WELCOME TO THE BISHOP'S BASILICA OF PHILIPPOPOLIS

WELCOME TO THE BISHOP'S BASILICA OF PHILIPPOPOLIS

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 18:13

Temple of birds comes to life after centuries of oblivion

The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis
The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis with St Ludwig Cathedral in the foreground

If you have visited Plovdiv in the past couple of years, you might have noticed a grey, modern building in the city centre, right in front of the St Ludwig Roman Catholic Cathedral. This is The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis, a groundbreaking project for Bulgaria in more than one way.

The place where it stands encapsulates centuries of history spanning from Roman Antiquity to the Middle Ages. The most stunning remains are over 2,000 sq m of mosaics that depict scores of birds and intricate geometric patterns. The brand new visitor's centre uses cutting-edge technologies, such as VR and multimedia, as well as more traditional storytelling, to explain the Basilica's rich past to a wide audience of all ages, both Bulgarian and foreign.

Nancy Schiller

Nancy Schiller, President and CEO of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, during the visitor centre opening on 18 April

The third factor that makes the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis an outstanding example for care for Bulgaria's historical and cultural heritage is that the site was researched, conserved and exhibited with the cooperative efforts of the NGO sector and some Bulgarian institutions. The main engines behind the project were the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the Plovdiv City Council and the Ministry of Culture. Together, in seven years, they managed to bring back to life an archaeological site that was largely forgotten after its incidental discovery in 1982.

A couple of years ago the project received international recognition, when the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis entered UNESCO's Tentative List.

On 18 April 2021, the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis was officially inaugurated with a short ceremony due to the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

bishop's basilica of philippopolis

A state-of-art staircase leads to the second floor where hundreds of square meters of mosaics are exhibited. They are complemented by a virtual reality corner and a designated kids area

"Your hard work, creativity and dedication has made the Basilica the showpiece that it is. And it will continue to be for the generations to come," said Nancy Schiller, President and CEO of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, who was instrumental for the project. "Together let's make sure that Bulgaria's treasures will be known all over the world."

"It is a monumental occasion and a crowning achievement. This place was once a centre of life in Plovdiv and will be one again," intoned the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, Hero Mustafa. The American Embassy has a long tradition in care of Bulgarian cultural heritage via the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Protection.

hero mustafa

US Ambassador Hero Mustafa (top) and official guests of the 18 April opening

On 19 April, the Basilica opened for the general public. The event generated significant interest both onsite, when crowds flocked to see Plovdiv's newest attraction, and online with thousands watching the opening's broadcast live.

Through the centuries the location of the Visitor's Centre has experienced many changes and transformations. In the 2nd century AD, the citizens of Roman Philippopolis built there a temple dedicated not to an imaginary deity, but to a real one: the deified emperor. Two centuries later, when Christianity was legalised and gained influence throughout the empire, a spacious church was built over the pagan temple's remains. The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis is the largest early Christian church discovered in Bulgaria. It was lavishly decorated in a manner that fit its importance as a hub of Christianity, of religious and political power: splendid mosaics covered its floor, marble columns and reliefs defined its interior.

bishop's basilica of philippopolis

The splendid mosaic floor during the Bishop's Basilica excavations

In the 6th century the basilica was abandoned. As waves of Barbarians stormed over the region, the citizens of Philippopolis could no longer maintain such a large temple. As the Middle Ages dawned, the once splendid basilica fell into disrepair. People, ever practical, decided to settle over the ruins. After a few more centuries, the living were replaced by the dead: a large cemetery appeared where the basilica used to be.

