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  • Writer's pictureStefan Ivanov

The city of Diocletian in the palm of your hand

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Dear friends of "Photo Moments", it is with great pleasure that I present to you the city of Diocletian as in the palm of your hand!


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
1:150 scale model of the city of Diocletian

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 mockup?


I will tell you everything and show you, but where do I start?


Our history today begins with the hot healing mineral springs that gushed in these same places thousands of years ago.

The Romans were well aware of the healing power of healing mineral springs, which is why not only Roman thermal baths (mineral baths - once ancient spa centers) but also sanctuaries of their (at that time) healing gods grew up nearby.

Roman city of Diocletianopol

Around the 1st century AD, Thrace was conquered by the Roman Empire and the small settlement named Auguste, which was located in this place - today's Hisaria, slowly began to take shape as a typical Roman city.


The settlement gradually became a road junction between Escus and Philippopolis (today's Plovdiv) - an important administrative center of the Roman Empire and with its area of 300 decares was the third largest after Philippopolis and Augusta Traiana (today's Stara Zagora).


Diocletianopolis (Hissaria Archaeological Museum)
Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisaria: Diocletianopolis

In 293, Emperor Diocletian spent some time here because of the same healing mineral springs that we know today.


Emperor Diocletian (Hisarya Archaeological Museum)
Sculpture of Emperor Diocletian - Hisarya Archaeological Museum

The emperor gave the settlement the status of a city, as well as its name - Diocletianopol (also known as Diocletianopolis).


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya

Thanks to its incredible mineral springs, Diocletianopol became one of the largest spa resorts of the Roman Empire at the time and flourished economically.

It was visited by Caesars and noble, prominent Romans.


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

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


In addition to its mineral springs, Diocletianopol is also supplied with cold water by means of a brick aqueduct. He brought fresh water from the north from the southern slopes of Mount Pogledets.


The water pipe has a rectangular section and is covered with plates. It passes through the northwest wall by means of a vaulted gallery. The aqueduct is double, the second being built over the east wall of the first after the first, which was larger, was damaged. Studies show that the aqueduct was built together with the construction of the fortress walls at the end of the 3rd century.


To protect it from enemy attacks, the ancient city of Diocletianopolis, rich in hot mineral springs, was surrounded by a massive fortress wall, built by the skilled hands of Thracian craftsmen.

The solid fortress wall has the shape of an irregular quadrangle, is 2,327 meters long, about 20 meters high in places and enclosing an area of 300 acres.

  • 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 eastern fortress wall is 654 meters long

The fortress wall was built at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian and is one of the best-preserved fortress walls from the Late Antiquity era in Europe. There are 44 battle towers along its length, the most interesting of which are the fan-shaped southeast corner tower and the northeast corner tower, which is octagonal on a circular base.


Due to the frequent attacks by barbarian tribes in the first half of the 5th century from the north, the city's defense was strengthened with a second fortress wall - Proteichism. For additional protection of the fortress, there was a moat and an earthen rampart around it.


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 have been destroyed almost to the ground.

In addition to the four main gates, the fortress city also had six smaller entrances.


In the 5th - 6th centuries, Diocletianopol 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 arose on the ruins of the Roman city, from which today's Hisaria developed.


The fortress is currently one of the best-preserved monuments of its type in Europe and is a major part of the Diocletianopol National Archaeological Reserve.

Emperor Diocletian

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

He is the only emperor who voluntarily retired!


Archaeological Museum of Hisarya: Diocletian Hall
Hall "Diocletian" of the Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisarya

Diocletian (real name Diocles) came from an ordinary Illyrian family in Dalmatia, his father was a freed slave laborer for a local landowner.

Not much is known about Diocletian's military career, except that he probably served in Mysia and rose to command the imperial personal guard.


Following the example of the Asian monarchical court in Sassanid Persia, Diocletian applied an official cult to the personality of the emperor, already called by the title "Dominus" (in Latin Dominus means lord).

