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“Tucked Away Treasure”

Amphitheatre of Serdica
Ranked #18 of 168 things to do in Sofia
Certificate of Excellence
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Owner description: In the past Serdica was the capital of the eastern province of Dacia Mediterranea - part of the Great Roman Empire. It was an important commercial and political centre, large and well developed city, built in a Roman style with large stone streets, a forum, beautiful temples and impressive buildings with magnificent decorations.In 2004 during the construction works in the city center of Sofia unexpectedly came across a part of a Roman wall. Archaeological excavations immediately started – thus the Amphitheatre of Serdica (Amphiteatrum Serdicense) was discovered! This is a monumental public building with an elliptical layout and an arena in the middle, elliptically surrounded by the tiered seats for the spectators. The great number of coins and pottery discovered enabled the researchers to identify two periods in III-IV century. During the research on the site it became evident that about 5 meters under the amphitheatre there is a theatre, built in II-III century, i.e. 100 years earlier. A unique complex combining ancient amphitheatre and theatre was discovered. These are the largest buildings from the age of ancient Serdica, evidencing its heyday during the centuries. The finding was declared unique and the discovery - unmatched in the world!The Arena of Serdica is 60.5 m long and 43 m wide. However, the Amphitheatre of Serdica is the only one in the world, combining a Roman theatre and a late antique amphitheatre in one place and the only such public building in the Balkans. This makes the site truly unique and the discovery - sensational. It is a fact that no other capital or even city in the world can boast a theatre and amphitheatre together and located in its very centre. Its construction began during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian and was completed by the Emperor Constantine the Great.Interesting Facts:- The first evidence for the existence of an amphitheatre with arena for fights is a stone plate found in 1919 near the present-day building of the Council of Ministers. It is assumed that it served as an “advertising banner” at the entrance of the ancient Serdica. Nowadays it is preserved and is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Sofia.- The plate reveals images of lions, tigers, bulls, crocodiles, which took part in combat with Gladiators. The Christians persecuted at this time were thrown to the wild beasts for the amusement of the spectators. The excavations revealed teeth of bear.- The amphitheatre was located outside the fortress walls of the ancient town and now it is located in the centre of Sofia.- Its walls have been preserved in their actual form and the combat arena is covered with sand as it was in the past. The origin of the word “arena” is from the Latin word for sand “harena”. The sand was selected as the most suitable material to absorb the blood of the victims.- When standing in the ruins of the amphitheatre and looking up at the street level, it becomes evident how ages and nature have deposited a new layer of about 12 m between the town of Serdika from III century and the modern city.- The walls of the amphitheatre and the sectors with seats were about 5 floors high and correspond to the level of the nowadays Moskovska Street. About 25,000 spectators gathered on the site. Its opposite end is found to be near the Youth Theatre on Dondukov Blvd.- 7 stone seats for spectators are preserved and placed in their original locations.- Here the dressing rooms of the actors involved in theatrical performances can be seen, as well as the entrance of the east gate, where the chariots passed during the gladiatorial combat.- Clad in metal and leather, people from all over the empire used to die or gain their freedom on the arena.Besides the metallic clink of weapons, the ruins remembered recitations of poets and orators, virtuoso performances of musicians and actors, exalted cheers of spectators.- Clay tiles still bear the footprints of animals - goats, dogs, cats, immortalized their traces in the uncured slabs of the ancient builders.A dwelling and a furnace dated V-VI century and a well dated IV-V century were also discovered.Superstructures built during the age of the Ottoman Empire were found, as well as coins and pottery from this period. Legends about the Emperor Diocletian – the creator of the Amphitheatre of Serdica - Diocletian was characterized with his lust for power, serious and pensive look, as if contemplating great deals. It had been predicted that he would reach the supreme power after killing a boar, so he repeatedly went hunting. - When seized power, Diocletian reserved for himself the eastern empire and the position of senior co-emperor. He took the name Jovius – from the name of god Jove, Jupiter. - Diocletian first introduced as mandatory the complex royal ceremonies followed by almost all the emperors after him, aimed at enhancing the power and limiting the access to the autocrats deified while still alive. - After the solemn abdication of Diocletian - the only emperor who retired voluntarily - it turns out that it was only his authority that protected the Tetrarchy from collapsing. - Diocletian spent the last years of his life in his huge palace, which was built near his hometown of Aspalatos (today's city of Split) in Dalmatia. According to legend, when some messengers came to him with a request to return to power again, he replied to them that “if they knew what vegetables he himself grew in his garden, they would never ask him to become the Emperor again”.
Stocksbridge, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
42 reviews
35 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 17 helpful votes
“Tucked Away Treasure”
Reviewed 19 March 2014

