Bringing ancient history to light: A crosscultural treasure hunt

In the centre of Sofia in Bulgaria, ancient ruins are being uncovered by a team of archaeologists. Through exhibition kiosks and quizzes on the digging sites, the goal is to make the inhabitants of Sofia curious about their history.

Image bank image 8447

“We are proud to present two completely new archaeological sites in the city centre of Sofia. People are very curious about what we are doing and we already received a lot of media attention,” says project coordinator, Tony Mileva. 

Layers from the 1st century

Sofia is one of the oldest capitals in Europe, with a rich historical and cultural heritage. The project `An ancient history of Sofia´ aims to restore, preserve, and protect three buildings of cultural heritage value for future generations. It also aims to present the heritage within the European context of cultural exchange and cultural diversity.

Workers are in the process of securing the digging site for reconstruction of the ruins. Photo credit: NIKU

“We dug out layers from the 1st century until the 7th century. However, we had to make compromises; should it be an archaeological site only, or should we customise the site for visitors?” says the Director of Sofia History museum and Project Promoter, Nadezhda Kirova-Yoycheva.

With funding from Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein the “Triangular tower” and “Western Gate” of Serdica are now being restored and preserved for visitors to enjoy. While the Basilica “St. Sofia” is being protected against seismic activity. As a project partner, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) has been sharing best practices and knowledge in the field of restoration and preservation.

How does Europe combat looting and illicit sale of Syrian treasures and antiquities? Read the full story here.

St. Sofia Basilica in 1915. Photo credit: Wikipedia commons/ open source

“It was a perfect cooperation, we arranged different workshops to learn about special conservation methods, - the exchange of knowledge was good. In Norway, they often use more technology. While they taught us about new technology, we taught them how to manage with less technology,” says Nadezhda.

Vibeke Vandrup Martens from NIKU in Norway are sharing knowledge about restoring ruins. Photo Credit: NIKU

NIKU also describes the cooperation with Sofia History Museum and Sofia municipality as very good.

“We had a great exchange of knowledge. Safeguarding against seismic activity is not often discussed in Norwegian contexts, but the archaeology preceding it, is a known factor. We think of all the archaeologists, conservation scientists, engineers, workers and office staff involved in the process as our new friends, says Vibeke Vandrup Martens, researcher, archaeologist at NIKU.

 “History should be tempting and playful”    

The project is in line with the main purpose of the programme of cultural heritage, which is to make cultural heritage accessible for all, as well as strengthen social and economic development through cultural cooperation, entrepreneurship, and heritage management.

“The ruins must be accessible to the public. Therefore, we created quizzes and exhibition kiosks at the digging sites. This gives people a chance to interact more with the historical settlements," says Nadezhda.

However, digging for ancient ruins has its challenges. The project was delayed due to technical issues with the ground surrounding the Western Gate. Despite the technical difficulties they are now on track reaching their deadline in the end of April.

Coins found during the excavation process. Photo credit: NIKU

Curious about historical heritage? Read more about interesting cultural projects.

We have other exciting projects in Bulgaria financed through the EEA and Norway Grants. Read more about them here:

How can young Roma be empowered? Read about the award-winning work done by the youth centre in Stara Zagora

Job creation is important but is must not come at the expense of the environment. Read about green furniture production in Sofia