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


In order to combat the enormous external and internal problems of the empire, Diocletian introduced in 293 the system of tetrarchy (four powers), in which two senior emperors (Augustus) and two sub-emperors (Caesars) respectively ruled one part of the empire, but the laws issue on behalf of the entire college.


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


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

Diocletianopol: model

Who, when and why made this unique model?

The model was made by Mr. Tono Mekikov from the city of Hisarya.


Quite by chance, I came across an interview of Mr. Mekikov with Darik from January 2010, which I am sharing here with you:


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


No such project has been implemented, but it is nice to have it. To see the wall in its present form is of little interest, but to see it in its grandeur when it was built is another!


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

I work with sketches. I stick to 1:150 scale. I have adopted this scale because there are 7 brick belts in the wall and for them he allocated about 2 mm and a smaller scale is out of the question.


I work with natural materials - stone, as the wall looked. The tweezers are really an essential tool, without it you can't do at the chosen scale. All small details - pebbles must be arranged carefully. It's freaking addicting! I remember looking at the clock on the phone one night and seeing that it was 3 in the morning. But if I set a goal of what I have to do during the day, it has to be done. The fact that it got dark doesn't matter.


For now, everything is in the details. Once assembled, it will require space - about 20 squares will be needed to assemble this thing. There is definitely no way to assemble the complete and final model in the atelier.


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 a lack of interest in the history of Hisarya. Everyone coming here is on other occasions. I see that fewer and fewer people are walking around the fortress. Whenever I pass by there, I admire it. But people apparently don't care about history.


I wish Hisaria today looks like it did years ago. To throw an egg, there is no place for it to fall from people. And more and more people attach importance to the history of the city!


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


Tourist information center - city of Hisarya

Double northern fortress wall

The northern fortress wall was the only double wall secured in this way due to frequent raids by barbarian tribes.

For additional protection of the fortress, there was a moat and an earthen rampart around it.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
The double northern fortress wall

On the photo I have shown the northwesternmost fortress battle tower and the double fortress wall.


Today, the foundations of the northwesternmost fortress battle tower, as well as the ruins of the double northern fortress wall, look like this.


The fortress wall of the ancient city of Diocletianopol in the city of Hisarya

Main North Gate

The North Gate has not at present stood the test of time, and only its foundations show us exactly where it stood.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Main northern fortress gate

Today, a marble plaque has been placed on the site where the main northern fortress gate once stood.


A marble plaque placed today on the site where the main northern fortress gate stood 1,700 years ago

Northeast Battle Tower

One of the most interesting of all 44 battle towers built at nodal points along the entire fortress wall is the north-east tower, located at the most north-east point of the fortress city.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
The only octagonal battle tower

Only it has an octagonal shape and is placed on two extensive round pedestals.

Compared to the quadrangular towers, the polygonal form provided greater resistance against the wall-breaking machines with which it was attacked.

Another advantage of towers with this shape lies in the availability of more manpower with weapons and equipment.


Today, the superstructure of the walls of the tower from its floor level has been preserved to about one meter and ten centimeters. The walls are built in the mixed masonry system of four rows of brick belts.


The ruins of the only octagonal battle tower today
The ruins of the only octagonal battle tower today
Western fortress wall

The length of the entire western fortress wall is 627 meters.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Western fortress wall

In the next photo moment, I have shown a fragment of the western fortress wall and the foundations of one of the western fortress battle towers.


Fragment of the western fortress wall and the foundations of one of the fortress battle towers of the ancient city of Diocletianopol (Diocletianopolis) in the city of Hisarya
The ruins of the western fortress wall today
Main West Gate

Today, Dimitar Blagoev Street passes under the majestic arch of the ruins of the main western fortress gate.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Main western fortress wall

In the next photo moment, I have shown how the perfectly well-preserved ruins of the main western gate look like.


