After many visits to Bulgaria, I really can‘t help thinking that there is always an archaeological museum in every bigger Bulgarian city. No wonder. If you just start to dig the earth anywhere in Bulgaria, it is very probable that you will find some traces leading mostly to the ancient Thracians or Romans.
Many of the museums are small, but worth a visit, because they display so many amazing things! And what‘s more, the admission fee is usually much cheaper than in the other European museums. So if you plan to visit some of these Bulgarian cities and if you are interested in old cultures, then you should definitely put also the visit of the local museum on your list.
(1) SOFIA – National Historical Museum
This is the largest museum in Bulgaria. In addition to the collections of fine arts, history and ethnography, there is a large archaeological section as well. The museum possesses more than 600,000 objects but don’t worry, you are not obligated to see all of them. It is not possible either because only 10% of them are permanently exhibited.
The national museum was moved in 2000 to Boyana, a peripheral quarter of Sofia but it is possible to get there with the public transport or you can take a taxi (not expensive). The building used to be a residence of the former Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov, so you should watch not only the exhibits but also the whole interior.
Highlights: the most famous treasure found by accident in 1949 near the town of Panagyurishte. It is 6 kg of pure gold transformed in 9 gorgeous vessels from the 4th or beginning of the 3rd century BC. They are richly and skillfully decorated – as the amphora…
…or rhytons (conical containers in the form of an animal’s head) and vessels in the form of a woman’s head…
and this marvellous vessel called phiale with African heads, acorns and rosettes.
The treasure is very often on a world tour, it can happen that it is somewhere abroad when you visit the museum. But don’t despair, I am sure you will find other golden or silver treasures very interesting (as treasures of Letnitsa, Rogozen, Borovo or other localities in Bulgaria).
Address: 1618 Sofia, Vitoshko lale 16
– working hours and public transport: here
– tickets: here
(2) SOFIA – National Archaeological Museum
Excellent location in the city center. The museum is housed in the former – oldest and largest – mosque in Bulgaria (the title picture), completed in 1494. The museum is not very big, you need just about an hour to explore it, but there are stunning artefacts of the Thracian culture.
Highlights: the heaviest treasure found in Bulgaria – the Valchitran Treasure – 13 objects made of 21 carat gold.
It weighs in total 12,5 kg, the biggest bowl is 4,5 kg of gold! It is not clear what was the purpose of these objects, most probably they were used at some religious rites. Or did rich Thracians drink wine from them?
You can really find an interesting object in every show case! As this unique golden funerary mask from the Svetitsa tomb.
I especially liked also the small figures I haven’t seen anywhere before. Their mouths are open, but it looks more like an expression of fun, not of fear. They look as if they are smiling on us who were standing in front of the glass. There are also interesting statuettes of different animals without heads, most probably they were used like small vessels. These finds come from excavations in Stara Zagora.
Address: 1000 Sofia, Saborna str. 2
Practical info: here
Extra tip: a very pleasant atmosphere in the Art Club Museum restaurant next to the museum. A relaxing corner in the very center of Sofia with a cool terrace even in the hot summer days. Some more archaeological objects can be seen in the adjacent garden.
(3) SOFIA – Ruins of the Ancient Roman City
„Serdika is my Rome!” – a sentence very often used by the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. It shows how popular was this city among Roman rulers. Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, its history goes back 7,000 years. Its original name was Serdika derived from the local tribe Serdi.
In 2016, the restored ancient Roman complex of Serdika was opened as the largest open-air museum in Bulgaria. It was also one of the biggest challenges during the construction of the Sofia subway.
It is very interesting, that the very center of the Bulgarian capital is on the same place like it was in the ancient Serdika. So you can walk on the original, 2,000-year-old pavement of the main street Decumanus Maximus which once connected the east and west gates of the city! It was excavated in the length of 60 m. How much history has to be preserved in this pavement? Can you imagine, it was here where at least two Roman emperors were welcomed by the people after their return from some triumphal battles.
A part of the excavations is covered.
The site covers three inhabited quarters of the ancient Serdika, you can see not only the main street but also foundations of antique buildings, lead pipes and parts of plumbing, floor heating system, mosaics and ruins of thermal resorts. Most of the visible remains date between the 4th to 6th centuries AD, but some parts are even older, from the 1st century AD.
Address: Sofia, subway stop Serdika II
Extra tip: if you come here, have a look also at the small Church of St Petka of the Saddlers from the 11th century, hidden between majestic buildings from the socialist period.
Before the ancient streets of Serdika were excavated, you could see even better that the church was partially dug into the ground. That’s because it was built during the Ottoman rule. The walls, made of brick and stone, are 1 m thick.
