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History and Religion
Published on July 19, 2006 at 2:50 PM BG
Updated on July 25, 2006 at 1:09 PM BG
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Archaeologists unearth amphitheatre in downtown Sofia
Bulgarian archaeologists made a most sensational discovery in downtown Sofia of all places. They unearthed the remains of an amphitheatre from the age of the Roman Empire. A possible clue to the discovery was found in 1919 when the archaeologists found a plate depicting fights between gladiators and animals. The left side of the plate bore a symbolical representation of a building resembling an amphitheatre. Ever since archaeologists have been on the hunt for the amphitheatre’s exact location. At first, during construction woks of a hotel in downtown Sofia, the eastern part of the amphitheatre was uncovered. Later on, with the progress of another construction site, the western part surfaced, too. The team of archaeologists from the National Institute for Cultural Monuments, led by Zharin Velichkov, is very proud and happy with this find. Says he:

“‘Amphi’ means ‘double’ in Greek, i.e. we have two theatres attached with their stages one to the other, and thus forming an oval figure. The amphitheatre was a genuine Roman invention. The first one was erected in Pompeii, and a total of 76 Roman amphitheatres have been unearthed in the world to date. The current discovery in Sofia will be the 77th. It has an oval shaped arena, some 60 by 43 m long, which makes it only 10 m shorter than the Colloseum in Rome. However, the audience seats were considerably fewer than the respective number in Rome considering the population of ancient Serdika. The seats were separated in sectors. So far, we have been able to unearth four sectors on the eastern part and three on the western part. There are two entrances, one to the east and one to the west, linked by a ditch. Both entrances were covered by plates and contained two double-wing wooden doors. In the western part we discovered three erect stones, which had canals for the mounting of a grid that let loose the wild beasts on the arena. In fact, it is by discovering the western part that we managed to prove that it was a genuine amphitheatre, and not an ordinary theatre. This find is a true rarity and a sensation in the Balkans.”

The amphitheatre in downtown Sofia was erected in late 3rd – early 4th c. A.D. The coins and vessels unearthed during the excavation works serve as evidence of the time.

“We went on with our studies of the arena to find out whether, like the Roman Colloseum, it contained in-depth constructions,” Zharin Velichkov maintains. “Much to everybody’s surprise we came upon an edifice, dated to an earlier period. In the very centre of the arena we discovered remains of a theatre built at the close of the 2nd c. and destroyed in mid-3rd
c. with the onset of the construction works for the amphitheatre.”

The municipality in Sofia has been to a great deal of trouble over the sensational finds. The eastern part of the amphitheatre lay on the construction site of a private hotel, whose owners solved the problem by including the architectural landmark in the architectural layout of the building, making it yet another attraction for their visitors. But the western part belonged to the site of a state-owned company, whose managers insisted that the municipality give them another suitable terrain for the construction of their administrative building, so that the unique architectural discovery could be exhibited in the open-air for everyone to enjoy.

Written by Diana Hristakieva
English version by Radostin Zhelev

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Work is in progress on the restoration of the amphitheatre in the center of Sofia, dated to the 3rd century BC.
Photo: Diana Hristakieva

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