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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

The city of Diocletian in the palm of your hand

My dear friends, in this travel blog journey I present to you the city of Diocletian in the palm of your hand!

Model of the city of Diocletian on a scale of 1:150

Wait, wait… who is Diocletian?

What is this city and what does it have to do with our beloved Hisarya?

And who made this huge and amazing model?

All right, all right ... I'll tell you and I'll show you everything.

From where to begin?

I'll start with the hot mineral springs! Exactly!

Our history begins with the hot healing mineral springs that flowed in these same places as they did thousands of years ago.

The Romans were well aware of the healing power of the hot mineral springs, so not only Roman baths (hot mineral baths) grew nearby, but also sanctuaries of their (at that time) gods-healers. Among the most revered deities of health and healing were Asclepius, his daughter Hygia, her brother Telesphorus, and the Three Nymphs, the goddesses of the springs.

For Asclepius

Asclepius (Greek: Ασκληπιός, Asclepios) in ancient Greek mythology was a god-healer. He is the son of Apollo and the nymph Coronida. The Romans knew him as Aesculapius.

Ancient Greek myths and legends say that Apollo killed the pregnant Coronida because of her infidelity, took her child and sent him to study with the centaur Chiron, from whom Asclepius learned the art of healing.

When he gained enough experience in healing, Athena Paladas gave him the blood that dripped from the Gorgon Medusa.

The blood of the Gorgons had magical powers - the one that dripped on the left side of the Gorgon brought death, and the one on the right, Asclepius used to save people.

He became famous as a prominent and skilled physician who even raised the dead. For this transgression, Zeus killed him with lightning forged by the Cyclops.

In revenge, the angry Apollo killed the Cyclops and was temporarily sentenced to serve the mortals.

The sanctuaries dedicated to this ancient Greek god are called asclepions.

The most famous sanctuary of Asclepius in ancient Greece is located in Epidaurus (northeastern Peloponnese), where people from all over Greece flock for healing.

A large asclepius was discovered in Ancient Pautalia, today's Kyustendil, remains of similar sanctuaries have been discovered elsewhere in Bulgaria.

Most often Asclepius is depicted as a bearded man, in his prime, a bit like Zeus. An invariable attribute of Asclepius was the scepter around which was wrapped a serpent.

The sons of Asclepius by his wife Epion were Podalirius, Telesphorus, and Mahaon. Asclepius also had five daughters - the goddesses Hygia (purity), Panacea (healer), Yaso (healing), Aglaia and Akeso.

About Hygia

Hygia (Greek: Ὑγιεία or Ὑγεία, Latin: Hygēa or Hygīa) in ancient Greek mythology, the Roman equivalent of Salus, was the daughter of Asclepius.

She is the goddess of health, cleanliness and hygiene, and plays an important role in the cult of her father. While her father is more directly associated with treatment, she is more concerned with preventing disease and maintaining good health.

She is often portrayed as a young woman feeding on a large snake wrapped around her body. Sometimes the snake drinks from a vessel it carries.

Hygia is accompanied by her brother Telesphorus, and her name is at the heart of the word hygiene.

About Telesphorus

Telesphorus (from Greek: Τελεσφόρος or bearing ending) in ancient Greek and Thracian mythology is the son of Asclepius. He often accompanies his sister Hygia.

He is depicted as a teenager in a hooded cloak.

Symbolizes recovery from illness.

For the three nymphs

According to Greek mythology, their names were Caliphea, Cinelaxis and Pegaya, but for those seeking their help, they were simply the three good nymphs, patrons of healing springs, healers of healing and health.

About the Roman city of Diocletianopolis

Around the first century, Thrace was conquered by the Roman Empire and the small settlement that was located on this place - today's Hisarya, was formed as a typical Roman city. Gradually it became a road junction between Escus and Philippopolis - an important administrative center of the Roman Empire and with its area of ​​300 acres was the third largest after Philippopolis and Augusta Trayana (on the site of today's Stara Zagora).

In 293, Emperor Diocletian spent some time here because of the same healing mineral springs known to us today, and so the city was named Diocletian in his honor.

Thanks to its incredible mineral springs, Diocletianopolis became one of the largest resorts at the time of the Roman Empire and prospered economically. It was visited by Caesars and noble, prominent Romans.

