Museum of Roman Mosaics – Devnya, Bulgaria


The Museum of Roman Mosaics in the town of Devnya, Varna District, in Eastern Bulgaria, was opened in 1986 as a result of almost a decade of archaeological excavations of the Ancient Roman and Early Byzantine city of Marcianopolis (Marcianople). It was designed by architect Kamen Goranov. However, the design has been criticized by archaeologist and later curator of the Museum Anastas Angelov for putting too much stress on the Roman ruins.

The Museum incorporates the ruins, floor and wall mosaics of an Ancient Roman Late Antiquity building. It was a Roman villa urbana constructed in the late 3rd – early 4th century (possibly during the reign of Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337 AD)) on top of the ruins of an earlier building destroyed when the Goths captured Marcianopolis in 250-251 AD under their chieftain Cniva. The building in question was restored several times, and existed until the ultimate demise of the Roman city caused by the barbarian invasions of Avars and Slavs in the early 7th century. (Later the city was succeeded by an Ancient Bulgar fortress from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire called Devina.)

Because of one of the floor mosaics in the villa depicting Zeus and Antiope, it has been referred to as the “House of Antiope".

The Late Antiquity building which is today’s Museum of Roman Mosaics in Devnya had the area of an entire insula (quarter) – it is 37.15 m wide and 37.75 long. It had a total of 21 rooms with a combined area of 1,402 square meters whose walls were decorated with colorful plasters and frescoes. Five of the rooms had colorful floor mosaics which have been well preserved, and are considered some of the best examples of Roman mosaic art in Bulgaria. Three of them are exhibited in situ, while the rest have conserved, restored, and exhibited in a place different from where they were discovered.

The mosaics feature a total of 16 different colors, and are made of marble, clay, limestone, and colored glass with the techniques opus tessellatum (tiles aligned in horizontal or vertical lines) and opus vermiculatum (tiles aligned so as to draw an outline around the shapes).

Even though Christianity emerged as the dominant and later official religion in the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, the mosaics in the building that is today the Museum of Mosaics in Bulgaria’s Devnya are exclusively pagan in character. They feature depictions of characters from Ancient Greek and Roman mythology such as Zeus, Antiope, Ganymede and the gorgon Medusa, as well as floral and geometric motifs and images of exotic animals.

The best-known of the mosaics in the Museum is the depiction of the gorgon Medusa surrounded by the shield of Athena. The image is not particularly frightening, and the researchers believe the mosaic was designed as a talisman protecting the home from evil.

A mosaic of Zeus and Antiope lies on the floor of the bedchamber of the villa. Because of it, the villa, and the Museum respectively, have been referred to as the House of Antiope. According to archaeologist and curator of the Museum, Anastas Angelov, the image of Zeus and Antiope is among the few surviving ancient depictions of that episode. Zeus is portrayed as a young satyr who kidnaps Antiope attracted by her beauty. The mosaic has two inscriptions in Ancient Greek which explicitly label the characters “satyr" and “Antiope".

Another mosaic in the villa depicts the story of Ganymede who is transported to Mount Olympus by Zeus transformed into an eagle; it covers the oecus, the largest premise. A bad badly damaged Seasons mosaic in the women’s apartments features images of animals, geometric motifs and personifications of the four seasons of which Fall has been preserved. The Museum also showcases the geometric Pannonian Volutes mosaic which was moved there from another ruined ancient building of Marcianopolis.

Learn more about the Museum of Roman Mosaics in this description (in English) on the website of Devnya Municipality.

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