Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia to Hold First Ever Antiquity Festival Named after Constantine’s Quote ‘Serdica Is My Rome’

Bulgaria’s Capital Sofia to Hold First Ever Antiquity Festival Named after Constantine’s Quote ‘Serdica Is My Rome’

The poster for the first ever “Serdica Is My Rome” Antiquity Festival in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia features the silhouette of the 4th century St. George Rotunda church in downtown Sofia. Photo: Museum of Sofia History

The city of Sofia, which is celebrating its 140th anniversary as capital of Bulgaria in 2019, is going to hold its first ever Antiquity Festival dedicated to the heritage of its Ancient Roman predecessor, Serdica, which was known as Sredets in the time of the Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages.

The Antiquity Festival is entitled “Serdica Is My Rome", after a famous quote by Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306 – 337 AD), a native of Naissus (today’s Nish (Nis) in Serbia), who loved Serdica a lot and even considered moving there the capital of the Roman Empire. In 330 AD, Constantine moved the imperial capital from Rome to Constantinople.

Early this week, on its official city holiday, and as part of the year-long celebrations of Sofia’s 140th annversary as capital of Bulgaria, Sofia Municipality opened the second part of the archaeological complex with partly restored Roman ruins from ancient Serdica.

The “Serdica Is My Rome" festival is to be held on September 21 – 22, 2019, at the restored ruins from Ancient Serdica at the Sofia Largo (compare photos from before and after the restoration) in the city’s very downtown and the nearby space of the Western Gate of Serdica’s inner city.

“The ‘Serdica Is My Rome’ Antiquity Festival is the first of its kind, a festival of historical reenactments dedicated to promoting the rich cultural and historical heritage of Sofia from the time of Emperor Constantine the Great," the Museum of Sofia History has said.

“The festival is going to acquaint the residents and guests of the city with the early history of Serdica – it will present both important events from the period, and the everyday life and customs of the Romans and the barbarian tribes who inhabited the region," the Museum adds.

“The restored Antiquity sites in the heart of the city will become the festival stage. The “Western Gate of Serdica" Archaeological Park will be turned into a military camp, while Roman citizens, craftsmen, merchants, and magistrates will once again roam the cities of the “Ancient Serdica" Cultural and Communication Complex," the Museum notes.

The “Serdica Is My Rome" Antiquity Festival is organized by Mos Maiorum Ulpiae Serdicae, a NGO dedicated to Antiquity reenactments.

It will feature the participation of more than 140 historical reenactors from Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, and Romania. The festival is funded by Sofia Municipality. You can find the program of the festival below.

The program of the first Serdica Is My Rome Festival in English. Photo: Serdica Is My Rome Festival

The official poster for the Serdica Is My Rome Festival. Photo: Serdica Is My Rome Festival

The name “Serdica” stems from 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).

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.

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.

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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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