Diocletian was built according to all the requirements of Roman urban planning - with wide and straight streets (in its center intersected at right angles two main streets, parallel to them passed the secondary), decorated with statues of gods; with marble bathrooms and plumbing; with beautiful palaces and villas for the Roman aristocracy; with amphitheater for entertainment.

A water supply and sewerage network was built under the streets.

To protect it from enemy attacks, the city was surrounded by a fortress, a massive wall built by the skillful hands of Thracian masters. The wall is built of mixed masonry with belts of four rows of bricks welded with mortar.

The thickness of the walls varied from two and a half to four meters, and together with the railing and ridges was 12.5 meters high.

Today, the original remains of the fortress reach in places up to seven meters in height.

The fortress city had 44 towers, 4 main gates and 6 smaller entrances.

The western and southern entrances are best preserved today.

The north wall was double due to frequent attacks by barbarian tribes. For additional protection of the fortress, there was a moat and an earthen rampart around it.

The total length of the fortress wall is 2,327 meters.

The northern fortress wall is 490 meters long.

The western fortress wall is 627 meters long.

The southern fortress wall is 556 meters long.

The whole fortress city covered an area of ​​30 hectares.

In the V - VI century Diocletian became part of the possessions of the Byzantine Empire.

At the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century, the city was destroyed by the invasion of the Avars.

In the early Middle Ages (around the 9th century) a settlement appeared on the ruins of the Roman city, from which today's Hisarya developed.

Currently, the fortress is one of the best preserved monuments of this type in Eastern Europe and is a major part of the national archaeological reserve "Diocletian".

Who is Emperor Diocletian?

Diocletian (his full name is (Latin) Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus) was the 51st emperor of the Roman Empire.

He was the only emperor to resign voluntarily.

Diocletian comes from an ordinary Illyrian family in Dalmatia, his father was a freed slave laborer with a local landowner.

Not much is known about Diocletian's military career, except that he probably served in Moesia and rose to the rank of commander of the Imperial Personal Guard.

Following the example of the Asian monarchical court in Sassanid Persia, Diocletian applied an official cult of personality to the emperor, now called the "Dominus" (Latin: Dominus means Lord).

The powers of the master unite the functions of supreme commander-in-chief, supreme judge, sole legislator, protector of the state religious cult - theoretically unlimited power.

To combat the great external and internal problems of the empire, Diocletian introduced in 293 the system of tetrarchy ("quadruple"), in which two senior emperors (Augustus) and two sub-emperors (Caesars) ruled one part of the empire, respectively, but laws are issued on behalf of the entire college.

Each emperor has his own armies, residences, headquarters, prefects and bureaucracy. In connection with this, the number of civil servants has significantly increased, the administrative organization is becoming more complicated, and numerous new positions are being created.

Diocletian lived to 311, when he probably ended his life by poison himself, fearing that the new Augustus Constantine and Licinius were preparing a public trial against him.

Who made this unique model and when and why did it happen?

The model was made by Mr. Tono Mekikov from Hisarya.

By the time I preparing this travel blog journey, I came across an interview of Mr. Mekikov with Darik radio from January 2010.

Here is what he says:

I would like to recreate the fortress in its original form on a model and to be seen from a bird's eye view, because there are people who come to Hisarya and do not have the opportunity to go around the whole wall."

No such project has been implemented, but it is good to have it. To see the wall in its current form is not of much interest, but to see how it was in its majesty when it was made is another matter!

I started the project about a year ago and now 1/3 of the work is done. The easier things are ahead. I hope to be ready in another year.

I work with sketches. I stick to a scale of 1:150. I have accepted this scale, because there are 7 brick belts in the wall and he has set aside about 2 mm for them, and there can be no question of a smaller scale.

I work with natural materials - stone, as the wall looked. Tweezers are really a basic tool, without it you can't do it at the chosen scale. All small details - pebbles should be arranged carefully. It's terribly fascinating! I remember one night looking at my watch on the phone and seeing that it was 3 o'clock at night. But you set a goal of what I have to do during the day, it has to be done. It doesn't matter that it's getting dark.

So far, everything is in detail. As soon as it starts to be assembled, it will require space - about 20 square meters will be needed to assemble this thing. Definitely in the studio there is no way to assemble the complete and final model.

The materials I use are entirely a gift from nature. Natural materials have been forgotten lately.

Hisarya is the third largest fortress in Thrace, but there is no interest in the history of Hisarya. Everyone who comes here is on other occasions. I see less and less people walking around the fortress. Whenever I pass by, I admire it. But people obviously don't care about history.

