Imagine you are standing on a wide-open field. The air is crisp; birds are chirping away nearby. Take 36 steps going in a straight line. Stop and turn to the right. Look ahead and take another 83 steps. You have just outlined the dimensions of the Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis (which can fit almost three basketball courts), and you are about to embark on a guided audio tour of the site’s twenty centuries of dramatic history with a new podcast series launched in August 2019.
The series will introduce you to the largest early Christian church found in Bulgaria and its 20,000 sq.ft. of mosaic floors depicting more than 100 birds and intricate geometric shapes—one of the richest collections of ancient mosaics surviving to this day. The Basilica was built shortly after Christianity was legalized in the 4th century, and judging by its size and rich decoration, it was meant to impress as well as to signal the beginning of a new religious and political era. Although it lay in ruins by the 7th century, during its existence, the Basilica was an important place for the local community as well as for worshippers from throughout the Roman Empire.
The exciting history does not end with the Basilica period of the site. The place witnessed the rise and fall of one of the world’s greatest empires, the birth of a new religion (and became one of its important centers), great migrations of people, and warfare as well as peaceful coexistence and cultural exchange between them. It has therefore become a symbol of continuity between generations and cultures. In 2020, the Basilica site will get a new lease on life thanks to a careful restoration of its mosaics and the construction of a Visitor Center to house and display them.
The Basilica podcast series goes beyond the grand sweep of history and presents the stories of ordinary humans whose lives became intertwined with the history of the Basilica, whether they were mosaic makers, ministers, or worshippers. Listeners will also explore some of the mysteries that still puzzle the experts such as: Why did a verb meaning “to create mosaics” exist only in Philippopolis? A bishop’s name has been partially preserved in the Basilica ruins. Who was he? Do we owe him the Basilica’s ornate decorations? And most importantly, why do the mosaics feature so many birds?
The podcast series is available in both Bulgarian and English on: