UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers 2017


WHV - RATIARIA SEMPER FLOREAT (Latin: Ratiaria will flourish forever)

Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria, Bulgaria

Site inscribed on a tentative list since 2016

12/08/2017 – 26/08/2017

WHV patrimonio

The Roman city Ratiaria is part of the The Danube Limes in Bulgaria. The Roman frontier system in Bulgaria consisted of a chain of fortifications along the south bank of the river Danube. Along the course of the river line lay four legionary fortresses (RATIARIA, OESCUS, NOVAE, DUROSTORUM) and many forts and watch-towers, 46 of which have been precisely identified on the ground until present.

Project objectives:

To help for the protection of the cultural site by cleaning, documenting and promoting of the preserved archaeological and architectural structures. To involve the local communities into the preservation actions and to provoke better understanding of the cultural heritage as part of the national history and regional development. To provoke future actions on protection of the site by involving the international attention through the assistance of the young people from all over the world. To help to the local authorities to elaborate and develop appropriate project for preservation and socialization of the cultural monument.

Project activities:

Site preservation activities: taking care for the ancient buildings, cleaning architectural and archaeological remains. Field conservation (stabilization) and protection of the old buildings and structures. Archaeological and geodetic documentation. Seminars and daily talks. Promotion of the Public collection in Dimovo. Organizing a new exposition presenting the results of the action camp.


Vidin Historical Museum, Municipality of Dimovo

Bulgarian Archaeological Association

Krassimira Luka


The Roman city of Ratiaria
The Balkan peninsula in Roman ages and the location of Ratiaria

The Balkan peninsula in Roman ages and the location of Ratiaria

Situational plan of Ratiaria

Situational plan of Ratiaria

The ancient city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria is the most important Roman and Byzantine center of the lower Danube in today’s northwestern Bulgaria, in Vidin district, near the village of Archar. Ratiaria was founded in the 1st century AD as a military camp around which a civil settlement grew up. Ratiaria must have been a very spectacular place – one of the largest Roman cities in the Balkans covering the area of ca 35 hectares, a major military encampment, the capital of a Roman province, and all of that situated on hills overlooking the spot of a Danube curve. During the 2nd – 3rd century Ratsiaria was a prospering town with Romanized population and autonomous government, organized according to the Roman model. The city has grown and became a lively harbor center and through which a big part of the transit commerce has been done. Ratiaria grew as a craft center, as well as an agricultural one and later into the episcopal seat.

Although Ratiaria is one the biggest and most representative ancient towns in Bulgaria it is unfortunately in extremely bad conditions. Remains of Ratiaria site are located in the locality of Kaleto on the northern outskirts of the Archar village, district of Vidin, near the Danube. Two major thoroughfares were running through Ratiaria in antiquity: Via Danubiana (Danube route) and the way to the Adriatic, which provide the fastest connection from Rome to the Danube frontier. As an important cultural and historical value Ratiaria could be compared to cities like Serdica (modern Sofia), Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near the village of Nikyup, district of Veliko Tarnovo), Ulpia Oescus (Municipality of Gulyantsi, district of Pleven, to the mouth of the Iskar River), Viminacium and Singidunum sites – in present day Serbia.

Archaeological excavations and research of Ratiaria started in 1958 under the leadership of Velizar Velkov and continued in 1991. The eastern gate of the city, parts of the eastern wall, impressive structures interpreted as the residence of the Governor of Dacia Ripensis Province have been revealed, explored, restored and preserved. Recent studies show that the city of Ratiaria was founded at the beginning of 1st century or earlier, as a military camp of IVth Flavian and VIIth Claudius Legions.

