Antiquity Synagogue – Philipopolis – Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Antiquity Synagogue in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv (ancient Philipopolis, also called Trimontium in the Roman period) is the only known synagogue in Bulgaria from the Antiquity period. It was in operation in the 3rd-4th century AD.

It is said to be the earliest known and the largest Antiquity synagogue on the Balkan Peninsula.

Its ruins were first discovered by archaeologist Elena Kisyakova during rescue excavations in 1981 but its mosaics were fully restored and showcased by the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology only in 2016, 35 years later.

They were found near the Small Basilica in Plovdiv; only its foundations and part of its floors have been preserved. It was a three-room basilica with a large yard. The archaeological excavations have found two layers of decorative floor mosaics depicting geometric motifs, a large menorah (a seven-lamp lampstand, the symbol of Judaism) (the lower part of the candelabrum mosaics was destroyed), a lulav (a date palm tree branch), and inscriptions in Greek and Latin.

A four-line inscription in Greek names the donors of the synagogue, Isaac and Joseph, and says they were representatives of the large Jewish community in the ancient city. The existence of the Jewish temple and its inscriptions are seen as evidence of the cosmopolitanism of ancient Philipopolis (Trimontium), today’s Plovdiv.

The Antiquity Synagogue in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv was probably built during the time of the Severan Dynasty of the Roman Empire (193-235 AD). It was badly damaged after the Goths conquered the city ca. 250 AD; subsequently, it was rebuilt, and then destroyed again during the persecution of the Jews by Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Emperor Arcadius (r. 395-408 AD).

Later the Antiquity Synagogue was reconstructed and expanded, with a second layer of floor mosaics added. This second layer has been found to have been rougher, without depictions of specifically Jewish symbols.

The Antiquity Synagogue in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv was ultimately destroyed at the end of the 6th century AD.

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Archaeology in Bulgaria. and Beyond