Emperor Trajan's glorious Ulpia

Nicopolis ad Nestum is the sole well-preserved Roman city in the Rhodope Mountains

Archaeologists uncovered part of the ancient city's forum, but quite a lot of area is still to be explored.

Nicopolis ad Nestum is just one of a number of ancient cities in Bulgaria, but in the Rhodope Mountains it is the sole well-preserved one from the Roman era. It is located in the south-western part of the country, near the modern city of Gotse Delchev. Built in 106 by Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victory over the Dacians, it came to replace a Thracian settlement of the Bessoi tribe. In Latin its name means Victory City on the Mesta River and it is one of only 10 cities entitled to bear the name of Trajan's father - Ulpius.

Relics of settlement in the region have been traced back to the Neolithic age. Fragments of votive tablets of the Thracian horseman, a statuette of Hermes, gold and silver coins, glass, bronze and ceramic vessels, providing evidence of the cults of Zeus, Pluto, Hermes, Asclepius and Hygeia, the water god Nestum, Ares and Dionysus, have been unearthed. Two early Christianity basilicas from the 4th century were also found near the fortified settlement.

The city is strategically located by the road connecting the Aegean coast with the main Roman road Via Egnatia through the Rhodope Mountains and quickly evolved into a link between Philippopolis and the northern Greek cities. Nicopolis thrived from the 2nd until the 6th century as an economic, political and cultural hub of the region.

Nicopolis bears the characteristics of the Roman urban style. Designed in the form of a grid, the city has two main streets crossing at right angle in its centre. It is enclosed by a thick fortress wall, constructed using a technique known to the Romans as Opus Mixtum - a pattern consisting of a layer of river rocks, bound by a mixture of white mortar and large pieces of crushed bricks, and four layers of bricks. Part of the wall has survived, but a lot of the stones have been taken by the locals and used in the construction of their houses.

In the south-eastern part of the city, a nobleman's villa was found featuring an enclosed court with a marble colonnade and a portico. A Roman bath was discovered close to the south town wall. Its design is of a provincial public bath with a hypocaust heating system. The excavations carried out over the years have unveiled four round towers on the south wall, two square towers at the southern gate, a V-shaped one on the western fortress wall and a rectangular one on the eastern.

At the end of the 6th century the city was reduced to rubble during Avars' and Slavs' invasions of the Balkans. It was rebuilt in the 9-10th century as Nicopol and continued to exist until the 13th century when it was finally destroyed in the Crusades. In the late medieval period, a Bulgarian village was built on part of the site, which was later replaced by a Turkish homestead.

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