After 17 Centuries, Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis Is Open Again

The ribbon-cutting took place on April 18, UNESCO World Heritage Day. Photo by 4K Studio

The Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis is welcoming visitors again.

Plovdiv Mayor Zdravko Dimitrov, US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa, America for Bulgaria Foundation President Nancy Schiller, and Bogomil Grozev, director of Ancient Plovdiv Institute, cut the ribbon on the fourth-century basilica on Sunday, April 18, UNESCO World Heritage Day.

US Ambassador to Bulgaria Herro Mustafa. Photo by 4K Studio

Due to the pandemic, the event was livestreamed online, and attendance was scaled down to include representatives of Plovdiv Municipality, ABF, and Ancient Plovdiv Institute.

Sunday’s ribbon-cutting was the culmination of a seven-year effort brought about through a public-private partnership between the America for Bulgaria Foundation, Plovdiv Municipality, and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture as well as the support of dozens of businesses and countless volunteers. This tribute video acknowledges the many individuals and organizations that helped bring this remarkable site back to life.

Zdravko Dimitrov, mayor of Plovdiv. Photo by 4K Studio

“Today is a day for gratitude to everyone who lent support and worked so that the Basilica would become an integral part of modern Plovdiv. Today we unveil a remarkable cultural center, which will undoubtedly become our city’s new major attraction,” said Mayor Dimitrov.

“This basilica is a crowning achievement in the efforts to preserve Bulgaria’s beautiful mosaics… We are proud that the United States has been investing in Bulgaria’s cultural heritage preservation for many years through the work of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation,” Ambassador Mustafa said.

ABF President Nancy Schiller. Photo by 4K Studio

“I first visited the Basilica site in 2015. I was told of the wonderful mosaics that lay hidden under layers of overgrown weeds, but I couldn’t imagine the richness of the ancient treasures… until mosaic restorer Elena Kantareva brought out a shovel and broom to reveal a colorful mosaic depicting a bird. In that moment, I became an enthusiastic supporter of the project and a frequent volunteer. I have often been joined by members of the America for Bulgaria Foundation team and its Board of Directors. This has truly been a community effort. Together, let’s make sure Bulgaria’s treasures are known the world over,” said ABF President Nancy Schiller.

The Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis. Photo by Anthony Georgieff

The Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis is the largest early Christian basilica found in Bulgaria. It was likely built at the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century, shortly after Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire. The first mosaic layer dates back to this period, with the second layer laid in the 5th century. In addition to the mosaics, a large stone inscription from the 3rd century was discovered, answering important questions about the pre-Christian history of the site.

Photo by Anthony Georgieff

The remains of the Basilica were discovered by accident during construction work in the 1980s. Due to a lack of funds, however, the Basilica was not fully uncovered and studied until the 2010s, when the America for Bulgaria Foundation threw its support behind the project.

The Bishop’s Basilica and the mosaic heritage of Philippopolis were included in the Tentative List of significant cultural and natural heritage sites of UNESCO in January 2018.

For more information about the Bishop’s Basilica Visitor Center, please visit the Basilica website or follow the Basilica on Facebook.

A glass model of the 4th-century basilica. Photo by Anthony Georgieff

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