According to Dio Cassius (Cass.Dio, LI 23, 2-27) in 29 BC Marcus Licinius Crassus came to the lands of Moesia, where he besieged and captured the strongest Moesian fortress, for which is supposed that is developed into the future Ratiaria. During the 2nd century Ratiaria was mentioned by Claudius Ptolemy as “Ratiaria Moesian” (Ptolem., III, 9, 3), in the 3rd century as Ratiaria – head of the XIII Double Twin Legion (Gemina), and in the 4th century the name Ratiaris was noted in the famous Tabula Peutingeriana, created after the pattern in second half of the 2nd century (Libya 1958, 15, 22, 31). Ratiaria becomes a starting point for military expansion in Dacia under the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). After the second Dacian war in 106 AD the emperor founded 5 colonies, one of which was Ratiaria. Colonies were cities with the highest degree of autonomy, each of them was built as a copy of Rome. The full name of the city – Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria was written on an inscription dated in 125 AD (CIL, III, 14 499). In the 2nd-3rd century Ratiaria became the center of a large urban area and reached high economic boom and flowering of cultural. Undoubtedly, its port had important communicative significance. The Roman river military fleet base was located here. In the first half of the 5th century Ratiaria was still a major center with a large population, however in the 40ties of the 5th century it was sacked by the Huns. Under Anastasius I (491-518) restoration operations were carried out and the town received a new name Anastasiana Ratiaria. It seems the overrunning of the town in 586 by the Avars led to the end of its existence.

Latin inscription found at the Western gate of the city: ANASTASIANA RATIARIA SEMPER FLOREAT

Latin inscription found at the Western gate of the city: ANASTASIANA RATIARIA SEMPER FLOREAT

The name “Ratiaria” could be interpreted as derive from “ratis” – type of vessels. Observations on the riverbanks of the Danube and reporting the changes in its configuration allow the ancient port to be localized next to the locality of Kaleto, i.e. north of the city fortress. A customs there was in Ratiaria also (Portorium Illyricum). Between 2nd-3rd centuries the town was defined as the commercial center (emporion) of the district. After 272, Ratiara became the main town of the Coastal Dacia province. The military and administrative governors of the province stayed at Ratiaria. The remains of a monumental building of Ratiaria are interpreted as the residence of the governor of the Dacia Ripenis Province. In 2010 in the surroundings of the town was found an inscription of Aurelius Priscus – dux Daciae Ripensis (governor of Coastal Dacia). This is the second dux of the province of the three known until now, recorded in the inscription.

In the 4th century Ratiaria was an episcopal center. The names of its bishops are known from written sources. One of them was Sylvester, who was involved in the famous Serdekiyski council in 343 AD, and another one was Palladius who was a famous theorist and defender of Arianism. To 1991 a very small part of Ratiaria was archaeologically axcavated. The most impressive monumental structures and facilities are not-yet explored. For example, an aerial photograph of the city shows that in Ratiaria were the greatest bath structures (termi of imperial type) in the Balkans. The amphitheater of the city was localized during the rescue excavations between 2009-2011. Findings of strigils suggest that the city has had a Stadium. In 2011 was revealed and part of the main street (decumdnus maximus), whose position indicates that the area occupied by Ratiaria was twice bigger than assumed until now. There is evidence that in Ratiaria had operated a gold mine and there was a goldsmith school. Archaeologists have found more than 50 different types of gold and silver jewelry – more than any other archaeological site in Bulgaria. Gold treasure was discovered in 1986. The exhibition “Gold of Ratiaria” provoked an extremely high public interest. For the time between the 4th-5th century Ratiaria is known as one of the largest manufacturers of weapons according to descriptions of travel notes. Here was one of the sixth imperial armory.

Marble statues and inscriptions found in Ratiaria
Marble statues and inscriptions found in Ratiaria
Marble statues and inscriptions found in Ratiaria

Marble statues and inscriptions found in Ratiaria

Brilliant culture of Ratiaria is visible in the rich ornamented sarcophagi, statues, sculptures, various decorated gravestones as well as architectural fragments, and luxurious private houses with colorful mosaics. Recent findings (monumental architectural decorations) indicate that public architecture of Ratiaria was more monumental and more abundant than those in Oescus, Nove and Durostorum. The sculptural monuments from Ratiaria are very delicate, distinguished by high artistic quality and show well developed and advanced school. Many of the bronze and stone statues coming from Ratiaria, reproduced classic originals of Poliklet, Preksitel or Lizip. Adding significant number of preserved works, which was not testified elsewhere in Northern Bulgaria we understand how great was the importance of Ratiaria as artistic center.

The critical condition of Ratiaria

Critical condition of the archaeological site of Ratiaria and challenges to its preservation came from the lack of any action since the last archaeological excavations in 1991. The archaeological site of Ratiara is an example of an inadequate government policy and lack of foresight on the need for development of the cultural site as a factor for economic prosperity. Ratiaria became one of the main targets of treasure-hunter intervention and antiquities trafficking over the past 20 years instead to be excavated by archaeologists and seriously preserved by country, and it still remains the most damaged archaeological site in Europe. The history of the destruction by the treasure hunters of Ratiaria is very simple, in fact, the destruction came about result of the 18 years of absence of any government approved archaeological or historical studies of Ratiaria.

The critical condition of Ratiaria

In 2009 the Bulgarian Archaeological Association (BAA) started campaign: “Help to preserve the biggest archaeological site in Northern Bulgaria – Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria”. More than 700 scientists from all over the world supported the petition for saving Ratiaria. Materials about the cultural catastrophe in Bulgaria were published in “Current World Archaeology”, “Past Horizons”, “Rescue. British Archaeological Trust”, "Ancient Planet", Associated Press, etc. Thanks to the efforts of the organization and our partners “The case Ratiaria” was included in the international report “Heritage in risk. World report 2011-2013 on monuments and site in danger”.

Thanks to the efforts of BAA so far from the site were saved more than one thousand archaeological artifacts, seventeen Latin inscriptions, many architectural remains, etc. In 2011 was discovered the well preserved main street of the city (decumanus maximus) proving that the town is not completely destroyed by the treasure hunters. These discoveries ensured a state funding and since 2013 the archaeological excavations in Ratiaria were renewed. In 2014 the BAA succeeded to publish the scientific results of its activities in the first volume of the book "Ratiaria Semper Floreat".

The most important meaning of the site however is the breaking of the system which recently allows using the cultural monuments as a source of treasures and personal benefit. “Ratiaria” is a representative site concerning the monument protection in Bulgaria. Resolving “the case Ratiaria” will follow the change of system and important legislative amendments in Bulgaria.

The main street of Ratiaria (decumanus maximus) in the time of its discovery

The main street of Ratiaria (decumanus maximus) in the time of its discovery

Decumanus maximus - current view

Decumanus maximus - current view

The last conservation of the discovered architectural remains at the site was done during the nineties of the past century. Nowadays the condition of these structures is shocking. The need of preservation actions is obvious. The most important question however is Why this happened? The planned activities should give appropriate answer and to propose adequate solution.

The voluntary camp


Seminars and daily talks

These activities are connected to the daily work at the site. The basic idea is to acquire knowledge through practical work. Facing the real problems and finding the appropriate resolution is an experience which can be gained only in course of the work. The young generation is the future of our community and the opinion of the youth should be heard and taken into consideration.

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Team working;
  • Ideas exchange;
  • Analyzing and solving problems concerning the heritage preservation.

The daily work at the site will involve all volunteers including international and locals. All participants will be free to ask questions, exchange ideas and communicate freely.

The best ideas gained in course of site work and discussions will be presented to the site-management and local authorities. Furthermore – the best ideas can be submitted to the Bulgarian Ministry of culture with the support of the local institutions.

The project will involve 5 local participants who will be involved entirely into the daily work and subsequent discussions. As the protection of the site is strongly connected with the level of understanding and respectively - with the level of support given by the local community, the Bulgarian participants will play significant role for further evolution of the cultural monument.

The daily seminars and site talks will be followed by meeting with local authorities and local community. Any future initiative of the responsible institutions should be affected by the results of the meeting and discussants.

