From Serdica to Sofia: an historic, living city

Redevelopment at the heart of Sofia city centre

Redevelopment at the heart of Sofia city centre

We’ve all been inconvenienced over the past few years by the protracted work going on in the very heart of Sofia. An extension to the Metro and related redevelopment of the Largo area (outside the Presidency, the Council of Ministers and the famous Tsum store), has made it difficult for pedestrians and motorists alike to cross the city.

Was it all worth it? We are about to find out at the end of this month.

Works in progress

First, an extension of the Metro is scheduled to open in the autumn, linking the north-western area of the capital with the centre, then progressing south beyond the National Palace of Culture (NDK).

Secondly, and this is the real and unexpected bonus, we’ll all be able to visit the archaeological remains unearthed while construction of the Metro was under way.

There has been a settlement at the foot of Mount Vitosha for at least 4,000 years. The original, ancient city of Serdica (alternatively, Serdon polis) was founded by the Thracians. Centuries later, around 29 BC, having meantime been occupied by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, the city was captured by the Romans, who named it Ulpia Serdica. It became an administrative centre under the emperor Trajan, then the capital of Dacia Mediterranea. Constantine the Great, who stayed in the city for about a year, toyed with the idea of establishing it as the eastern capital of the Roman Empire: eventually, however, he settled on the Greek city of Byzantium (Constantinople).

What lies in store?

Back to the present: what we are promised is open access to the remains of a C4-C5 AD Roman street, complete with bath houses, floor mosaics, tombs and a sewage system.

These will be in addition to the already-accessible remnants of a coliseum that’s only slightly smaller than the one in Rome, and the nearby Rotunda of St. George, the oldest building in the city.

Plus – yes, there’s more! – the crypt of the historic Basilica of St. Sophia will form part of this museum exhibit, with visitors able to view a well-preserved necropolis of about 100 tombs dating from C4 AD. The burial site contains rich wall paintings composed of vine leaves, Maltese crosses and other early Christian symbols.

The new city emblem?

There are high hopes that this chance discovery of the Roman street, along with the other riches packed into this small area, will boost the already-considerable number of tourists, both local and international. The head of Sofia’s Institute for Tourism Analysis and Assessment expects more than 300,000 tourists to visit the new site in the first year.

Whereas the focus of Bulgarian tourism has traditionally been on the Black Sea and mountain resorts, it’s now recognised that Bulgaria could benefit even more from historical and archaeological tourism – no bad thing at all, as the country already earns about €1.7 billion (5% of Bulgaria’s GDP) from the 8.5 million visitors received annually.

Philip Kiernan, Professor of Roman Archaeology at Buffalo University, USA, underlines the importance of these recent finds.

“Serdica was a major metropolis and contains the physical remains of Thracian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures… It’s time to stop thinking about cities like Serdica as being peripheral to the classical world, and take them for the important sites that they really are”.[1]

“We hope this venture will become the emblem of our capital,” says Hristo Ganchev, who, as head of Cultural Heritage, in charge of the €16 mn. Lev, EU-backed project.[1]

Monumental collapse

At the same time as these new facilities were being announced, Sofia Municipality began demolishing another familiar, though much more modern, landmark: the monument built in 1981 to commemorate 1,300 years of Bulgaria’s existence.

The monument at NDK to be demolished

Out with the old, in with the ancient…

The massive monument, near NDK, has been crumbling away for years, a danger to passers-by. It’s been shrouded with barriers and enhanced by graffiti for ages. Loved or hated, it’s about to disappear! Ironic, to think that a monument devoted to 1,300 years had, itself, a life of only 31.

Anticipation

So, here’s one person looking forward with eagerness to exploring the new finds in the city centre – more than a worthy recompense for queuing in congested traffic for the past couple of years.

And, yes, an exploratory trip on the new Metro section is also going into my schedule!

[1]: Reuters

Image source Sofia centre: GoogleEarth (2011)

Image source monument: VirtualTourist

Further information: Ulpia Serdica

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One Response to “From Serdica to Sofia: an historic, living city”

  1. Славянка Says:

    Dear Phil, I am immensely happy that you are my co-citizen and that you are revealing for the West-Europeans valuable points in my Bulgaria. Thank you!!!

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