Bulgaria is a country with a long history, and the capital Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe. I here attend to give a brief history about the ancient Sofia and the new preservation of the settlement in the city center. In the end of the article there is a couple of videos that shows the result of the restoration of the complex of ancient Serdika.
Serdika- An Ancient Settlement
Sofia has been populated since 30 000 years back. 7000 years ago a Thracian tribe created a settlement around the area of Sofia, and they called Serdi/Serdica (the name of the tribe).
Around 500 BC there were many different tribes living in the area. In the 4th century BC Alexander the Great occupied the city for a while, and in the 1st century AD the Romans took over and became the administrative authorities of the region. During the Roman time the town expanded and they brought their culture with them which led to public and government buildings, amphitheater, public baths and basilicas. As the city developed the population also expanded. Serdica came to be not only administrative important but also a crucial center for the whole Balkan when it came to trading. The Roman Empire ended up in West Rom and East Rom that with the time turned into the Byzantine Empire and Christianity came to dominate Serdica. In the 4th century the Huns came and destroyed the city, but it was rebuilt under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian that renamed the city to Triaditsa. Slavs and other tribes frequently attacked the city and in 809 the city became a part of the First Bulgarian Kingdom (established in the year of 681 when the Byzantium Empire signed a contract with the Bulgarian Kingdom) ruled by Khan Asparukh. Once again the name change and this time it came to be known as Sredets still it remained an important administrative center.
In 1018 the city once again fell in the hands of the Byzantine Empire and remained that way until 1191 when the Second Bulgarian Kingdom was restored by Tsar Ivan Asen the 1st. Through the middle age (1200-1400) Sredets was a thriving center of trade and crafts. The city was also very well known for the goldsmiths. This goes back to the Thracian people who were the first people to work with gold.
Tax documents have been found from the 16th century that shows that except from Bulgarians and Ottomans there were people from Romaniote (today´s Croatia), Greece, Armenia and Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Romaniote Jews living in Sredets. And in the 17th century there has also been documented that Albanians and Persians were part of the population of the city.
Saint Sofia Church- A Symbol of the History of the Capital
In the 6th century during the time of the Byzantium Emperor Justinian Saint Sofia Church was built. The church is the second oldest in Sofia, it was built on the foundations of 4 older Christian temples from the 4th century and dosing of masonry tombs. During archaeological excavations fragments of mosaic were found in one of the older church. The Saint Sofia Church is estimated to house up to 5000 visitors.
In the 16th century the Saint Sofia Church was transformed to an mosque during the Ottoman Empire that conquered Bulgaria already in the 14th century. Many mosques was built during the 15th century in Sofia. However, in 1818 and 1858 Sofia had two big earthquakes that destroyed parts of the building. During the second earthquake two sons of the imam died in mosque, the Muslims looked at it as a bad omen and deserted it. It was abounded until after the liberation when the building was turned into a warehouse. The church got renovated several of times in the 20th century, trying to give back the authentic look from the late antiquity/early Middle Age, and many archaeological excavations has been done around this church.
So why is this church important for the city?
There is a document from the 14th century that refer to the city as Sofia which means wisdom. However, the city remained Sredets and the inhabitants was referred to as Sredecheski, and it wasn’t until the 19th century when Bulgaria changed the capital from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia, and there took the recent name.
It also symbolize the history of Sofia, from an ancient temple of early Christianity to the occupation of the Ottoman Empire where it turned into a mosque, and the fall of the Empire in 1879. Ivan Vazov (1837-1873), one of the most famous Bulgarian writers, lays buried behind the church. Next to the church there is a monument erected to the Unknown Soldier.
Sofia in Modern Times
During the 19th century Sofia got influenced of the modern times spirit, and the city started to develop with the two big bridges (the Lion bridge & the Eagle bridge), parks were established as well as theaters and in 1888 Sofia University was established. Big buildings, train station and railroads was built. The famous Orient Express is one of the results.
In the early 20th century Sofia and Bulgaria were involved with the two Balkan Wars, which I will write about another time. In 1943-44, during WWII, Sofia was bombed. And in 1946 Sofia, Bulgaria came to be a socialist country until 1990 when the regime turned into democracy. At the year of 2007 Bulgaria joined the EU and the city and the city continues to develop.
Ancient Serdika Complex has Opened in Central Sofia
On the 20th of April was the opening of the an archaeological site in the central part of Sofia, situated under the Boulevard of Maria Luisa, and cover the space between the central subway Sv. Petka of the Saddlers and it also the northern vestibule of the Metro. The complex is 3150 square meters big. There is also a complex restored under the Independence Square and covers 4850 square meter. The formal name of this project is Ancient Cultural and Communication Complex “Serdika” but most people listen to the Sofia Largo Project.
The idea of the project was to create a entirely cultural space, using the history of the town. But as much as it was meant as an open-air museum, it was also a rescue project for the constructions for the subway. This place will also hold concerts, theaters and other events under the glass dome between the administration of the Presidents house and the Cabinet. The complex is an open-air museum and any one can walk down and have a glimpse of the restoration, even if you are on your way to the subway. There is information about all the sites in both Bulgarian and English.
The 9000 square meter area covers 8 streets and the visitors can see the foundation of an early Christian basilica from the 4th century which is both the oldest and biggest foundation that has been found (so far) around this complex. Visitors can also witness the House of Felix, a house from the 4th century. Its been found written on the mosaic floor that this house belonged to Felix. Other then that there is the House of Leontius also dated back to between 4th and 6th century. Leontius was an archbishop of Serdika according to archaeologists. One of the biggest attraction Dekumanus Maximus which was the main street in the ancient city of Serdika. It is almost entirely preserved authentic and gives the visitors an unique feeling of the old city.
The project has been very welcomed by many but also met a lot of criticism. During an archaeological restoration of the ancient Roman ruins in 2015 a fire destroyed much of the work, and the reconstructed ruins looks very different now from when they first was restored in 2009-2011. Archaeologists, historians and art historians pay a lot of criticism toward the modern materials and the construction methods that has been used which they mean give a unauthentic feeling.
All over Bulgaria there are restoring projects of historical building, monument and sites going on. The new project of Sofia will be to restore an Roman amphitheater that is believed to be the second biggest one after the Colosseum in Rome.
In this video you will get an overview of the restored complex from above, and the video below shows the inside of the site.
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