City hidden under a city

Archaeologists excavate the remains of ancient Bononia

Photo: BTA Archaeologists explore the ruins of ancient Bononia, hidden underneath the modern town of Vidin.

Underneath the city centre of Vidin, in the north west of Bulgaria, lie the barely explored remains of the ancient Roman city of Bononia. It was not until this year that archaeologists started to excavate at least a small part of that valuable piece of ancient history. More specifically, the excavations have been focused on studying the so-called Tower No 8, located on the western fortress wall of Bononia.

What experts have been able to uncover in just a month's work is remarkable - the tower is 30 metres in diameter, with walls reaching four metres in thickness. These findings confirm the thesis that Bononia used to be among the strongest Roman fortresses along the Danubian Limes, built to protect the empire from barbarian incursions from the north. Researchers and the Municipality of Vidin hope to continue and expand explorations of the site, gradually creating a large, in situ archaeological complex in downtown Vidin.

At least from a scientific standpoint, these plans seem perfectly feasible, as the fortified area of ancient Bononia alone spreads over 200 decares (200,000 sq m), while the cultural layers are buried very deep into the ground underneath the foundations of the modern city, perhaps fortunately so because that kept treasure hunters away.

Archaeologists hope to conserve the western gate of the city together with parts of the fortress wall, the tallest preserved remains of which stand at two metres high, and put them on show as tourist attractions. The excavations over the past month have discovered various intriguing artefacts - ceramic vessels, ceramic incense-pipes, coins, iron items. There are finds dating back to the era of the late Roman Empire as well as to the Bulgarian medieval period, which is a testimony to the continuity in the city.

Located on the high right bank of the Danube river, Bononia was founded in late 1st and early 2nd century AD as a stronghold and a travel station in the Roman province of Moesia. It is believed that the place hosted an auxiliary military unit tasked with building the Danube road. In 2nd-3rd century, the city was thriving, its harbour serving the Roman battle and commercial fleet in the Danube river.

At the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th, Bononia boasted an impressive fortification system, which earned it a place among the major city hubs of the empire. The settlement is shaped like a rectangle, with the longer sides pointing north-south. The northern wall is about 360 metres long, while the western - about 600, with as many as nine round towers found so far, ranging from 19 to 30 metres in diameter.

Ancient Bononia was conquered and devastated by the Avars in the 6th century; a medieval Bulgarian fortress was later built on the same site and actively used during the First and Second Bulgarian Kingdoms, gaining particular significance at the end of the 14th century. The fortress played a key role during the Ottoman rule - used not only as a defence fortpost but also as a military storage facility and a prison. Today, this is the only entirely preserved fortress in Bulgaria, known simply as Baba Vida.

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