Bulgarian capital shows Roman past to modern tourists
By Antoaneta Roussinova
SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria hopes to draw tourists intrigued by ancient tombs, mosaics and sewage systems later this year, thanks to engineers excavating a new line for the Sofia metro who stumbled across a street of prime real estate - from the 4th century AD.
Beneath modern Sofia lie the remains of Serdica, a lively, cosmopolitan city where Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, lived for a year while looking for a new capital for his empire.
City officials plan to put an array of Roman remains on display in the next month, from bath houses to mosaics and tombs, and hope this will attract foreign tourists and help revive the Balkan nation's struggling economy.
Some 750,000 foreign tourists a year visit Sofia, and the opening of the new Roman attractions should increase this number, says Rumen Draganov, head of Sofia's Institute for Tourism Analysis and Assessment.
"We expect about 320,000 tourists to visit the new sights in the first year alone," he said. Bulgaria, the poorest member of the European Union, earns some 1.7 billion euros, 5 percent of its gross domestic product, from the 8.5 million tourists a year who flock to its Black Sea and mountain ski resorts.
Until recently archaeologists wrongly regarded countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey as the only classical areas worthy of study, said Philip Kiernan, Professor in Roman Archaeology of U.S. Buffalo University.
"Serdica was a major metropolis and contains the physical remains of Thracian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine cultures - so it should not be any less significant," he said.
"It's time to stop thinking about cities like Serdica as being peripheral to the classical world, and take them for the important sites that they really are". Continued...