Back in high school we briefly studied the Roman Empire. Having to draw and describe some of the battle gear is all I recall, otherwise the idea of empire and what that might mean was utterly remote and abstract.
At it’s height some 1500-1800 years ago, the Roman Empire controlled a huge expanse of territory including a big chunk of Europe and part of what is now the Middle East and North Africa.
Ancient empires have come and gone, most without much to show for their occupation of foreign lands. Not so with the Romans, it seems everywhere they went, they brought technology with them. Just think aqueducts, public baths, temples, amphitheatres, roads, tile mosaics, statues, and memorials. Oh, and Roman numerals!
We have watched a play seated in a Roman amphitheatre in Malaga, Spain, walked along Hadrian’s wall in the north of England, and around the Roman baths that gave Bath its name in the south of England. We explored Diocletian’s walled palace and military outpost in Split, Croatia. And we walked through numerous ancient Roman ruins in Rome itself, and made our way to the well preserved Roman holiday-getaway, Pompeii.
To now find evidence of Roman occupation and technology during our visit to Sophia, Bulgaria, is an unexpected treat. Numerous Roman villas were discovered here and documented during the Communist era. However, perhaps the most astounding find was just a few years ago when the city was digging up a square to extend the Metro subway line. It was a uniquely preserved section of the Roman highway known as “via militaris”. The stone road was built to connect Roman territories in the Middle East and North Africa with central Europe, and passed right through the then-named Serdica.
They also found the foundations for stores that faced this road, another road in behind, more building foundations, and the city gate itself. At another site nearby they found an amphitheatre and more building remains.
Visiting ancient sites brings history alive, and sure beats sitting at a desk copying pictures out of an encyclopedia!