The Ancient Roman Mosaics of Plovdiv

The Roman mosaics of Philippopolis (3-4 century AD) were installed in both public and private buildings primarily in floors, although a few exceptions are wall mosaics. Most of the mosaics were discovered during construction of new buildings and so were investigated either partially or completely during rescue excavations. Some of them were moved to the storage spaces of the archaeological museum in Plovdiv because it was not possible to preserve and exhibit them in their original location. Others were preserved in situ and were either covered with sand or displayed under a protective covering.

The first mosaics were discovered by archaeologist Dimitar Tsonchev in rooms from two partially excavated Roman baths: the Western thermae discovered under the former movie theater “Balkan” (today a bingo hall) between 1938 and 1939 and the Eastern thermae found during construction of the “Yoakim Gruev” school in 1946. Among these mosaics, the maritime scene from the black and white first mosaic floor of the Western thermae stands out. This mosaic depicts a walrus, a sea-centaur (hippocamp), and two dolphins. Except for this scene, the the mosaics from both baths were moved.

During rescue excavations on Djambaz tepe in 1957, archaeologist Liliana Botusharova discovered several square meters of polychrome mosaic, which were moved.

Between 1977 and 1978 during excavations at the site of the “Thracian culture museum” (near Ponedelnik Pazar), archaeologist Valentina Tankova discovered a mosaic that depicts a maritime scene (a sailboat with a boatman at sea with fishes, algae, corals, and the god Eros riding a dolphin). The mosaic is preserved in situ and covered with sand.

During the construction of apartments in the 1980s on former “Lilyana Dimitrova” Blvd. (today “Maria Luisa”), archaeologist Elena Kessiakova led rescue excavations that uncovered floor mosaics from three buildings.

  • Two mosaic floors were discovered in the synagogue (excavated 1981-1982). One of these mosaics has three panels: the central panel holds a depiction of a menorah flanked by donor inscriptions and the side panels are filled with geometric ornaments.

  • In one room of a building excavated in 1982, there was a mosaic with a round panel of a seated man propping up his head with his left hand and holding a spear in his right. He is interpreted as the mythical Narcissus.

  • In the third residential building (excavated in 1983), a floor mosaic was found in an apodyterium of a bath.

The mosaics from these buildings were all moved, and their most impressive parts are displayed in the Archaeological Museum and Trakart Cultural Center (the mosaic from the apodyterium).

During construction works in 1983 on former “Georgi Dimitrov” Blvd. (today “Tsar Boris III Obedinitel” Blvd.), archaeologist Elena Kessiakova discovered a floor mosaic that became known as the mosaic with Allen’s gallinule birds because it depicted a waterbird called Allen’s gallinule (Porphyrio alleni). The mosaic was moved to the archaeological museum, where its most striking aspects are exhibited.

During renovations of former “Georgi Dimitrov” Blvd. (today “Tsar Boris III Obedinitel” Blvd.) and the construction of an underpass in 1983, archaeologist Elena Kessiakova excavated a residential building from the Roman period. The most impressive part of the building consisted of an exedra and three rooms. Two of these rooms had mosaic floors, which were lifted and moved. Kessiakova named the building “The Residence”.

The late antique building “Eirene” and nearby Roman street with a crossroads were discovered by archaeologists Zdravko Karov and Mina Bospachieva in 1983-1984 when the old “Georgi Dimitrov” Blvd. (today “Tsar Boris III Obedinitel” Blvd.) underwent renovations and an underpass was built. Mosaics found in the so-called “Eirene” building, which is preserved along a Roman decumanus (east-west oriented street), are preserved in situ.

The Great basilica was discovered and excavated by archaeologist Elena Kessiakova during rescue excavations in 1983 – 1986. The excavations were renewed in 2015 as part of a large-scale conservation and restoration project, which also included displaying the mosaics from the basilica now called “The Episcopal (Bishop’s) basilica of Philippopolis”.

In 1988 during rescue excavations for construction of an apartment building (№23) on “Lilyana Dimitrova” Blvd. (today “Maria Luisa” Blvd.), archaeologist Mina Bospachieva discovered part of the fortification walls of Philippopolis and an early Christian basilica west of them (1990-1991). Since this building was smaller than the Great basilica, it was called the Small basilica.

During rescue excavations in a private plot on “Mara Gidik” Str./“Neofit Bozveli” Str., archaeologist Mina Bospachieva excavated a six-conch building (an early Christian martyrium) with a polychrome mosaic floor, which was lifted and moved.

In a section of “Georgi Terter” Str., archaeologist Mina Bospachieva investigated what was most probably a part of the Eastern thermae (first excavated by Tsonchev, in 1946). Here she uncovered parts of a floor mosaic that covered a large rectangular room with heated floors via a hypocaust system. The mosaic was removed by a team of conservators led by Elena Kantareva-Decheva.

In 2005, archaeologist Ivo Topalilov uncovered a polychrome floor mosaic in a room of an early Christian building from Late Antiquity on “Pushkin” Str. 4. The mosaic was moved, and a part of it can be seen in the archaeological museum.

Based on Боспачиева, М., В. Коларова Пловдив – град върху градовете Филипопол-Пулпудева-Пълдин (София: ТОЛА, 2014), 198–227, 235–255, 262-280; Kantareva-Decheva, E., S. Stanev “New mosaic floors in the Episcopal basilica of Philippopolis”In: Proceedings of XIV Conference of Association Internationale pour l‘Étude de la Mosaïque Antique (AIEMA), (Nicosia, Cyprus, 15–19 October 2018) (под печат).

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