The whole place was finally abandoned – and forgotten – at the end of the 14th century. It was discovered in the 1980s, when central Plovdiv underwent a major overhaul. The partially excavated basilica was fenced and forgotten again. In 2015, thanks to the America for Bulgaria Foundation and the Plovdiv City Council, mosaic restorers and archaeologists returned onsite and started researching the complicated history and the mesmerising art. Uniquely for Bulgaria, they were joined by experts in other fields who united their efforts to create a comprehensive picture of the past. Epigraphers deciphered the inscriptions and forensic anthropologists surveyed the medieval skeletons to reveal who these people were. Even the places where the rocks used for the mosaics were sourced from were identified.

birds

Scores of birds of over 10 identifiable species are depicted on the Basilica's mosaic floors. Peacocks are prominent, as for the early Christians they symbolised spiritual immortality

The story of the Bishop's Basilica is as fascinating as are its early Christian mosaics. The modern Visitor's Centre brings it back to life via virtual reality, multimedia screens, videos and scaled models. Children learn about archaeology and ancient mosaics while having fun and playing games in a dedicated corner and a special outdoor playground.

This is one the project's greatest achievements. The modern Bishop's Basilica turns the past into a part of the present and the future, creating a new focal point of interest and public life in Plovdiv and Bulgaria.

Next time you visit this country's second largest city, do return to the grey, modern building by St Ludwig Cathedral and enter to see some astonishing mosaics and to learn its history in detail. 

opening

Visitor centre opening, 18 April

 

soft opening 2019

Soft opening: In 2019, ambassadors and diplomats from 23 countries inaugurated the Wall of Tolerance with messages for peace at the Basilica

 

volunteers

Hundreds of volunteers, including Vagabond's team, helped with the digs

 

bishop's basilica of philippopolis

The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis provides an educational experience unparalleled in Bulgaria


us4bg-logo-reversal.pngVibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners


Issue 175 America for Bulgaria Foundation Plovdiv Roman heritage Archaeology Bulgaria

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.

0 comments

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

veleka river
DISCOVERING STRANDZHA'S COAST
The Strandzha mountains coast, roughly everything along the Black Sea south of Burgas, is about 100 km long as the crow flies. Yet it is very varied.

soviet airplane bulgaria
BULGARIA'S COLD WAR PLANES
In the spring of 2022, Bulgarian military aircraft used during the Cold War suddenly became hot news. Should Bulgaria offer its old Soviet MiG- 29s to Ukraine, or shouldn't it?

centre of bulgaria
WHAT IS KARLOVO?
Great changes often spread from inconspicuous places, and Karlovo is a case in point.

snake island bulgaria
FEW SNAKES AND NO RUSSIANS
"Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!" When the Ukrainian defenders of Black Sea's Snake Island shouted out to the outnumbering Russian forces at the beginning of Putin's "special military operation," they hardly anticipated that they would coin a catchphrase

Sacred hunt, a mural at Aleksandrovo Tomb
THRACIAN BULGARIA
There are places in the world where you can get to know long-vanished nations and their former glory: Egypt, China, Greece... Bulgaria also makes it on this list.

st chistopher zlatolist
THE MYSTIC POWER OF ZLATOLIST
Born in 1883 near Serres, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and today is in Greece, Stoyna Dimitrova was seven years old when she experienced something extraordinary.

old burgas
LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY
Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

Tombul Mosque in Shumen is arguably the most beautiful in Bulgaria
BULGARIA'S TOP MOSQUES
Sunni Islam is Bulgaria's second largest religion after Eastern Orthodoxy.

sozopol from air
SOZOPOL WITHOUT TEARS
Should I visit Sozopol? There is hardly a place that divides opinion more than this town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Yes, by all means do go to Sozopol, will urge some of your Bulgarian friends.

roman plovdiv theatre
EXPLORING ROMAN PLOVDIV
Plovdiv claims 7,000 years of uninterrupted history, starting from prehistoric times, but the earliest visible traces of this long past are much younger.

An Orthodox Satan is about to devour a unrighteous man in the village of Teshovo, western Bulgaria
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Guidebooks boast about the beauty and artistic importance of the murals in Bulgaria's churches that date from the later centuries of Ottoman domination.

thracian gold treasure
TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES
Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent.