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Amphitheatre of Serdica

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Ulitsa Budapeshta 4, 1000 Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Sofia
  • Posted 2 years ago

The building of the new Arena di Serdica Hotel of the FPI Hotels & Resorts brand inadvertently stumbled upon a section of a Roman wall in 2004. Archaeological excavations began immediately, and so the Serdica Amphitheatre (Amphiteatrum Serdicense) was unearthed! This is a massive public facility with an oval plan with an arena in the center, ringed elliptically by tiered seats for spectators. Because of the large quantity of coins and ceramics unearthed, the researchers were able to pinpoint two phases in the III-IV century. During the site investigation, it was discovered that a theatre erected in the II-III century, i.e. 100 years earlier, is located around 5 meters under the amphitheatre. A one-of-a-kind complex including an antique amphitheatre and a theater was uncovered. These are the greatest structures from the era of ancient Serdica, demonstrating the city’s glory throughout the years. The discovery was pronounced unrivaled in the globe, and the discovery was certified unique!

FairPlay International JSC provided funding in the large-scale project of restoration, preservation, and presentation of this rare historical landmark, which enabled the excavations to take place. The discovery, which was deemed unique and fantastic by archaeologists and architects, necessitated adjustments to the architectural plans of the Arena di Serdica Hotel, allowing hotel guests and tourists to experience the rare artifacts.

Serdica was the capital of the Great Roman Empire’s eastern province of Dacia Mediterranea in the past. It was a significant economic and political center, a huge and developed city constructed in the Roman style with wide stone avenues, a forum, splendid temples, and majestic buildings with superb embellishments.

Serdica’s Arena measures 60.5 meters long and 43 meters broad. The Amphitheatre of Serdica, on the other hand, is the only one in the world that combines a Roman theatre and a late antique amphitheatre in one location, as well as the only such public edifice in the Balkans. As a result, the location is genuinely one-of-a-kind, and the discovery is amazing. It is a truth that no other capital, or even city, in the world can claim a theatre and an amphitheatre in the same location. Its construction started during Emperor Diocletian’s reign and was finished by Emperor Constantine the Great.

In terms of architecture, the amphitheatre is akin to the Arènes de Lutèce in contemporary Paris, France, and was constructed for a maximum attendance of more than 20,000, or around 25,000 people. The Serdica Amphitheatre is oriented east–west, similar other arenas in the Mediterranean area. It was located outside of Serdica’s city walls.

The stand for high-ranking Roman officials was located in the amphitheatre’s southern part, near what is now the National Art Gallery. The amphitheatre had two major gates, one on each side, connected by an underground water channel. The west gate, which measures 3.5 m (11 ft) wide, is thought to have been capped with a 5 m (16 ft) high arch. The main entrance, the subterranean level, a piece of the main area with at least seven spectator seats, and gates with sliding doors to enable animals enter the arena are among the excavated and preserved remnants. At least a portion of the amphitheatre was built using the opus mixtum building style. Bear and boar bones, hundreds of bronze coins, and clay stones engraved with the footprints of goats, dogs, and cats were unearthed during the amphitheatre excavations.

Interesting Facts

– A stone plate discovered in 1919 near the current building of the Council of Ministers is the earliest indication of the presence of an amphitheatre with a fighting arena. It is thought that it acted as a “advertising banner” at the old Serdica’s gate. It is now conserved and on exhibit at the Archaeological Museum in Sofia.

– The plate depicts lions, tigers, bulls, and crocodiles engaged in fight with Gladiators. Christians who were persecuted at the time were thrown to wild creatures for the entertainment of the onlookers. Bear teeth were discovered during the excavations.

– The amphitheatre was originally situated beyond the historic town’s fortification walls, but it is currently positioned in the heart of Sofia.

– As a consequence of the FPI’s work, the amphitheatre now welcomes visitors and spectators 17 centuries later. About one-sixth of the structure is exposed and intact, particularly the eastern arc.