Main western fortress gate of the ancient city of Diocletianopolis in the city of Hisarya
The main western fortress gate today
Southern fortress wall

As can be seen on the model, along the entire length of the fortress wall were the shaped passages (teeth, prongs), allowing the defenders to fire at the enemies below.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Southern rampart and main southern gate

In the next photo moment, I have shown a fragment of the southern fortress wall today.


Fragment of the southern fortress wall of the ancient city of Diocletianopol in the city of Hisarya

Main South Gate

When it was erected some 1,700 years ago, this huge gate towered an impressive 20 meters high. It represented a complex defense facility, ending in its upper part with battle platforms spread over three levels.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Main southern fortress gate

The gate consisted of two imposing arches, still preserved today, and above them it is said that there was a third smaller arch, probably with a purely decorative purpose. The gate was probably erected on this site after the substantial work of building the fortress walls surrounding the ancient fortress city was completed.


The main southern gate is depicted extremely correctly on the model, flanked by two battle towers on either side, between which it was possible for the defenders to quickly pass. The towers allowed lateral firing along the continuation of the walls on both sides of the massive structure.


Main southern fortress gate "The Camels" today
Main southern fortress gate "The Camels" today
Southeast Battle Keep

It is located in the most south-eastern point of the ancient city.


South-eastern fan-shaped fighting fortress tower

Today, the ruins of the beautiful fan-shaped battle tower look like this.


South-eastern fan-shaped fighting fortress tower

Barracks buildings

The Roman barracks were built in the second half of the IV century.


The barracks complex of ancient Diocletianopol
The barracks complex of ancient Diocletianopol

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.


The ruins of the barracks complex today
The ruins of the barracks complex today
Commercial building

Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Commercial building
Commercial building with shops

Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Commercial building with shops
Roman residential building

The Roman residential building with an open courtyard and colonnade is located near the southern fortress gate and covers an area of 2,637 square meters.


Roman residential building with an open courtyard and colonnade
Roman residential building with an open courtyard and colonnade

It is a typical representative of Roman civil architecture of the type of Italian town houses.


The ruins of a Roman residential building with an open courtyard and colonnade today
The ruins of a Roman residential building with an open courtyard and colonnade today

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.


The northward extension that the building later received
The northward extension that the building later received
Mineral spring

Today there are several springs within the boundaries of the ancient city of Diocletianopol - "Lady's Tear", "Toplitsa", "Bistrica" and "Svezhest".


A mineral spring gushing in the ancient city of Diocletianopol
A mineral spring gushing in the ancient city of Diocletianopol

The Roman baths were once built on top of the "Toplitsa" spring. It is amazing, but even today, warm mineral water from the spring continues to flow through the ancient pipelines.


Authentic Roman baths (thermae) in the city of Hisaria
The Roman Baths today

The entire urban architecture of ancient Diocletianopolis was centered around these springs. The most representative buildings of the Roman city were built here.


Roman amphitheater

The amphitheater is currently located in the Lily of the Valley park and was one of the most visited places in the Roman city.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Roman amphitheater

It was originally used to hold gladiator fights, but after the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313, its function was changed to a facility for sports competitions and animal fights.


The ruins of the Roman amphitheater today
The ruins of the Roman amphitheater today

An extremely interesting fact is that the amphitheater of Diocletian was built at the end of the 3rd century and is the latest known Roman amphitheater.


Roman Baths (Thermae)

The Roman baths in Hisaria are one of the few preserved Roman baths in Europe.


Authentic Roman baths (thermae) in the city of Hisaria
The Roman Baths today

Stored almost to the roof, they impress with their originality and authenticity.

They are located in the Lily of the Valley park and are part of the Roman residential complex, which covers an area of over 3,000 square meters.


Authentic Roman baths (thermae) in the city of Hisaria
The Roman Baths today

The baths were built in the second half of the 3rd century, and their original construction, together with the nymphaeum (sanctuary of the nymphs), dates from the middle of the 2nd century.


