Plovdiv Roman Stadium
The Ancient stadium in May 2012
|Founded||90s of I century AD|
|Excavation dates||1923, 1973 - 1977, 2004, 2006, 2010|
|Archaeologists||D. Tsontcheva, Liliya Botusharova, Maya Martinova-Kyutova|
The Stadium of Trimontium in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is among the largest structures from the time of the Ancient Rome in the Balkan peninsula. The facility, approximately 240 m (790 ft) m long and 50 m wide, could seat up to 30 000 spectators. Today, the northern curved part of the Stadium (sfendona) is partially restored and is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Plovdiv. The stadium is one of the many preserved buildings from the time of the Roman empire in Plovdiv. Other buildings of the ancient city of Trimontium are the best preserved Ancient Theatre on the Balkans; fragments of the Forum / Agora, an Odeon / Bouleuterion, fragments of two aqueducts, fortification walls, thermae, a large and a small basilica, a synagogue, residential buildings with some magnificent frescoes and many fragments of streets and buildings.
Today, the stadium is located in the centre of Plovdiv, under the main pedestrian street. Only the northern end of the edifice can be observed at Dzhumayata Square. The larger portion still lies beneath the buildings along the main street, running south from the visible part. Further excavation would be very difficult and costly.
In the past, it was situated in the Northern part of the fortified city surrounded by defensive walls, in the natural terrain between Taksim Tepe and Sahat Tepe.
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The Stadium of Trimontium was built in the beginning of the 2nd century AD during the reign Emperor Hadrian (117-138). The facility, approximately 240 m (790 ft) m long and 50 m wide, could seat up to 30 000 spectators. The length of the track is one stadion - 625 Roman steps or 600 Greek steps, or approx 180 m (590 ft).
The spectators seats are tiered in 14 rows, crossed by stepped aisles down to the track. The seats are made of solid marble blocks (40 cm high and 75 cm wide) and the front parts are decorated with stylized lion paws. The front part of the lowest row is revetted with massive marble 1.80 meters plates (orthostats), stepping on solid marble blocks. The seats from the highest row had backrests.
At Dzhumaya Square in Plovdiv is exhibited in situ the northern curved part of the Stadium (sfendona). Under the tiered rows of seats (cavea), a covered vaulted passage was found. It connected the track with a corridor dug in the terrain. The vault supported the royal seats above it. North of the corridor a section of the fortress wall built back in 90s of I century AD was found. It had undergone certain readjustments in 3rd and 4th century AD. In the 4th century AD this area was crossed by an ancient aqueduct.
Like the other imperial buildings for spectacular events, the Ancient Stadium of Trimontium had its seats of honour preserved by inscriptions in the marble blocks. Seats with Greek inscriptions were found, proving the existence of special seats for members of higher public position.
The main entrance to the Stadium is formed by masonry pillars decorated with marble pilasters and reliefs. On the pilasters there are busts of Hermes (hermai) with placed above them prize vases with palm sprays, accompanied by Hercules’ attributes – lion skin, a mace and a quiver.
The limiting walls of the cavea are built from cut granite stones, labelled with letters at some places. The architectural marble elements of the entrance and the orthostats on the front row were tied to each other with lead-soldered iron cramps. In front of the entrance a granite pavement was uncovered, consisting of hexagonal blocks – 0.70 by 0.70 m diagonally.
According to the epigraphic and numismatic monuments games similar to the Pythian Games in Greece were held in the town. To honour the visit of the Roman emperor Caracalla in 214 the games were called Alexandrian while the games for the visit of emperor Elagabalus in 218 were called Kedrisian Games.
The games were organised by the General Assembly of the province of Thrace. In their honour the royal mint of Trimontium coined money featuring the face of the ruling emperor as well as the types of athletic events held in the Ancient Stadium. A marble slab stone was found during the excavations of the sfendona proving that there were games celebrating the favourite man of emperor Hadrian – Antinous. The votive tablet dedicated to Antinous is exhibited in the Regional Archaeological Museum - Plovdiv.
Athletes competed in two categories of age – men and boys. Agonothetes (organisers of the sport events) presided over the games. The latter started with a contest for criers and buglers. Sporting events were usually accompanied by music, poetry and art contests.
Restoration and conservation
The Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis was discovered in 1923. The archaeological information concerning the stadium is mostly from the 1920s. More elaborate excavations were undertaken about half a century later by the archaeologist Liliya Botusharova. Parts of the sfentona (the curved part to the north), cavea (the seating area), a covered street and the ruins of an aqueduct were explored. A section of the defense wall was discovered as well. In 1976 conservation works were conducted resulting in concrete parapet belts surrounding the exhibiting openings of the ruins. A cafe was designed between the contemporary level and the ancient level of the Stadium.
In 1995 the Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis was listed as a cultural value of national significance. In 2010-2013, the area around the stadium was further renovated.
- The list of Circus (building), where the stadium of Philippopolis is referred to as Trimontium Roman circus. The relatively small size of the structure, which predicts its usage mainly for athletic games, however, suggests that it is more correct to consider it a stadium, than a circus.
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