The first major archaeological excavation of the Sveta Nedelya Square site in central Sofia in 60 years is to begin in mid-June, in a project that will continue all summer and that is expected to last three years.
Archaeologists will be looking for the forum of ancient Serdica, from the time that what is now Bulgaria’s capital city was a town in the Roman empire. They also will be looking into what appears to have been a large public building, the purpose of which is currently not known.
The forum of ancient Serdica is believed to have been on the site now used as a parking area in front of the Sofia Hotel Balkan, formerly the Sheraton.
Archaeological research was last conducted in the area in the 1950s, although accounts are that it was done hurriedly because of pressure from the communist regime of the time which wanted to proceed with its project to construct shopping centre Tzum, the hotel and state and government buildings along the Largo.
The forum, which was orientated north-south, is believed to have been about 26 metres wide. Its length is not known because it extends to a point beyond the building line of the hotel.
Assistant professor Vesselka Katsarova is to lead a team of 60 people who will examine the terrain.
The city’s Bouleuterion, the building that housed the council of citizens, was found on the site where the hotel was to be built. Reportedly, the remains were destroyed and the foundations of the hotel placed on them.
On the north-western part of the forum, there was a large public building, with evidence suggesting that it had had an ornate facade. There are various theories about what it was, including possibly an ancient theatre, a religious sanctuary, a palace, baths, basilica or praesidium. The building is believed to have had two floors, with a height of 9.5 metres.
The style of the architectural elements suggests the economic and cultural prosperity of Serdica in the second half of the second century to the beginning of the third century CE. These issues are to be examined in the course of the archaeological project this summer.
Previously also found was evidence of the walls of a large building very close to Sveta Nedelya church. The building may have been the praetorium, the main building of the ruler of Serdica.
Another hypothesis is that it may have been the palace of Emperor Constantine.
The dig this summer will not reveal anything about the building because work on that aspect has been set aside for a later stage.
The walls are just half a metre below the square and work on that part of the site will be done by digging by hand.
Besides the remains of the ancient city, there is evidence of a medieval church and a school from the Renaissance period.
In the 1950s, a rectangular building of significant size was found, at a spot where the St George Rotunda was later built. The building was where a private Roman building had thermal baths.
Sofia municipality has allocated 150 000 leva from its culture programme for the dig.
Todor Chobanov, deputy mayor in charge of culture and education, said that these would be the most interesting studies in recent years, exploring the most important part of the ancient city.
Once the several stages were completed, Chobanov said, the ultimate goal was to develop the square on two levels, to connect with the archaeology revealed at the Largo site.
(Photo of Sveta Nedelya church: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)