I want Hisarya to look like it did years ago today. If I throw an egg, to have nowhere to fall from people. And more and more people to pay attention to the history of the city!

The model of the city-fortress Diocletianopolis of Mr. Tono Mekikov is exhibited in the Tourist Information Center of Hisarya, where you can still see it live.


Barracks buildings

Roman barracks were built in the second half of the IV century. They are located on both sides of the southern fortress gate (the Camels), along the entire length of the southern fortress wall, as well as in one of the parts of the eastern fortress wall. An army of about 600 people was stationed in the barracks on a permanent garrison.

Commercial building

Commercial building with shops

Roman residential building with open courtyard and colonnade

It is located near the southern fortress gate and covers an area of 2637 sq.m. It is a typical representative of Roman civil architecture such as Italian townhouses. It was built in the second half of the 4th century, and in the middle of the 5th century it was destroyed by the Huns, after which it was rebuilt and expanded to the north.

Mineral spring (named "Momina salza" today)

The water from the "Momina salza" spring is slightly mineralized and is used to treat gastrointestinal diseases. The water temperature is 42 degrees. The entire urban architecture of Diocletian was concentrated around this spring. The most representative buildings of the Roman city were built here.

Roman amphitheater

Currently located in Momina salza Park, the amphitheater was one of the most visited places in the Roman city. It was originally used for gladiatorial wrestling, but after the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire in 313, its function was changed to a facility for sports competitions and animal wrestling. The Diocletian's Amphitheater was built at the end of the 3rd century and is the latest known Roman amphitheater.

Roman baths (Roman termi)

The Roman baths in Hisarya are one of the few preserved Roman baths in Europe. Preserved almost to the roof, they impress with their originality and authenticity. They are located in the park "Momina salza" and are part of the Roman residential complex, which covers an area of ​​over 3000 square meters. The baths were built in the second half of the III century. dates from the middle of the II century.

Public building

Early Christian basilicas

9 early Christian basilicas dating from the middle of the 5th century have been discovered and studied in Hissarya. Only 3 of them are exposed and available for visiting. The basilicas in Hissarya reflect the overall development of early Christian basilica architecture.

Basilica № 1 is located west of the southern fortress gate and is the only known so far in Bulgaria two-nave basilica with a three-sided apse.

Emperor's residence

It is located in Momina Salza Park and its construction dates back to the beginning of the 4th century. 5 large rooms with a massive vaulted structure have been discovered. The Imperial Residence is the only Roman building in Hisarya that has preserved walls up to its second floor.

The late Roman family tomb is located 300 meters southwest of the archeological reserve. It can be reached along a pedestrian alley south of the Momina Salza mineral spring. The tomb can be reached by vehicle on a bypass road at the entrance to the town of Hisarya from the direction of Plovdiv. The tomb was built in the second half of the IV century. A total of 3 tombs have been discovered on the territory of Hisarya municipality, but this one is the most beautifully decorated and with the most interesting architecture. It is believed that the tomb was intended for the family of a noble slave owner. It consists of a long staircase corridor and a burial chamber, which is a rectangular room, in the walls of which are built six niches of ritual significance. The chamber is painted with frescoes, and the floor is decorated with colorful mosaic. This is the only Roman tomb with floor mosaic, discovered so far in Bulgaria.

Roman fortress and the south gate "The Camels"

The ancient city of Diocletian, rich in mineral springs, was surrounded by a solid fortress wall in the shape of an irregular quadrangle, 2327 meters long, in places about 20 meters high and enclosing an area of ​​300 acres. It was built in the late III and early IV century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and is one of the best preserved fortress walls from the era of late antiquity in Europe. There are 44 battle towers along its entire length, and the most interesting of them are the southeast corner tower with a fan-shaped shape and the northeast corner tower, which is octagonal on a round base. In the first half of the 5th century, the defense of the city on the northern side was strengthened by a second fortress wall - proteicism. The entrance to the ancient city was through four large gates - one gate on each side of the fortress wall. The northern and eastern ones were destroyed almost to the ground. The southern fortress gate is the main entrance to the Roman city of Diocletian. In its original form, it rose to a height of about 20 meters. And later, in this place in 1882 Ivan Vazov wrote his famous poem "Fatherland kind, how beautiful you are!" The southern gate, known as the "Camels", is the symbol of the modern spa resort of Hisarya.

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