St. Martyr George the Victor Rotunda: the oldest architectural value of today’s Sofia. Roman building transformed by “Saint Tsar Konstantin the Great” into a Christian temple. at Ancient Temple “St. George” Rotunda
Bulgaria hopes to draw tourists intrigued by ancient tombs, mosaics and sewage systems later this year, thanks to engineers excavating a new line for the Sofia metro who stumbled across a street of prime real estate - from the 4th century AD:
Beneath modern Sofia lie the remains of Serdica, a lively, cosmopolitan city where Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, lived for a year while looking for a new capital for his empire. “Serdica was a major metropolis and contains the physical remains of Thracian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures - so it should not be any less significant,” he said. Emperor Constantine lived in Serdica for over a year while looking for a new capital in 316 AD as he could no longer effectively control his empire from Rome, a choice Kiernan said was based on Serdica’s geographical position.
“From there he could react fast to problems on the border as it was near the Danube frontier but also close to Asia Minor”.
Little was known about his stay in the provincial city until a whole street of 4th-5th century AD houses were found during excavations for a new Sofia metro line.
“The constructions are mainly from the time when Serdica was the capital of the Roman province Inner Dacia - it was then that the city was at its largest and most flourishing,” said archaeologist Mario Ivanov.
“We found floor mosaics containing symbolic Roman vine leaves, but also a wheel of fortune and the words ‘Felix’ inscribed, which were most likely to bring good fortune to the inhabitants,” said Ivanov, who heads the excavation team.
City officials plan to put an array of Roman remains on display in the next month, from bath houses to mosaics and tombs.
The Basilica of St Sophia dates back to the 5th century. Repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt, it served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule and is a remarkable mixture of Byzantine architecture, Islamic arches and Orthodox Christian icons.
Beneath the red-brick building, archaeologists found one of the first Christian catacombs. A well-preserved necropolis from the 4th century AD, containing around 100 tombs, will soon be ready for visitors.
Glass screens on the floor of the church will allow a view of the tombs from above, and narrow underground passages will allow visitors to explore the lighted crypts of the necropolis.
“The burial ground contains rich wall paintings made up of vine leaves, Maltese crosses and other early Christian symbols,” said Yunian Meshekov, lead archaeologist of the excavations under the St Sophia Church.
Sofia has thousands of ancient sarcophagi scattered beneath the city centre, and the tombs discovered below the church are thought to hold the remains of early Christian dignitaries.
“They are most likely to be of wealthy citizens of Serdica who were related either to the new religion or to the actual church and there is a possibility that the remains of an early bishop are there,” says Meshekov.