Jewish Heritage Europe

Bulgaria: ancient synagogue mosaic restored & displayed

Screen grab of the mosaic from the Plovdiv Archaeology Museum web site.

A floor mosaic dating from an ancient Roman-era synagogue in Plovdiv, Bulgaria has been restored and is now displayed by the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology. It is the first time that the restored mosaic — which shows an ornate menorah, a lulav and inscriptions — has been put on permanent display to the public. The display also shows a picture reconstructing the synagogue and a drawing of the mosaic floors.

The Archaeology in Bulgaria web site writes:

The mosaics, which are made with red, orange, green, black, and white stones, have never been shown to the public before, and this is the first time they can be seen in a form that is as close their original as possible. [….] A four-line inscription in Greek names the donors of the synagogue, Isaac and Joseph, and says they were representatives of the large Jewish community in the ancient city. 


The restored mosaic also formed part of The Fragility of Tolerance, a recent exhibition on Jewish history in Bulgaria that was mounted at the National History Museum in Sofia.

Mosaic poster

Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, is an ancient settlement, known in antiquity as Philippopolis or Trimontsium. It has long been a key link in trading routes connecting Europe to the Middle East, and there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the town since at least the Byzantine era.

The remains of the ancient synagogue were discovered by archaeologist Elena Kisyakova during archaeological excavations in 1981 near the Central Post Office. It is believed to date from the  second or third century CE.

The site lay in a lower-status residential complex, within the old walled city of Philippopolis, and not far from a group of ancient baths and a basilica. Only the substructure and a few upper parts, with traces of later reconstruction, have been preserved. The synagogue was 13.5 metres long and basilican in form, with a central nave 9 metres wide and aisles each 2.6 metres wide. The building faced south to Jerusalem, with the forecourt to the north, facing the easternmost north-south street of the city.

Two floor-levels were excavated, and three high-quality mosaics, each about 3-3.8 metres square, were found in the central nave of the building. The middle panel is the one that depicts a menorah and lulav, with a donor’s inscription; the side ones contained an inscription in Greek.

The synagogue appears to have been demolished and restored on two subsequent occasions: first during the Gothic invasions, and again, during Christian persecution at the beginning of the fifth century. As part of this second reconstruction, a new mosaic with 5th- or 6th-century Byzantine geometric and floral patterns was laid over the earlier one.

See more details and photos at the Archaeology in Bulgaria web site





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