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Feature 01 Aug 17

Roman Tombs Vanish Under Hyatt Hotel in Bulgaria

Construction of a luxury hotel is continuing in Sofia despite the discovery that the site covers part of an ancient Roman necropolis.

Mariya Cheresheva
The newly discovered tomb at the Hyatt construction site (to the left). Photo: BIRN

Work was in full swing at the building site of the first Hyatt hotel in Bulgaria, in the centre of the capital, Sofia, on Monday.

While numerous machines laid concrete and strengthened the foundations of the future 190-room five-star hotel, a team of archaeologists with an excavator was carefully digging a rare find out of the ground.

They recently discovered an ancient Roman tomb – part of the eastern side of the necropolis of the Roman city of Serdica, which lies under Bulgaria’s capital – which could soon be buried under the luxury new hotel.

The same fate has already befallen six other tombs discovered at the construction site in April.

Tombs discovered at the Hyatt construction site in May. Photo: N/A

They were recently covered up by the construction company, Tera Tour Service, sparkling public outrage.

Pictures of the ‘’burial’’ of the ancient remains flooded social networks, drawing calls for the resignations of the authorities.

The Inspectorate for Preservation of the Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture of Bulgaria confirmed to BIRN that following archaeological research, the site was “freed for construction”.

It added that the investor then encountered a new tomb, which is currently being uncovered by archaeologists and about which they immediately informed the authorities.

The project for the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Sofia. Photo: hyatt.com

“We have researched almost eight tombs, all of them with half-cylindrical arches, with different sizes, containing over 112 single graves,” Polina Stoyanova co-leader of the archaeological salvation team, told BIRN.

She explained that all of the remains were damaged when the former Serdica cinema was built in the 1950s. It was demolished in July, opening up the space for the Hyatt Regency hotel, which is set to open in 2018.

“All the tombs we have discovered were flattened to the level needed for the construction of the cinema, so none of the arches were completely preserved,” Stoyanova added.

The archaeologist explained that the Ministry of Culture, which holds the rights to determine the fate of excavations, as state public property, issued a conservation order for one of the tombs.

The tomb which will be conserved according to an order by the Ministry of Culture. Photo: BIRN

This will be moved out of the construction site and exposed at a suitable place.

Large parts of the centre of Bulgaria’s capital lie above the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ulpia Serdica, which flourished between the 1st and 6th centuries AD.

Parts of the ancient city have been revealed. In 2016, the second government of current Prime Minister Boyko Borissov opened the Ancient Serdica complex in the heart of the city, which forms the largest open-air museum in Bulgaria.

Among the most important attractions of ancient Serdica are Decumanus Maximus, the main road of the Roman city, as well as the amphitheatre, one of the largest in the Eastern Roman Empire.

The amphitheatre was discovered by accident in 2004 during the construction of another high-end hotel in central Sofia, which is currently named Arena di Serdica and has parts of the archaeological remains exposed in its lobby.

The necropolis of Serdica occupies large parts of Sofia’s downtown, including the space under the building the National Assembly and the area of the Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Sofia University.

Remains of the ancient burial area can be seen exposed in the St Sofia Basilica.

The remains discovered at the Hyatt construction site are located at the further eastern periphery of this necropolis, formed between the second and third centuries AD, where the tombs are of a lower density, Simeonova explained.

Asked whether they could be preserved and exposed at the site of Hyatt, she said she supported such an option but the decision was not hers to take.

“Unfortunately it does not depend on us ... If the state so orders, the investor could be obliged by law to build the remains into the construction, but public access will have to be allowed,” the archaeologist said.

“Not every investor would want to allow such access, however, and it will not be easy. It also depends on the type of the archaeological find,” she added.

BIRN asked Tera Tour Service, the company carrying out the investment project, to comment, but not response was obtained by the time of publication. 

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