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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
James & Terri