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Help to preserve the biggest archaeological site in North Bulgaria - the COLONIA ULPIA TRAIANA RATIARA

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Situated on the banks of the Danube in north western Bulgaria, the ancient city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria was considered one of the most important Roman and Early Byzantine centres in the region. Its downfall came in the 440s when it was sacked by the Huns, recovering briefly only to be devastated in 586 by the Avars. Now, some 1500 years later, the destruction of the city is nearly complete but this time Rataria is at the mercy of organised crime. Ratiaria lies close to the village of Archar in the Vidin region of Bulgaria and was first excavated from 1958 - 1962 and then later from 1976 - 1991. However, since then no archaeological work has taken place at the site. This is at a time when all other significant ancient cities in Bulgaria are being studied, conserved and opened to the public as part of a commitment to the nation's cultural heritage. So, the question must be asked; why is Ratiari being left to the mercy of the looters There has been no clear answer to this question. The duty lies primarily with the Regional Heritage Museum of Vidin who is responsible for all historic sites in the area but seem to do nothing. Highlighting this, the most recent data available from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences study of archaeological finds and excavations 2007 is extremely revealing. Of the 295 sites investigated in Bulgaria that year only four took place within Vidin and not one of them was carried out by the Regional Museum. Governmental legislation states that the remit of its regional museums are to "search for, study, collect, acquire, store, document and popularize cultural monuments", and in accordance with the current Culture Heritage Act "the main activity of the museum is to protect and exhibit movable and immovable cultural artefacts". The Regional Museum therefore has a duty of care to the monuments under its control. Looking at Ratiaria the evidence of looting is there for all to see but in actual fact there is no need to even visit the site. Recent aerial photographs available on the internet show almost the whole area which it covers, scarred with bulldozer tracks. Ratiaria is being systematically destroyed using everything from shovels to heavy duty machinery with standing monuments reduced to rubble, tombs broken into and human remains and pottery scattered all around. It is in a terrible state and someone needs to take responsibility for this. This is not a new problem though, it has in fact been going on for at least ten years and just occasionally the Bulgarian government are shamed into taking action. In 2001 in response to public pressure the government set out a series of recommendations requiring Dimovo Municipality and the Regional Heritage Museum of Vidin to take action regarding Ratiaria: Construct a guard hut for 24 hour protection Implement all local land use laws Create a database of local landownersDefine the monument's boundary Repair the fences and signageCarry out archaeological salvage work Backfill the looter trenches Obtain protected status for Ratiaria Carry out regular archaeological excavations These of course are only recommendations and the various bodies involved do not need to act upon them. Indeed promises to build a guard hut on the site never materialised and funding for a monument warden was cut. Of those actually caught in the act of illegal excavation and put on trial before the regional court in 2000 and 2001 every single person has had their charges dropped. Eight years later despite extensive coverage by the Bulgarian newspapers to highlight the problem not one of the 2001 directives has been implemented. The only people who benefit from the inactivity of the local authority and the Regional Historic Museum of Vidin are those who plunder and trade in ancient artefacts. Despite new government laws explicitly laying out how sites should be protected the temptation to earn substantial amounts of hard currency is simply too great. Organised criminals transport artefacts through Germany and then on to the world collectors market where Bulgarian antiquities are in high demand. Ratiaria it seems is the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, Bulgaria is being drained of its heritage at such a rate that the antiquities market is now flooded. Volodia Velkov, head of the Bulgarian police unit charged with combating organised crime, said in 2007, that the looting of historic monuments in Bulgaria generates billions of dollars per year. The potential to earn such vast sums of money leads to the conclusion that unless there is proper protection, vulnerable sites like Ratiaria will not survive the onslaught. Those who want to see this situation change must act immediately, directly and positively. The Bulgarian Archaeological Association along with other interested groups have set themselves the collective goal to attract the attention of the international community and to raise funds to protect Ratiaria in the short term. In the longer term it is hoped to implement a programme of research, interpretation and consolidation.The potential to save this site lies with all of us but unfortunately it is nearly too late. Bulgaria still has many wonderful treasures to be proud of but these resources are both fragile and finite. Support the fight to protect Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria and ensure this important archaeological site survives this terrible destruction. YOU CAN HELP SAVE RATIARIA Find more information about the site here: (This text is published in PAST HORIZONS magazine: Many thanks to David Connolly (British Archaeological Jobs Resource BAJR - and Lizzie Jackson (student of Archaeology and Ancient History at Newcastle University)


Bulgarian Archaeological Association (BAA) is formed in 2000 with the aim of stimulating archaeological research in Bulgaria and the Balkans.


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