Recommended by the visitor center lady it was little difficult to find but worth it! For the traveler it appears you are entering a rather nice hotel, and that is where it is. The staff are very friendly and direct you to where it is (although it is rather easy to spot) It wasn't busy at all when we visited, we were the only two people there. Only until I read the other posting did I know that it was an amphitheater, I thought they were just ruins. Another free attraction, why not visit!

Sofia Overview:
I really enjoyed this city. It has become one of my favorites. I had read "parks are dangerous, don't go;" loved the parks. They were filled with families. You could hardly find a bench to sit on; everyone wanted to be out in the sun! I had read "people are mean;" people were great! Very friendly and offered assistance when lost can't recall running into anyone mean or rude. The city is beautiful; seemly nestled in with mountains around giving a little bit of scenic beauty to all photos. The Visitor Center that was down the stair near the Metro stop was top notch. The lady in there was very helpful and gave lots of suggestions. She also supplied us with different maps of the area. It was really cheap to visit, most all attractions that we saw were free to get in. Only downside...really watch where you walk, some of the worst sidewalks I've seen. Very easy to trip or step in a small hole! : ) Really enjoyed myself there!

Visited May 2013
Thank Spacescoob
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Hays, Kansas
Level Contributor
214 reviews
93 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 130 helpful votes
“Amphitheatre- or - hotel lobby?”
Reviewed 26 January 2014

This fascinating and well-preserved 3rd Century AD Roman Amphitheatre was discovered in 2004 during preliminary construction of what is now the Arena de Serdica Residence Hotel in the midst of Sofia. Originally this was an oval, approximately 60 x 43 meters, only a few meters less than the famous Roman Coliseum. Now, 18 Centuries later, guests are welcome from 9:00 am - 7:00 pm in an enclosed space that is essentially a part of the lobby of the hotel. Although I was not a guest of the hotel during this stay in Sofia, my local guide - a professor of museology from the University of Sofia - showed us the place and described the important points of this ancient site. (The hotel has good literature about the site if you are not so fortunate to know the professor.) For example, 1/6th of the original site is exposed and preserved as part of the hotel's ground-floor level. The Arena, which means 'sand' in Latin, indicates the area where fights took place. It was surrounded by 25,000 seats. There are 7 preserved spectator seats at this location today. Here there are also the remains of the Gladiators' rooms, and the Eastern entrance for the chariots. There are some tiles with the original footprints of beasts that were dispatched in the area. A variety of beasts, such as wild cats, alligators, bears, and bulls all challenged men in the arena. To those with an interest in Roman history, this is another important site in Bulgaria that is easy to find (a 5-star hotel lobby!) and free. You may walk amongst the stones that tell their own story from thousands of years ago.

Visited January 2014
1 Thank Xplorer J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Papamoa, New Zealand
Level Contributor
21 reviews
17 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 10 helpful votes
Reviewed 15 September 2013

Hard to find.- down a little side street, in the centre of town, but fascinating when you get there.

Visited August 2013
1 Thank Barb L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Level Contributor
67 reviews
51 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 32 helpful votes
“Quick visit to see the ruins”
Reviewed 10 July 2013

Sofia is full of ancient Roman and other cultural ruins, and you can see some of them in the Arena Hotel. Apparently they found the ruins of an amphitheater when building the hotel and decided to preserve the ruins by building the hotel around the ruins and keeping them on display. You don't have to stay in the hotel to see the ruins. Just take the elevator down to the bottom level and walk around the old amphitheater. It's a pretty quick visit (<20 minutes) as there isn't much else to see, but it's a neat thing to experience.

You can also see ancient ruins under the Serdika metro stop and around the old city.

Visited June 2013
1 Thank TouristVisa
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Spokane, Washington, United States
Level Contributor
104 reviews
54 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 41 helpful votes
“What a treasure”
Reviewed 5 July 2013

The Metro is built in and around the amphitheater and the ruins are interesting. I am glad that they chose to do it in such a way that most of the ruins are exposed and free to visit.

Visited July 2013
1 Thank TnT_Ray2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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