The lands of Bulgaria once were a part of the big Roman Empire. Bulgaria`s biggest towns – Sofia and Plovdiv – back then were also very important Roman towns called respectively Serdika and Trimontium. They were situated on the international ancient road – via Diagonalis – which connected Europe and Asia. Here in this article, you will find the most interesting sites in Plovdiv, which have survived from the Roman period and which are a must see for every tourist visiting this place.
Like Sofia, Plovdiv also became a Roman town during the 1st century. Since it was located on three hills, it was named Trimontium (which meant the town on the three hills). In the beginning of the 2nd century, it gradually started expanding next to the hills and during its peak, it reached a population of about 100 000 people which was remarkable for its period. The town became the administrative center of its area and many important buildings were built during this time.
The Roman stadium was probably the most spectacular building for the period. It was about 240 meters long and it was able to host about 30 000 people, which makes it one of the biggest stadiums in the Empire. It was a place for different competitions and gladiator fights. The so-called VIP seats were labeled with the names of their respective owners. In 214 and 218 the current Roman Emperors back then – Karakala and Elagabal respectively – visited personally the games, which once again shows the importance of the town. After the acceptance of Christianity as an official religion and the prohibition of the gladiator fights, the role of the stadium started to decline. The town also suffered during the invasions between the 4th and the 6th century and its city area again shrank to the three hills. The stadium was gradually covered under the ground.
Some parts of it were discovered after the Bulgarian liberation in the beginning of the 20th century but the major excavation works were done in the 1970-s. Nowadays it is located exactly under the main walking street of the town which makes its complete uncovering pretty much impossible. Luckily, the North arch of the stadium was located under a square so it has been uncovered and restored, and now it works as an open museum with a free access – a great opportunity for tourists to take a photo at the same place where the Roman spectators were seating more than 17 centuries ago!
The theater is the other main Roman building that was discovered and restored very closely to its original authentic outlook. It was also built in the period of the end of the 1st – beginning of the 2nd century. It was constructed on one of the three hills so that the Romans used the natural elevation in order to make the rolls which were 28 – the lower 14 rows, which gave a better view to the stage, were used by the noble people, and the upper 14 – by the more ordinary ones. The theater is oriented to the South, thus creating a great view to the Rhodope Mountain and it was able to host 7000 people. Like the stadium, the VIP seats were labeled with the names of their respective owners.
This place was used not only for plays, but also for the big regional political assemblies when it hosted delegates from the whole area.
Most likely, it was burnt during the invasions between the 4th and the 6th centuries – after that it was abandoned and gradually houses were built above it. It was discovered and restored in the 1970-s and nowadays it is regularly used as a stage for different concerts and performances. As a tourist, you can visit it with an entrance ticket.
The Roman forum with is shops, administrative buildings, baths, “odeon” (city council) and “agora” (square) was the heart of the town. Curiously, it corresponds with the current central city square of Plovdiv. Since 1990, a lot of excavation work was done (it continues to be done), revealing a great heritage of Roman ruins which nowadays create the unique ancient spirit of the place.
The odeon has been completely restored – it looks like a small theater with about 300 seats. In the Roman period, this was the place was the city council was gathering to discuss the important things about the town.
After the acceptance of the Christianity, a big basilica was built across the forum. Currently, the area of the basilica is under restoration. A lot of well - preserved mosaic paintings were found on its floor. There is an undergoing project to rebuild the basilica and to show it as a museum.