– Its walls have been retained in their original condition, and the fighting arena is still coated with sand. The name “arena” derives from the Latin word for sand, “harena.” Sand was chosen as the best substance for absorbing the victims’ blood.

– Standing among the remains of the amphitheatre and gazing up at the street level, it is clear how time and nature have placed a fresh layer of around 12 m between the town of Serdika from the III century and the present city.

– The walls of the amphitheatre and the seating sections were roughly 5 storeys high and corresponded to the current level of Moskovska Street. A crowd of around 25,000 people gathered on the location. Its opposite end may be found on Dondukov Blvd, near the Youth Theatre.

– Seven stone spectator seats have been saved and reinstalled in their original placements.

– The dressing rooms of the performers participating in theatrical performances, as well as the entrance to the east gate, where the chariots passed during the gladiatorial conflict, may be seen here.

– People from all across the empire used to perish or earn their freedom on the arena, clad in metal and leather.

– Aside with the metallic clink of weapons, the ruins recalled poets’ and orators’ recitations, brilliant performances by musicians and performers, and elevated cries of spectators.

– Animal footprints – goats, dogs, cats – have been imprinted in the uncured slabs of the ancient builders’ clay tiles.

– A V-VI century residence and furnace, as well as a well dated IV-V century, were also uncovered.

– Superstructures from the Ottoman Empire’s reign, as well as coins and ceramics from the time, were discovered.


The Serdica Amphitheatre was erected on top of an ancient Roman theatre from the 2nd or 3rd century AD. Its remnants were located 5 metres (16 feet) under the ruins of the amphitheatre. The 55 m (180 ft) wide theatre was perhaps erected at the same time as Serdica’s defensive walls under Commodus (r. 177–192). It was active under the eras of Septimius Severus (r. 193–211) and Caracalla (r. 198–217); the former may have visited with his family in 202 or 209. However, in the first part of 268, a Gothic attack devastated and burnt the theatre, forcing its final closure.

The amphitheatre was built on top of the theatre ruins in two phases, as proven by coin and pottery finds, including an unique bronze medallion of Antinous, between the late third and early fourth centuries AD, under Roman emperors Diocletian (r. 284–305) and Constantine the Great (r. 306–337). The amphitheatre itself was in operation for less than a century, having been abandoned by the 5th century, perhaps owing to Theodosius I’s (r. 379–395) anti-pagan measures. Barbarian conquerors put up their residences inside the old arena in the 5th and 6th centuries, and it was exploited as a source of construction materials for new buildings throughout the Ottoman era (late 14th–19th century).


Since 1919, when a stone plate portraying an amphitheatre’s façade and combat between gladiators and wild animals was discovered near what is now the Council of Ministers of Bulgaria structure, the presence of a Roman amphitheatre in ancient Serdica has been speculated. Crocodiles, bears, bulls, and wild cats are shown in the conflicts on the plate. It is believed that it stood near the entrance of Roman Serdica to serve as advertising for these festivities. The plate is presently on exhibit in the National Archaeological Institute and Museum of Bulgaria, both in Sofia.

The amphitheatre itself was found by chance in 2004, during the early stages of development of what became known as the Arena di Serdica Hotel. The ruins are located south of Knyaz Aleksandar Dondukov Boulevard, between the Goethe-Institut offices and the British embassy in Sofia. In July 2006, the foundations of a National Electric Company office building in the area were dug up, exposing more of the arena. The eastern entrance and a piece of the amphitheatre inside the hotel lot, which accounts for about one-sixth of the whole structure, were saved and integrated into the hotel’s ground floor. It is open to the public throughout the day, except on Mondays, and has a modest exhibition of coins and pottery discovered on the site. In 2007, the western entrance and adjacent section of the amphitheatre were dug at the National Electric Company property, and a campaign was launched to prevent the proposed structure from being built on the site.

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