Architecture / Art / Bulgaria / Travel

Stumbling into a Roman Villa: In Plovdiv, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.

view_of_the_dead_sea_from_a_cave_at_qumran-2

Truth is indeed, stranger than fiction. Did you know that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered when a bored Bedouin shepherd threw a rock into a cave?  

Or that while digging to enlarge an Egyptian fort, Napoleon’s disgruntled soldiers blundered into the Rosetta Stone? And what are the chances of a Chinese farmer digging a water well in the middle of nowhere and unearthing the Terra-cotta Warriors of Xian? And the most priceless of all, can you imagine their surprise when a few curious French kids and their dog crawled into a hole opened by a fallen tree and happened upon the Lascaux Cave Paintings?

trakart-museum-and-cultural-center

Less famous but equally amazing, in 1983 a construction crew excavating a pedestrian underpass in Plovdiv, Bulgaria unearthed an in situ Roman villa complete with mosaics, original city street, marble-covered latrine, plumbing, and smaller sections of neighboring houses.

eirene

The exceptional centerpiece of the villa is a lovely, detailed mosaic floor which includes a portrait of Eirene, goddess and daughter of the Greek god Zeus. When the giddy-with-glee archaeologists cleared the debris and soil away, the goddess saw the light of day for the first time in 1,600 years, and gave the site its name: House of Eirene.

The residence dates from the 4th century AD when emperor Theodisius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. Today the ruin is the small, delightful Trakart Museum and Cultural Center, which is open for everyone to explore on their way under the busy highway overhead.

In addition to the wonderfully preserved mosaics, the museum has an original Roman road, lead pipes which fed a courtyard fountain, and an exhibit of Roman glassware covering glassmaking techniques over a 1000-year period. The museum’s small size, excellent exhibits, and elevated walkway which allows up-close viewing of the mosaics, make it a must-see for visitors.

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Plovdiv has an exceptional history of serendipitous archaeological finds  and the House of Eirene is another fascinating addition to the list. Who knows how many more surprise discoveries will be rooted out, but a city which has been continuously inhabited for 6000 years has lots of potential.

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In the meantime, we’re sure that city archaeologists are hoping to keep construction crews on the job to once again prove that, when it comes to antiquities, truth is stranger than fiction.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

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46 thoughts on “Stumbling into a Roman Villa: In Plovdiv, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.

    • Kelly, it was interesting that these mosaics were from the time period after the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. There were some quotations in mosaic about “being at peace” which really wasn’t a Roman idea. ~James

  1. I’m always fascinated by such discoveries. Some Hindu and Buddhist temples in Java were also discovered in such fashion — some farmer who was working on his field accidentally hit something hard with his hoe. Then, the hard object turned out to be a long-gone centuries-old ancient temple.

    • Bama, when I hear of these surprise discoveries I’m glad to hear that they make it into the public eye. In America there’s a subculture that secretly (and sometimes illegally) digs for dinosaur bones that are sold to private collectors. I appreciate the work involved, but still, it doesn’t seem quite right. ~James

  2. Remarkable how well the mosaics and artifacts have been preserved and/or restored. The colourful glassware is a delight, worthy of the best Murano productions.

    • I agree Bea. Roman mosaics were built to last, especially floors.The mosaics at Ostia Antica have been exposed to the elements for 1500 years and they’re still looking good. The Romans loved their glassware, and kept their techiniques secret. It’s a marvel to me that they could pull this level of detail off with their technology. ~James

    • Alison, this colorful glassware is amazing, especially for the time. The technique is called Millefiori, and the fact that they could have created this level of detail so long ago is astounding to me. ~James

    • The color and playfulness of these bowls is wonderful Pam. How a cache of this size survived is amazing. It was probably part of a burial, but whatever it was, we’re lucky to have it. And having it must be quite a coup for this small museum. ~James

  3. I am imagining some of the words exploding from people’s mouths upon such discoveries. Often in the mountains at some extraordinary viewpoint I wonder what the first person who gazed at the vista would have thought.

    • Curt, in the oil business we always said: “Luck counts too.” So I’m also a believer in serendipity. These corn-cob guys (great description) are timeless. They look so retro that they could be 1950s cartoon characters. Imagine them being 1600 years old. ~James

  4. Amazing and wonderful. I remember putting Plovdiv on a mental list when you wrote about it before; this adds some good fuel to the fire being lit under me to check this place out!

    • Lexie, before our trip to Bulgaria, we had never heard of Plovdiv. On our recent trips we’ve opted to spend less time in the big cities and more time in smaller places, and this paid off big time in Plovdiv. We rented a neat apartment in the center and it was perfect. Definitely check it out. ~Jame

    • No Susan. At this very minute I’m having my morning coffee in our apartment in Toledo, Spain. Later today we move to Segovia. On our last few trips we’ve adopted the strategy of writing and scheduling posts ahead of time for while we’re on the road. That way, we can enjoy the trip without worrying about the hassles of blogging (sketchy internet, etc). It works great, and BTW watch this space for a bunch of Spain posts. ~James

  5. Incredible! I love stories about these amazing finds. Like the construction crew excavating an area in York, England in preparation for the building of a shopping mall, finding an entire Viking village.

    • Darlene, England is another place that’s ripe for surprise discoveries. Part of this is because of its rich cultural history, but I suspect that part of it is that it’s a small island with lots of new development. It seems like any work on the tube in London turns up something new. ~James

    • Rusha, to confirm yet another surprise discovery: we’re in Burgos, Spain and yesterday we went the fabulous (well for geeks like me it’s was fabulous) Museum of Human Evolution. You’ll hear more about this in a future post, but the museum is located here because construction crews digging a large trench for a rail line, dug up a cave containing more pre-historic human remains than have been discovered anywhere else in the world. Amazing. The site is called Atapuerca, and they have made some theory-changing discoveries. Pretty neat. ~James

      • What a great find in a country we’ve never visited. So fortunate for you that you have time to go to this museum — it’s one that we would have chosen for a visit, too. We love museums, especially when there’s something exciting going on. Can’t wait to read your post about this find.

  6. Seems that, like travel’s zigs and zags, discoveries too are sometimes just a matter of serendipity which lead to great stories about the interesting overlap of past and present. I love the intricate detail in Roman mosaics and am totally blown away sometimes by thinking about their age. Your photos of these artifacts are beautiful and the colors are amazingly vibrant! Anita

    • Anita, I’m a big fan of Roman mosaics, and today we hit the motherlode. We’re in southern England and we visited the Fishbourne Roman Palace which has more high quality mosaics than I’ve seen in one location. And as seems to be our theme lately, they discovered it with a utility company backhoe. ~ James

  7. We loved Plovdiv! We visited it for two days at the beginning of June, and it’s great with so much history facts. Although we are from Romania, so close to Bulgaria, until this year, I have barely heard about Plovdiv. But it’s a gem of a city.

    Your posts are really an inspiration! Good luck with your travels.
    I would also be grateful if you would check my little travel corner and also have your follow and thoughts.
    https://egodiary.com/

    I will soon write about our car trip to Bulgaria, where one of the stops was Plovdiv, but also Veliko Tarnovo.

    Julia from Romania

    • Julia, thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. We spent a month traveling around the Balkans, and deliberately chose to stay in smaller cities instead of large. We spent a week in Plovdiv and it was such a pleasant surprise. We had a small apartment in the center and it was perfect. As more and more travelers hear about Plovdiv, I’m sure that it will catch on. ~James

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