oldest functioning Christian church in Europe.

The exhibition section of the newly opened part of the Ancient Serdica complex. Photos: Museum of Sofia History

Serdica / Sofia first became part of Bulgaria in 809 AD when it was conquered by Khan Krum (r. 803 – 814) of the First Bulgarian Empire, and became known as Sredets – a word stemming from the Bulgarian word for “middle" – referring to the city’s central location in the Balkan Peninsula.

In the Middle Ages, in both the First and the Second Bulgarian Empire, Sredets / Sofia was a major city. It was during this time that the name of the city changed to “Sofia", supposedly after the ancient St. Sofia Basilica.

The second part of the Ancient Serdica complex was opened on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, by Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova, Deputy Mayor Todor Chobanov, Bulgaria’s Deputy Culture Minister Rumen Dimitrov, and the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, Assoc. Prof. Hristo Popov.

The official ceremony was followed by children’s workshops on Roman mosaics, pottery, and clothing organized by the Museum of Sofia History (Sofia Regional Museum of History).

Children’s workshops on Roman crafts held after the opening. Photos: Museum of Sofia History

In addition to the inner city represented by the ruins restored in Sofia’s downtown, the Ancient Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian city of Serdica / Sredets also had an outer city which is estimated to have been at least five times larger.

Part of its outermost fortress wall has been found north of the Lions’ Bridge over 1 kilometer away from the inner city ruins at the Sofia Largo.

A map shows the inner city of ancient Serdica and the discovered part of the fortress wall that surrounded the at least five times larger outer city. Map: Mbp, Wikipedia

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Relevant Books on Amazon.com:

Sofia in 3 Days (Travel Guide 2018): Best Things to Do in Sofia, Bulgaria: What to See and Do, Where to Stay, Shop, Go out. Local Tips to Save Money and Time. Includes Google Maps to all Spots.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volumes 1 to 6 (Everyman’s Library)

The Early Development of Canon Law and the Council of Serdica (Oxford Early Christian Studies)

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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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