Mosaics from the Episcopal (Bishop’s) Basilica of Philippopolis

The basilica that became known as the Great Basilica was discovered and excavated by archaeologist Elena Kessiakova during rescue excavations between 1983 and 1986. Due to the restrictions of present-day urban infrastructure, Kessiakova only excavated the southern part of the basilica, which consists of a nave, two aisles, and part of the open central court (atrium). The excavated apse, nave, and southern aisle were covered with a well-preserved floor mosaic (the upper mosaic), under which Kessiakova discovered an earlier one (the lower mosaic). The earlier mosaic can be seen in several places where the upper mosaic was destroyed. There are mosaics in the porticoes of the atrium and the room south of it. After the end of excavations, the mosaics were preserved in situ and covered with sand, and a protective structure was built above them.

In 2015, a wide-scoped conservation and restoration project began, which envisioned exhibiting the mosaics in a newly built two-story building located in the area of the excavations from the 1980s. The lower mosaic was to be preserved in situ on the ground floor while the later one (the upper mosaic) would be exhibited on the second floor. A team of conservators led by Elena Kantareva-Decheva and supervised by Elena Kessiakova removed the later mosaic and uncovered the earlier mosaic, in the process of which they discovered that this earlier floor was laid first in the nave and later in the southern aisle. There is a Eucharist scene in the middle of the southern aisle. It features two vessels – one holding wine, the other water – flanking an altar table (mensa sacra) with a rectangular shape and handles (tabula ansata). The same tabula ansata contains a donor inscription in ancient Greek that notes how the mosaic was laid in the time of Bishop Markian or Lucian, as the inscription’s remnants are interpreted by epigraphist Nikolai Sharankov.

The results of conservation activities and archaeological excavations in 2015 led to a change in the initial project. According to a new plan, the basilica would be excavated entirely and above it a protective structure would be built that took the modern city’s surroundings into consideration. For approximately two years (2016-2018), a team led by archaeologist Jeni Tankova excavated the northern half of the basilica and established the whole plan of the church complex as well as the presence of earlier buildings.

All newly excavated parts of the complex’s interior (except the two rooms to the north of the atrium) were covered with mosaics, which were stabilized and cleaned and prepared for the upcoming construction of the protective building (2017-2018). Following the construction, the mosaics were conserved and restored in situ. According to excavation results, the complex had three floors, two of which were covered with mosaics. The original floor had been made of lime-mortar (opus signinum) over which the earlier mosaic floor (opus tessellatum) was laid in parts – first in the nave then afterwards in the apse, aisles, narthex, porticoes of the atrium, and the southern two rooms.

The second mosaic floor was laid above the first, except in the two southern rooms. Deteriorations of the mosaics started first in the narthex, where the low-quality mortar led to the destruction of the first mosaic, and later in the apse, aisles, and porticoes due to the settling of the earth. In the presbyterium was an opus sectile mosaic of tiles with different geometric forms. There is a remarkable scene in the upper mosaic in the aisles that depicts the so-called “Fountain of Life” – two peacocks leaning towards a fountain gushing water and a second couple of birds depicted below it.

The first mosaic floor was built in stages between the middle of the 4th and first half of the 5th century in the apse, nave, aisles, porticoes of the atrium, and southern two rooms. The second mosaic floor was built between the second half of the 5th and beginning of the 6th century in the apse, presbyterium, nave, aisles, narthex, and porticoes of the atrium.

After a protective building was built over the Episcopal Basilica, the upper mosaic floor that had been removed and conserved in 2015 was exhibited on the second floor (2020). The rest of the mosaics were preserved in situ (2019-2020) by the team led by Elena Kantareva-Decheva.

Кантарева-Дечева, Е., С. Станев, Д. Станчев „Новоразкрити мозайки от Епископската базилика на Филипопол (2019–2021)“ – Годишник на Академия за музикално, танцово и изобразително изкуство Пловдив 2020 (Пловдив, 2021), 23–34.

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) (forthcoming).

Stanev, S., J. Tankova “The Episcopal Basilica of Thracian (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)”- In: Blaauw, Sible de, S. Mols, L. (eds.) Proceedings of XVII International Congress of Christian Archaeology (Utrecht & Nijmegen, The Netherlands, 2–6 July 2018) (forthcoming).

Кантарева-Дечева, Е. „Нови стратиграфски проучвания на мозайките от Епископска базилика на Филипопол“ – В: Сборник доклади от международна научна конференция „Наука, образование и иновации в областта на изкуството“, Пловдив, 12–13.10.2017 г. (Пловдив, 2017), 365–372.

Кесякова, Е. „Мозайки от епископската базилика на Филипопол“ – In: Станев, С., В. Григоров, В. Димитров (ред.) Изследвания в чест на Стефан Бояджиев (София: НАИМ, 2011), 173-209.

Kessiakova, E. “Une nouvelle basilique à Philippopolis” – In: Actes du XIe congrès international d’archéologie chrétienne. Lyon, Vienne, Grenoble, Genève, Aoste, 21–28 septembre 1986 (Rome, 1989), 2539–2559.

Link to Google Maps:

Ground plan:

Galleries

The Episcopal (Bishop’s) Basilica of Philippopolis

First mosaic floor
(built between the middle of the 4th and the first half of the 5th century)

Second mosaic floor
(second half of the 5th – beginning of the 6th century)

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