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Part of the archaeological complex open for visitors
Part of the archaeological complex open for visitors

Sofia, today’s capital city of Bulgaria, used to be known as Serdica in antiquity. The city was conquered by the Romans in the year 29 BCE. With time it became the most important Roman town in the area. Nowadays we can see its remain in different places around the modern city.

Serdica Archeological Complex

The name Serdica originated from the name of the tribe Serdi. The town was conquered by Marcus Licinius Crassus. As the net of the Roman roads in the region grew, the city was connected to Singidunum (modern Belgrade) and Byzantium. During the reign of Trajan its status was raised to that of municipium and the sobriquet Ulpia was added to its name. Initially wooden, Serdica was surrounded by the first wall during the times of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. It was the place of birth of the emperors Aurelian and Galerius. The latter issued the Edict of Toleration in Serdica before he died, ending the persecution of Christians in the year 311.
In the very centre of modern Sofia one can find the largest portion of the ancient city, exposed during the excavations in 2010 and 2012 when the second metro line construction was in progress. It covers over 6,000 m2 and contains insulae, public baths, fragments of six different streets, two early Christian basilicas as well as several buildings which used to serve trade and industry purposes. Elements of mosaics from the wealthier houses as well as the structures of heated floors and lead pipes supplying water to the buildings were preserved in good shape to modern times. Part of this area remains accessible even in the night while the section covered by the roof can be visited for a fee.
On the western side of the metro line there are further excavated ruins with the western city gate among them. The amphitheatre, discovered in 2004, is located partially within a hotel lobby (which currently is unfortunately closed, so it can be only seen by the windows – in the past the access was free for everyone, not only the hotel guests). It is one of the largest amphitheatres in the eastern Empire and the largest one in Bulgaria. A plate advertising fights with wild animals in the arena was found in the centre of the old Serdica and today can be found in the National Archaeological Museum.
Smaller sections of ruins can be also found further in the east – early Christian tombs and remains of ancient temples placed beneath and in the vicinity of the basilica of Saint Sophia, foundations of buildings adjacent to the church of Saint George and even some preserved wooden structures, displayed in one of the metro stations. All these monuments do not let one forget about the city’s long history, extending to its ancient origins.

Author: Jakub Ernt
  • materials from City of Sofia Tourist Information Centre, National Archaeological Museum of Bulgaria and Serdica Archaeological Complex
  • author’s own photos (February 2022)

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