32 of Bulgaria’s Roman Frontier Danube Sites to Bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status in Joint Endeavor with Romania, Serbia, Croatia

32 of Bulgaria’s Roman Frontier Danube Sites to Bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status in Joint Endeavor with Romania, Serbia, Croatia

A map showing the Roman Empire’s frontier, Limes Moesiae, in today’s Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia along the Danube River. Map: Wikipedia

A total of 32 Ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria – including fortresses, settlements, road stations and production facilities – are included in a joint project with neighboring countries Romania, Serbia, and Croatia to apply for UNESCO World Heritage status as part of an initiative to protect and promote the “Frontiers of the Roman Empire".

The Danubian Limes or Danube Limes refers to the military frontier (limes) of the Roman Empire along the Danube River spanning from Bavaria in Germany through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

The part of the Roman military frontier in the Lower Danube Valley, including sites in Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia is known as the Limes Moesiae.

The Roman Empire archaeological sites along the Danube River in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia are referred to as the Eastern Sector of the Danube Limes.

The joint efforts of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Croatia to receive UNESCO World Heritage Sites recognition for their archaeological sites on the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire have been coordinated by the Bulgarian Limes Commission headed by Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, former Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The Bulgarian Limes Commission was established in 2017, and the first meeting of the representatives of the four Balkan countries seeking to apply for UNESCO World Heritage recognition of their part of the Roman frontiers was held in Sofia in January 2019.

A total of 32 Roman archaeological sites in Bulgaria have been selected for the bid, out of about 100 possibilities, with 10 of the picks located in Northwest Bulgaria, Vagalinski and archaeologist Vanya Stavreva from the Vidin Regional Museum of History have told the Bulgarian National Radio in interviews.

They spoke after a team from the Bulgarian Limes Commission inspected two of the largest and most famous Roman Empire sites along the Danube in Bulgaria, the ancient cities of Bononia in today’s Vidin and Ratiaria in today’s Archar.

The latter site in particular has become infamous as the most savagely destroyed by treasure hunters and looters, at least on the surface. And, yet, it has been found to still offer a great deal in terms of Roman heritage.

About 471 kilometers of the Danube Limes (frontier) of the Roman Empire are in Bulgaria – a strip of land corresponding to the southern bank of the Danube River, and coinciding with today’s entire Danube border between Bulgaria and Romania. About one-third of all Roman Empire sites in that strip of land have been selected to seek UNESCO World Heritage status in the joint effort with Romania, Serbia, and Croatia.

A map showing the crucial Ancient Roman cities and road stations along the Danube in Bulgaria. Map: Wikipedia

“We need to fill in and draft complex documentation which is the actual nomination of these [Roman Empire] sites [for UNESCO World Heritage status]. After that, it is inspected by UNESCO experts, some of the sites are visited, and a decision is made," Vagalinksi, the head of the Bulgarian Limes Commission, has told BNR.

He notes that the Bulgarian team includes archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology, experts from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and its Cultural Heritage Institute, and representatives of the local history museums from the Bulgarian municipalities along the Danube River.

“We have picked a total of 32 sites, that is about one-third of all options. We have selected the ones that would meet UNESCO’s strict requirements. If there is just a single site that doesn’t [meet them], then the entire paperwork would become invalid," Vagalinski says.

“[These sites] include fortresses, including camps of Roman legions, open [non-fortified] settlements, Roman road [stations], a Roman quarry and production sites, including, by the way, the largest limestone production center in the entire Roman Empire… We have tried to offer a variety of sites because our [part of the Danube] limes is very well preserved," the archaeologist elaborates.

“We are working as a team, the four Balkan countries – Romania, Croatia, Serbia, and Bulgaria – because now it is the turn of the Lower Danube section [of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire to be assessed]," he adds.

“There are two things that concern us [with respect to the UNESCO World Heritage application of our sites]. The first one are the treasure hunter who keep destroying and are very active in the Danube sites. The second thing is the nature, the vegetation, the Danube River, the need to clear up the sites. But with joints efforts and backing from the local authorities I hope that we will manage," Vagalinski says further.

“I would like to underscore that the “Frontiers of the Roman Empire" as UNESCO World Heritage is a giant transnational project. Initial [hopes] to get it done all at ones were rendered impossible by political events. The Roman Empire spanned three continents, including the territories of some 30 modern-day countries. So this is a long, complex process. Europe is a little ahead, and as we can see, the Danube Limes is of great interest. Our idea is to help develop this cultural tourism that is spoken of so much. Indeed, there is interest on part of the public," explains the archaeologist who is an expert in the Antiquity period.

A map showing the Limes Moesiae, the Roman frontier on the Lower Danube, but already in the 6th century AD, as frontier of the Early Byzantine Empire (i.e. the surviving Eastern Roman Empire). Map: Wikipedia

Archaeologist Vanya Stavreva from the Regional Museum of History in the Danube city of Vidin has in turn noted that 10 of the 32 Bulgarian Roman Empire sites to be proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status are located in the northwestern part of the country.

She has pointed out that the archaeological excavations of the Roman and Early Byzantine city of Bononia in Vidin have been restored for the past three years.

She adds that in addition to the Roman cities of Bononia and Ratiaria, the selected Roman Empire sites in Northwest Bulgaria include also settlements such as Almus in Lom, and lesser publicly known sites in Dolni Tsibar, Kozloduy, Harlets, Oryahovo, Gordi Vadin and Dolni Vadin.

Other well known sites from the Roman Empire to be proposed to UNESCO further east along the Lower Danube in Bulgaria include Ulpia Oescus near Gigen which was also the site of Constantine the Great’s 4th century AD bridge over the Danube; Dimum near today’s Belene; Novae near today’s Svishtov; Iatrus near today’s Krivina and Tsenovo; Trimmamium near Mechka; the Sexaginta Pritsa fortress in today’s Danube city of Ruse, scenes of intriguing recent finds from the Ruse District; the Transmarisca fortress in the town of Tutrakan; and the Ancient Roman city of Durostorum in the city of Silistra.

(Learn more about the respective Roman Empire sites mentioned above by following the hyperlinks!)

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Ivan Dikov, the founder of ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com, is the author of the book Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating World History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria, among other books.

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