Expected results

  • Communication between international team and local community represented by the local volunteers.
  • New experience based on practical work and facing the real problems “at the field”.
  • Propositions addressed to the responsible institutions.
  • Unlimited communication and new perspectives.

Promotion of the Public collection in Dimovo

The collection in Dimovo was formed as result of the rescue excavations carried out by the BAA in 2010-2011. The main goal was to make the local community familiar with the richness of Ratiaria and to demonstrate clearly the benefits of its protection. In 2015 the collection was transformed by the Municipality in “Archaeological tourist center”. This way the responsible institutions pointed out the economic meaning of the monument and its further development into a touristic center. Still, no advertisement activities were given and need of any promotion actions is obvious (for example social medias publication, web page etc.).

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Presentation of the cultural heritage to the public.
  • Public relation and museums branding.

These activities will be done entirely by the international participant as promotion and presentation of the site required multi language work and joined efforts of the international team.

The promotion of the public collection meets the needs of the Municipality of Dimovo as well as the development of the local tourist center and respectively of the cultural monument.

The artefacts found in course of the rescue excavation at the site are the only evidences that can be understand and approve by the local community. Anyhow these finds need appropriate explanation and the risk of “wrong interpretation” is real. This activity is very important for the proper presentation of the past end for the better understanding of the cultural heritage in the region.

Working in Ratiaria is a rare chance to develop independent strategy on promotion and presentation of the cultural heritage. Open a simple web page or just a discussion board done by young and enthusiastic people can change the future of the site and can acquire positive results for the local development.

Expected results

  • Modern and effective presentation of the cultural monument.
  • Development of the local museum and economical advantage.
  • Adequate help and support for the site management and the local institutions.

Organizing a new exposition presenting the results of the action camp

Site preservation actions (cleaning and documenting) will be followed by representative exposition. The exposition will show by photos the best moments of the action camp, the cleaned areas and the conservation activities. Special attention will be paid to the new geodetic records of the preserved architectural structures and to the possible reconstruction of the buildings.

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Presenting results of the field work;
  • Building of exposition plan;
  • Arranging exposition hall.

The exposition will be arranged entirely by the volunteers. From the beginning of the camp all participants will take care to collect photos reflecting their point of view. The volunteers will be responsible as well as for the analysis of the documented structures and presenting of the ideas of reconstruction of the buildings.

The exposition will be arranged in the Archaeological tourist center in Dimovo. This way the center will elaborate a creative program devoted to the development of the cultural monuments in the region.

The exposition will be the first initiative undertaken after the creation of the Archaeological tourist center in Dimovo. It will attract attention of the local community and will focus on future prospects for development of the region as a tourist destination.

The photos done by the volunteers and presentation of the new ideas will consolidate the relationships between the local institutions and international society. This practice can be continued to be used and can be integrated into the school programs and community centers.

Expected results

  • The work of the international volunteer camp will be presented to the local community.
  • The Archaeological tourist center in Dimovo will develop a new initiative.


Site preservation activities: taking care for the ancient buildings, cleaning architectural and archaeological remains

At the end of last century the archaeological excavation in Ratiaria were canceled due to financial reasons. The discovered buildings were conserved and left at the open field without any additional protection. Among them the most impressive remains are these of the fortification wall and the Western gate of the town. Nowadays the destructions of the gate are overgrown with vegetation and with limited access. The site preservation activities will clean and ensure access for the visitors to the Western gate and the fortification wall. This corresponds to the intention of the local authority to develop and implement a project for conservation and restoration of the entire site and to open the ancient town for visitors..

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Identification and recognizing of the archaeological and architectural structures.
  • Identification of construction methods and techniques used in antiquity.
  • Basic knowledge on the archaeological methods.
  • Team working.

The international team will work voluntarily at the site and this way will help to the local authority to protect and to work on future reconstruction of this target section.

The site-managements and the local authorities will give their institutional support to the actions of cleaning the site. This activity is very important for development of further project concerning reconstruction and socialization of Ratiaria.

