BRINGING ANTIQUITY BACK TO LIFE

by Dimana Trankova; photography by Anthony Georgieff, America for Bulgaria Foundation archive

Fine mosaics of Plovdiv's Bishop's Basilica see light of day for first time in 1,500 years

bishops basilica of philippopolis.jpg

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.

When the survey is over, the basilica and its mosaics will become a museum surpassing the foundation's other star project in Plovdiv, the restoration and conservation of the mosaics of the nearby Small Basilica.

The Bishop's Basilica was an important project in 5th century Philippopolis. The number of Christians was on the rise, there was a lack of proper prayer places and the local bishops were amassing political and government power. The community needed a building to provide enough space for the worshipers, to promote the new religion's dominance over public and private life, and to serve as the seat of the bishop. The result was astonishing: a building 86m long and 38m wide, with colonnades and marble decorations, and an elaborate mosaic floor of geometrical ornaments, early-Christian symbols and an array of birds of many flocks and feathers. The space was so expansive that two teams of master builders and decorators worked simultaneously at the site.

Philippopolis's Bishop's Basilica did not last for long. In the 6th century the invasions of the so-called Barbarians forced the locals to abandon it. Centuries went by. In the Middle Ages the site became a graveyard, and in the 19th century the St Ludwig Roman Catholic Cathedral was constructed over the north section of the ancient church. But oblivion prevailed, and no one was aware of the basilica's existence before the early 1980s.

Back then the basilica was only partially surveyed. Some of its mosaics were taken out and brought to the Archaeology Museum, and the site itself was almost completely forgotten. Only in June 2015 excavations started anew, with the help of the America for Bulgaria Foundation.

While professional archaeologists undertake the renewed survey of the Bishop's Basilica, volunteers organised by the foundation also help in the excavations. More than 250 volunteers have participated in the works. These include highschool students and lawyers, journalists and engineers, architects and builders, tour guides and NGO staff, prosecutors and judges, classical musicians. Being an archaeology volunteer is fun, a combination of bringing out your inner Indiana Jones, physical activity and the chance to be a part of something that will leave a lasting mark on the understanding on Bulgaria's antiquity and the heritage map of Plovdiv.

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

 

Grand Basilica, Plovdiv

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

THE VELCHOVA ZAVERA HIKE
Еvery April, since 2020, hundreds of young Bulgarians gather in Veliko Tarnovo and embark on a meaningful journey, retracing the steps of a daring rebellion that took place in the town and its surroundings, in 1835.

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

BULGARIA'S NEW 'PATRIOTISM'
In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?
Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

WHO WAS RENÉ CHARRON?
Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

REARVIEW MIRROR OF BULGARIA AND AMERICA
When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

200 VAGABONDS
When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

LAPSE OF TIME
Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?
About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH
On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.

WHO WAS ALEKO KONSTANTINOV?
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

RUSSIA BRINGS ON... VANGA
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.