Monday, April 18, 2011

Felix Romuliana

Moving past my antipathy for the subject of my last post and onto something of natural beauty: Gamzigrad. What a neat word, with both a's pronounced long and a rolled r it's like gahmzeegrahd.

Our first Eastern Serbia day trip took us to Zaječar, a town with about 60,000 inhabitants 2 hours by car from Nis. Zec (pronounced zehtz) means bunny rabbit in Serbian, and in a dialect mixing Serbian and Bulgarian, Zaječar means the man who watches after the bunnies, so slatko (sweet)! I just imagine this old man with a colony of hoppin' hares in his backyard. Zaječar is the birth city of three Roman emporers: Galerius, Maximinus, and Licinius for you classics scholars.

Zaječar pedestrian zone

Galerius leads us back to that cool word, for Gamzigrad is the archaeological site where Emperor Galerius built his palace: Felix Romuliana. Gamzigrad is a 20 minute drive from Zaječar and though Zaječar is very quaint and not built up, the drive to and Gamzigrad itself were beautifully natural and uninterrupted by man. The landscape, view, peacefulness, and untouched nature of Gamzigrad are all magnificent, but the remains of Felix Romuliana, a huge Roman palace, are the cherries on top.

Galerius was one of the Roman Tetrarchs and he created Felix Romuliana, named after his mother, Romula. Built in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, it was one of the most important late Roman sites. Galerius built two mausoleums and consecrational monuments, one for himself and one for his mother, on a hill near the palace in the shape of tumuli, mounds of earth that looked like ant hills from far away. Before his death Galerius had been raised to the status of Augustus (the guy who established the Roman Empire) which already is a high standing but the expert who talked to us said that upon his death, Galerius had become a god because the consecrational monuments are connected with apotheosis, the symbolic elevation to godly status.

Romuliana was plundered by the Huns in the 5th century and became a settlement of farmers and craftsmen until the arrival of the Slavs in the 7th century. To date there have only been a few excavations and not a single reconstruction of the remains. Most of the original mosaics were taken to the museum about Romuliana in Zajecar that we visited before coming to the actual site. But those that weren't are currently being preserved by a layer of sand, by orders of UNESCO, which our guide wasn't so pleased about.

Relatively recently, in 1953, researches suspected that it was an imperial palace and not a military camp as previously thought, and in 1984 archaeologists discovered a mosaic which confirmed this hypothesis.

It's so neat that since this area has been preserved and sectioned off from development, this view is probably similar to the one all those Romans were looking at centuries ago!

Romuliana's recent claim to fame was being a 2007 cultural site addition to the UNESCO World Heritage list and boy does it deserve to be there!

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