The effective protection and the further development of Ratiaria are strongly connected with the level of understanding of its value among the local community. At this stage any activities at the site are supported by the local community center where in 2011 was organized the first exposition presenting the recent work at the site. The participation of 5 local volunteers in the activities of the action camp will consolidate these relationships and will help for the better understanding of the cultural heritage in the area.

The site preservation work is the main activity of the action camp. This is a typical example of voluntary action and powerful illustration of positive attitude towards the cultural heritage. The joint efforts of the international team will affect all levels of the local society and thereby will contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of the cultural heritage.

Expected results

  • The sections of the Western gate of Ratiaria and the fortification wall will be cleaned.
  • The access to this section of the city will be ensured. This will create sustainable conditions for future work of different specialists.

Current condition of the Western gate of Ratiaria
Current condition of the Western gate of Ratiaria
Current condition of the Western gate of Ratiaria

Current condition of the Western gate

At the chosen for cleaning section some conservation activities were done 25 years ago. Nowadays the ancient walls are badly damaged and the need of emergency preservation actions is obvious. The intention of Municipality of Dimovo to develop a program for restoration and socialization of Rtiaria must be preceded by and based on a detailed architectural project. In this regard the activities for cleaning of the existing buildings are so important for the future of the site.

Field conservation (stabilization) and protection of the old buildings and structures

The actions of the voluntary camp will focus on the emergency protection of the cleaned buildings and structure. The main goal at this stage will be to protect the walls from the atmospheric conditions and to ensure normal environments for the realization of the next step of the program.

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Basic knowledge on field conservation of ancient buildings and structures.

The international team will help for the implementation of the preservation actions. The technical project and realization of the field conservation will be carried out by a specialist according to the Bulgarian law.

All materials needed for the field conservation will be ensured by the Municipality of Domovo. The Vidin museum will provide the appropriate specialist for these actions.

The participation of the local volunteers will give them a basic knowledge on the action needed for initial protection of the ancient walls. As the modern village is built on the territory of Ratiaria, very often the local people discover different architectural remains. How to proceed in such cases is very important skill which will be gained by the local participants and will help to the local community to protect better their heritage.

Taking the appropriate care for the ancient remains is a very important problem especially in the region of Vidin. The richness of the ancient ruins here and the lack of funds for their protection lead to apathy and misunderstanding of the cultural heritage among the locals. An international team working on an active protection of the site will be a good example for the local society and will provoke a better understanding of the national legacy.

Expected results

  • The target section of the site will be temporary protected and ready for subsequent actions related to the development of the monument as a tourist destination.

Archaeological and geodetic documentation.

The section of the Western gate of the town was discovered in course of the archaeological excavations carried out between 1974 and 1991. The documentation related to this period is relatively poor and very schematic. For the Western gate is published only a general plan with no details. Nowadays we don’t have information about the foundation of the walls, the different periods or the construction specifications. The volunteer camp will help for elaboration of new documentation using the modern methods of archaeological and geodetic survey.

Skills learnt by the volunteers

  • Documenting vertical and horizontal structures at the field.
  • Using the drawn record: Single-context plan; Section drawing; Site recording grid; Composite plan; Multiple-feature plan.
  • Using photographical records.

The archaeological and geodetic documentation will be done by the international voluntary team under the guidance of BAA specialists.

The technical support (geodetic equipment and others) will be provided by Municipality of Domovo. The records will be used by municipal authorities for developing a further architectural project for restoration of the archaeological remains.

The results of the field documentation will be presented as an important point into the planned exposition. This way the local community will receive comprehensive information about the architecture and layout of the ancient city.

Information is the main point of this activity as well as the scientific approach to the cultural heritage. Involvement of non-professional participants in a strictly scientific work is a very important action concerning the better understanding of the ancient monuments and further popularization of the site.

Expected results

  • The Western gate of the town and the fortification wall will be documented.
  • Will be ensured the basic layout plans and drawings for development of architectural project for restoration of Ratiaria.