Central Hall

On the two floors of the Central Hall of the Museum are exhibited artifacts dating from the Late Bronze Age to the Late Middle Ages. They illustrate main periods of the history of a vast region of Southeastern Europe. The objects outline the most significant characteristics of the cultures which met and merged in these territories (Thracian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Ottoman). The collections on the ground floor are exhibited in four separate sections, each referring to particular period: from the end of the second millennium to the first millennium BC; 1st to the 4th century AD, 5th to the 7th century AD, and 8h to 11th century AD.

Section I of the Hall is divided into two areas. The exhibits in the first one, to the left of the entrance, represent of a general picture of the Thracian culture from the end of the second to the end of the first millennium BC. All artifacts, among them many thought as emblematic for Thrace, are distinguished in three basic periods, Late Bronze Age, Early Iron and Late Iron Age. The most numerous correspond to the period of zenith in the development of Thrace (5th to the 3rd century BC). They are distinguished by geographical principle. The artifacts from the territory of the kingdom of the Thracian tribe Odrysai are among the highlights of the exhibition. Objects from particular regions inhabited by other mighty Thracian tribes during the Iron Age are also displayed.

The wide variety of objects in the Collections of the Museum is the ground for the presentation of the Thracian tumulus necropolises. The comparison of grave goods from different regions of Thrace outlines the common origin of the Thracian tribes. Both similar burial rites and the common faith in immortality, as well as influences from Scythian, Hellenistic, eastern, Macedonian and Celtic art in the style of life of these tribes are characteristic of the culture on the territory to the north and to the south of Haemus. Grave goods and other artifacts from necropolises draw attention of the audience to some of the most characteristic for the Thracian society artifacts (symbols of the high social status, weapons and armour, golden and silver sets of vessels, and horse harness).

Artifacts, from the 6th to the 1st century BC, discovered along the Aegean and Black Sea coast, are exhibited in the second area of Section I, on both sides of the entrance. Sculpture prevails in this area. Various pieces illustrate the development of the most important Aegean centers for luxurious ceramics. Objects from the necropolises of the Greek population of the colonies along the Black Sea coast acquaint the audience with burial rites and other aspects of daily life during the second half of the first millennium BC. The grave goods from the 5th to the 2nd century BC illustrate the variety of artifacts and the proportion of ceramics, glass, alabaster to metal objects; of gold to silver, bronze to iron objects; of vessels to terracotta figurines, ornaments and other objects; of utensils of various purpose to imported and locally produced items. The group of Greek painted pottery, illustrating religious feasts and rituals, acquaints the audience with gods of the Hellenic pantheon. Numerous terracotta figurines with scenes and images from theatre, are among the most representative objects of the Hellenic culture. The grave goods from the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica (nowadays Sozopol), compared to those from the Thracian necropolises, exhibited in the first sector of the same section, reveal significant differences between the two cultures developing in Thrace during the first millennium BC. Thus the changes in the art development during the Late Iron Age, when Thracians and the Greeks were already under the influence of the Hellenistic culture, are outlined.

Artifacts from the necropolises of another Greek western coast colony, Odessos (nowadays Varna), are exhibited to illustrate the transition from Section I to Section II. The grave goods from early Hellenistic graves illustrate the end of a long process. Toward the second half of the 4th century BC the result of this process is the amalgamation of the local Thracian and the colonial Greek culture along the western coast of the Black Sea. A group of grave stelae and votive tablets from the Roman period, with iconography and style still under the influence of the local traditions, outline another important moment in the Hellenic-Thracian history of the city of Odessos - the first contact with the Roman civilization.

Section II is divided into three areas. The first one occupies the whole southwestern wall of the Central Hall, where a rich collection of grave stelae from the 1st to the 4th century AD from the Roman provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. Stone pieces from Moesia, predominantly grave stelae of warriors, outline another topic in the exhibition Roman Army. The topic Necropolises is illustrated also by grave stelae form Thrace. The Collections give the visitor the opportunity to compare the two synchronous cultures, developing to the north and to the south of Haemus (the Balkan Mountain Range). Grave stelae from Macedonia in the central and the southeastern part of Section I illustrate two topics Roman Portrait and Attire in the Roman provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. Different artifacts, depicting the most popular attire of men, women, children and warriors (from soldier to military chief), as well as several kinds of shoes are exhibited in the same area.

The topics Food and Table Stuff of the Roman Patricians and Roman Games are illustrated in the southeastern corner of the Hall. The first of these topics is represented by a rich collection of silver and glass vessels and bronze furniture fittings from Moesia and Macedonia. The second topic shows the typical Roman villa. Architectural members and a collection of objects of various functions are there. The second topic is illustrated by tombstones depicting gladiators and the famous ‘circus poster’ from Serdica (nowadays Sofia). Exhibits associated with the life of the Roman emperors (bases of bronze and stone statues, portrait heads, silver ingots, coins, pendants, gems) are exhibited along the eastern wall and in the centre of this area and link the two other topics, presented here.

In the second area of Section II, under the central dome, some of the most significant Roman sculptures in the Museum’s Collections are arranged: portrait statues, as well as replicas and imitative works after famous Greek sculptures from the Classic and Hellenistic period. This exhibits display the peculiar features of the Roman sculpture. This area, with a direct access from the main entrance, is separated also for small temporary exhibitions with the possibility to arrange the artifacts of these exhibitions to fit the topics developed in the permanent one. The perfect acoustics and the view of the monumental staircase on the background make the central space an imposing stage of various cultural events.

In the third area of Section II are exhibited various objects illustrating the topic Religion in the provinces of Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. Most numerous are the exhibits coming from sanctuaries. The assemblage consists of single architectural elements and a rich collection of various stone, metal, clay and glass votive offerings. The Museum’s Collections provide a general description of the sanctuaries in the three provinces and outline Thracian, Greek, Roman and eastern components in the local pantheon. The votive reliefs illustrate also prevailing tendencies in the local culture and the most popular iconography of each deity. Artifacts from the archaeological complex of St. Sophia Basilica: grave goods from the 2nd and 3rd century AD, wall paintings from a 4th century tomb as well as the mosaic from the earliest of the five superimposed churches are arranged to mark the transition from Section II to Section III. These exhibits were acquired during one of the first archaeological investigations of the Museum’s staff in the early 1900s. More than 200 churches from the 4th to the 6th century AD are discovered in the Bulgarian territories. Ornaments, church plates and other finds from these sites present not only the high level of the creativity of artists in the Early Christian period but also the variety of its manifestations.

The topic Early Christian Church, arranged in Section II, is represented by its most characteristic exhibits - various architectural members: capitals, slabs from altar screens, etc. There is also a wall painting fragment from the Red Church in Perushtitsa, one of the very few from the 5th century. Single stone pieces illustrate the topics Portrait and Necropolis, from the 5th to the 7th century. Other finds reveal the characteristic features of the culture of Goths, Huns and local population.

Maria Reho