Public building

Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Public building
Early Christian basilicas

9 early Christian basilicas dating from the middle of the 5th century have been discovered and studied in Hisarya.



Today, only three of them are exposed and accessible to visit.

The basilicas in Hisarya reflect the overall development of early Christian basilica architecture.


Basilica No. 1 is located on the ruins of the barracks complex within the ancient city, west of the southern fortress gate, and is the only two-nave basilica with a three-sided apse known so far in Bulgaria.



The extreme southwestern building, after its second consecutive demolition, was rebuilt into a two-nave basilica - the only one known so far in Bulgaria.


The only basilica whose name can be confirmed to date is Basilica No. 3, dedicated to "Saint Stephen the First Martyr".

The basilica is located south of the main southern fortress gate.

The first archaeological research on it dates back to 1936.



It has three naves with a vestibule and a courtyard. The apse is semi-circular on the inside, and three-sided on the outside.


The ruins of Basilica No. 3 in the city of Hisarya
Basilica #3

The pre-abside part of the altar is separated from the nave by a partition, from which the decorative marble columns have been preserved. The supporting columns in the nave are masonry, with bricks on stone bases. During the excavations of the basilica, a tombstone of the priest Theodore was found, with an inscription in Greek, from which it is clear that, in addition to Theodore, his son John, whose relics rest in the vestibule of the temple, was previously buried there .


Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisarya: tombstone with an inscription in ancient Greek from Basilica #3 from the second half of the 4th century
Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisarya: tombstone with an inscription in ancient Greek from Basilica #3 from the second half of the 4th century

(As) a gift from God was transferred,

keeping God's commandments,

Theodore with bright memory;

And as he had to go to God

and had desired (to have) his eternal abode

in this honest home of the saint

glorious first martyr Stephen,

find solace here

of the month of October the third (day), indiction the seventh,

(after) sending before (yourself as)

pure incense

his own son, John,

the tread that rests in the vestibule

(of this temple)


Paleographic features of the inscription show that both burials took place in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 to 565.


Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisarya: a brick column from a basilica
Archaeological Museum of the city of Hisarya: a brick column from a basilica

Later, the basilica was burned during an enemy attack.


Basilica No. 8 is located between the colorful inscription HISARYA and the "Momina Banya Colonnade" water kiosk. The basilica has a semicircular apse, three naves with a vestibule and a baptistery (baptismal).



It is dated from the 5th century.


Imperial residence

The construction of the imperial residence dates back to the beginning of the IV century.


Model of Diocletian's Palace, made by Mr. Tono Mekikov, located in the Tourist Information Center of the city of Hisarya
Imperial residence

The Imperial Residence is the only Roman building in Hisaria that has preserved walls up to its second floor.

Currently, five large rooms with a massive vaulted structure have been revealed from the residence.


Ruins of the imperial residence in the city of Hisarya
The ruins of the imperial residence today

Its ruins can be seen today in the Lily of the Valley park.


Internal fortress stairs

Along the length of the fortress walls, in many places, the elevated internal fortress stairs (one- and two-armed) leading to the fighting paths, built on the fortress walls along their entire length, have been preserved even today.



The fighting paths were reached by a total of 16 masonry stairs. In structure they are mainly two-armed, but there are several single-armed ones and one internal, housed in the west pillar of the main south gate. The steps of the stairs for built entirely of bricks.



Four of the stairs are located on the south-west wall, six on the south-east and three each on the north-east and north-west.


Tourist Information Center - Hisarya is included in the itinerary:



You should not miss to enjoy a walk through the green and peaceful Hisarya.


The southern fortress gate "The Camels" of ancient Diocletianopol in the city of Hisarya
The southern fortress gate "The Camels" of ancient Diocletianopol in the city of Hisarya

Hisarya offers its guests diverse and impressive attractions, which I have summarized in the following great itinerary ideas that everyone can benefit from:




And as a finale, my dear friends,

you shouldn't miss a look

the special album with photo moments –

discovered, experienced, captured and shared with you!



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