(4) STARA ZAGORA – Neolithic Dwelling Museum
The rare small statuettes in the Archaeological Museum in Sofia lead me to the city of Stara Zagora, about 190 km from the capital. The building of the museum is a little bit lost in the urban built-up area, but anyway, it is possible to find it. Inside the building, there is a very well preserved Neolithic dwelling, found by archaeologists in 1969.
Its width is 5,80 m and length 10 m only but it is a strange feeling looking at the place where our antecedents lived 8,000 years ago! Not in caves, but in a two-storey-house with one room on the first floor and two rooms on the ground floor. It was inhabited by three families, everyone had their own furnace. This ancient house was built in the early Neolithic period (7. – 6. millennium BC) from wooden stakes fixed in the ground and coated with a mixture of clay and straw.
You are just standing there and thinking about the people who lived here. Who were they? What dreams and what problems did they have? The life here continued with some short interruptions until the Bronze Age (3. millennium BC), after the dwelling had been burnt down and the first floor collapsed. Its inhabitants went away but left here lots of things: ceramic vessels, smaller clay balls (probably for some primitive weapons?), furnaces, stone hand mills for grinding grain, simple kitchen utilities and even some lentils and wheat.
The statuettes and vessels are exhibited in the basement of the museum. There are also sculptures of different animals like a hedgehog or even a badger in the showcases, they are also without the heads, who knows, maybe they were some kinds of lids, lost in time…
Address: Stara Zagora, Armeyska str. 20
Practical info: here
(5) KAZANLAK – Iskra Historical Museum
Firstly, the city of Kazanlak is famous for growing roses and production of rose oil but there are also amazing Thracian tombs (UNESCO) in the surroundings. The historical museum possesses more than 50,000 original objects from the Valley of the Thracian kings, but also from the new history and ethnography.
Highlights: the treasure hall with stunning artefacts made of gold, silver and bronze. My most favourite object (I think from all the Thracian treasures I have seen till now) is this fantastic golden wreath in the form of oak twigs. It was made for Seuthes III, the ruler of the Odrysian kingdom.
In the museum, you can find a lot of information about Seuthopolis, the capital he built in his kingdom, including the graphic rebuilding of this ancient administrative, economic and religious center. Seuthes III was also a great warrior, could you see how much determination and fighting passion does radiate from his face on the bronze head found in his tomb in Golyama Kosmatka near the city of Kazanlak (the original is in the Archaeological Museum in Sofia)?
Practical info: here
(6) BURGAS – Regional Museum of History
Valuable objects found in the place of some ancient towns in this territory – Apollonia (today Sozopol), Messambria (Nessebar), Anhialo (Pomorie) and others. Again mostly finds connected to ancient Thracians and Greek colonies alongside the Black Sea or to the time of the Roman Empire.
Highlights: old wooden boats and stone anchors which show intensive trade relations between the Thracians and people of the East Mediterranean in the 2nd – 1st millennium BC.
The relief Three Nymphs found in Akve Kalide (today Burgas territory), a historic place with mineral springs of hot water and a Sanctuary of Three Nymphs.
Practical info: here
(7) SOZOPOL – Archaeological Museum
I am sure, that Sozopol is one of the most picturesque Bulgarian seaside cities. Its old town has an unmistakable atmosphere. The original name was Apollonia, the present name was given to the city in 330 AD. If you decide to spend your summer holiday here, then you can skip one afternoon on the beach for a history lesson in the museum and so get more information about the place where you are spending your summer. The museum is not very big and is located on the main street.
Highlights: the largest fascinating collection of painted antique ceramics from the end of the 6th – 2nd centuries BC. But also cute miniature statuettes of different animals.
And don’t miss the 700-year-old vampire of Sozopol! It is a male skeleton with an iron stake driven through his left chest. It is said that it belonged to Krivich, a local nobleman and ruler of the fortress of Sozopol. It is believed he was very cruel, so after his death, local people stuck an iron stake in his chest to make sure he would not come back to life, rise from the grave and commit any more devilish crimes.
You can also see a marble box once containing relics of St John the Baptist which was found in the ancient monastery on the nearby St Ivan Island. The relics are exhibited now in the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the city. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the bones belonged to a man who had lived and died in the Middle East in the middle of the 1st century AD in the age of about 30 years. An accident or it was really St John the Baptist?
Address: 8130 Sozopol, Khan Krum sq. 2
I could not find the website of the museum but I found this information:
June – September – open every day: 8.30 am – 6.00 pm
October – May: 8.30 am – 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm – 5.00 pm, closed on Saturdays and Sundays
Adults – BGN 4
Children, students and senior citizens – BGN 1
People with disabilities – free admission
Of course, there are also other museums and interesting exhibits in Bulgaria, anyway, I decided to put on the list only those ones I personally visited.
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Thanks to www.grafikfoto.at for the pictures of the golden wreath and horse decoration.
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri