Roman heritage

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LESICHERI COLUMN

North-central Bulgaria is not famed for its historical landmarks. It is a region of rolling hills and soft valleys, of small forests and economically depressed villages and towns where, even on the brightest days, grey is the predominant colour. It is as if generations of people concluded that the landscape was good enough for farming, but not inspiring enough for the creation of something remarkable – a city, a temple, a legend.

As with most appearances, this one is deceptive. This region is the home of one of Bulgaria's most curious ancient monuments: an obelisk.

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 18:22
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WHO WAS MAGDALINA STANCHEVA?

Walking around Central Sofia is like walking nowhere else, notwithstanding the incredibly uneven pavements. A mixture of buildings in a range of time periods and styles define the Bulgarian capital: Roman fortifications and early-Christian buildings rub walls with medieval churches, former Ottoman mosques and fine fin-de-siècle residential houses. Over these loom monstrous buildings in the Stalinist Baroque style and soulless glass-and-concrete concoctions built after the 1990s.

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 08:45
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RAIDERS OF TREASURE MOUND

Large and small, isolated or in groups, you will see mounds all over Bulgaria: atop rolling hills and amid farming fields, by old village graveyards and motorways, even on the outskirts of Sofia. The ancient Thracians who lived in the Bulgarian lands between the 1st millennium BC and the 6th century AD created most of them. They buried their dead there, interring noblemen and women with expensive personal possessions. In many cases the tombs were very impressive, such as those in Kazanlak, Aleksandrovo and Sboryanovo.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:43
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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 2

Such examples are the fortification structures excavated at a salt-producing town near Provadiya and a fortified settlement now in Ticha Dam, near Shumen, both belonging to the 5th millennium BC. Archaeologists interpret these two sites as early evidence for a stratified society whose wealth and resources attracted incursions and invasions.

Discovering new fortifications sounds great, but most of the fortresses in the Bulgarian lands are in a condition that can excite only an archaeologist. Few have survived in a state fit for Instagrammable photos.

Mon, 12/23/2019 - 09:21
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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 1

Why there are no old forts and fortresses in Bulgaria on the scale of Romania, Greece, Italy or the Western Balkans is a controversial issue. The sort of answers you will be getting will depend on who does the talking. Some will assert the "Turks" destroyed everything when they ruled over these territories in the 14-19th centuries. Others will, more level-headedly, point out that when the Ottomans were in control the Bulgarians lands were no longer a border zone and consequently forts and fortresses were no longer needed for defence purposes.

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 15:23
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BISHOP'S BASILICA OF PHILIPPOPOLIS

After centuries of oblivion, the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis got its first visitors. On 26 September diplomats, officials, journalists and members of the board of the America for Bulgaria Foundation were invited for a sneak preview of the archaeological site that was brought back to life in 2015-2019. The America for Bulgaria Foundation and Plovdiv Municipality support the restoration works.

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 13:36
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SILENCE OF SHARDS

Pavlikeni, a town in north-central Bulgaria, is hardly famous for its attractions, and yet this small, quiet place is the home of one of the most interesting ancient Roman sites in Bulgaria: a villa rustica, or a rural villa, with an incredibly well-preserved pottery manufacturing site.

It was discovered by pure chance.

In 1971, while searching for gold, a group of local treasure-hunters stumbled on the remains of an ancient villa rustica. Instead of gold, they found thousands of broken pottery shards.

Wed, 03/27/2019 - 09:00
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GHOSTS OF VILLA ARMIRA

Spread on the easternmost slopes of the Rhodope, Ivaylovgrad is still largely defined by its past as a border outpost. In the Middle Ages, Bulgarians and Byzantines disputed control over the nearby Lyutitsa fortress. Under Communism, the town was deep in the border zone. Entering it without a permit was impossible, as NATO members Greece and Turkey were a stone's throw away. In the 2010s, the border here was frequently crossed by refugees.

Sun, 12/23/2018 - 11:23
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NYMPHS OF KASNAKOVO

Worn-out streets and strong fortifications, spacious villas and spectacular mosaics: the remains of Bulgaria's Roman heritage are diverse, a multi-layered glimpse into this country's past. And yet, there is a gaping hole in this rich canvas of long-gone life. While hundreds of sculptures, reliefs and mosaics depicting old deities, gods and goddesses have survived, bearing witness to Roman Bulgaria's religious landscape, only a handful of temples can be visited.

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 12:40
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FORGOTTEN GLORY OF RED CHURCH

They do exist, however: forgotten remnants of the time when the Eastern Roman Empire was trying to hold back the invasions of the Barbarians in the Balkans. Most are nothing more than low crumbling walls, almost invisible in the undergrowth and interesting only to archaeologists. Others, however, are still striking, despite time, neglect and the depredations of those seeking second-hand building materials.

One of them is near Perushtitsa, a town at the northern foot of the Rhodope, more famous as the scene of intense fighting and a massacre during the 1876 April Uprising.

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 15:40
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bishop basilica philippopolis.jpg

CHURCH OF BIRDS

A mosaic peacock, its majestic tail opened in full display, used to greet believers entering one of the most formidable buildings in the Late Antiquity Balkans: the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis. In 2019, the 1,500-year-old bird, restored to its former glory, will meet visitors again, after centuries of oblivion caused by earthquakes, invasions, wars, changes of population and history itself.

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 14:41
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STARA ZAGORA'  S MUSEUM OF RELIGIONS

The Romans believed that some places are inhabited and protected by their own spirit, a Genius loci, and consequently filled all the corners of their empire with altars and reliefs dedicated to these entities. The belief in Genii loci is no more, but if these spirits were real, one of them would definitely call a certain location in central Stara Zagora its own. For millennia, nations and religious have come and gone, and yet generations of people have continuously used a particular place as a sacred location.

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:20
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AUGUSTA TRAIANA

It is the result of a tragedy and a necessity. In the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War, Stara Zagora was razed to the ground after a vicious battle. Rebuilding began in 1878 according to a plan by an Austro-Hungarian architect.

But no one was aware then that beneath the debris of houses, churches and mosques lay the remains of an ancient city with meticulous straight-street planning.

It was the Roman city of Augusta Traiana.

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 13:15
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bishops basilica of philippopolis.jpg

BRINGING ANTIQUITY BACK TO LIFE

In October 2016, a thick layer of soil and debris covering an ancient mosaic for centuries was removed to reveal a stunning mosaic of a peacock with a tail fanned to show all of its majestic colours. But the marvellous bird is only a speck of the archaeology, history and art treasures of the Bishop's Basilica in Plovdiv. For a second year now, they are being surveyed by archaeologists from Plovdiv Archaeological Museum led by Zheni Tankova, with funding by the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 16:09
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ROMAN CITY OF ABRITUS

In July 251, the swamps at an all but forgotten corner in the Balkan realms of the Roman Empire were about to become the witness of a devastating event. Two armies stood against one another, in the summer heat. The legions of Emperor Decius (249-251) and his son and co-ruler, Herennius Etruscus, stood against the army of the Goth leader, Cniva, in the final meeting of a long cat-and-mouse game.

Thu, 10/27/2016 - 12:28
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LARGO OF SERDICA, ANNO 2016

In 313, a PR trick helped Constantine to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, whence he would go down in history as "The Great." Before a crucial battle he claimed that he had a dream in which he was advised to paint the initials of Jesus Christ, a theretofore forbidden god, on the shields of his soldiers with the promise that this would bring him victory. He did just that. He won, decriminalised Christianity, became a saint, and so on and so forth.

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 15:23
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ROMAN DANUBE

A mountain is a better protection than a river, but in 15 AD, when the Romans took over the Thracian lands between the Danube and the Stara Planina mountain, they had no choice: The mighty river, whose upper course they had already mastered, became the frontier of the expanding empire, setting a clear line between the civility of Pax Romana and the unruliness of the independent people on the other side of the river, the Barbarians, as the Romans called them.

Mon, 03/07/2016 - 14:46
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roman obelisk bulgaria.jpg

BULGARIA'S ONLY OBELISK

North-central Bulgaria is not famed for its historical landmarks. It is a region of rolling hills and soft valleys, of small forests and depressed villages and towns where, even on the brightest days, grey is the predominant colour. It is as if generations of people had concluded that the landscape was good enough for farming, but not inspiring enough for the creation of something remarkable – a city, a temple, a legend.

As with most appearances, this one is not true. Indeed, this region is the home of one of Bulgaria's most curious ancient monuments: an obelisk.

Wed, 12/23/2015 - 11:15
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