Roman town found in Sofia
Sofia - The remains of an ancient Roman town were on Thursday unveiled to the public in the centre of the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
Excavation of the site - which currently includes a Roman palace, baths and burial sites, as well as a more recent 13th century church - began several years ago.
It is hoped that the remains will be preserved as a major heritage site and tourist attraction.
Archaeologists believe the site - which formed the intersection of the two major streets of the ancient Roman town Ulpia Sedica - could prove even more extensive, with at least two more Roman palaces waiting to be uncovered.
Debate has raged for years over the fate of the site as the excavations notably proved a major headache for plans to extend the Sofia underground, with a major station situated right below the historical site.
But the authorities finally opted to preserve the remains where they were.
The total cost of the ambitious project, which will entail a complete reconstruction of central Sofia and is scheduled to be finished in 2011/2012, is an estimated $12m.Ulpia Serdica
"It'll be a perfectly preserved underground museum covering an area of 1.9ha," said Deputy Culture Minister Todor Chobanov at a tour of the site for the media.
"This could put Sofia on par with other major cultural heritage sites such as Rome," Chobanov said.
With the help of EU money, "this huge space can be used as a centre for exhibitions and performances, which is something that Sofia did not really have until now," said chief architect Petar Dikov.
An ancient Thracian settlement, Bulgaria's capital was conquered by the Romans in the first century BC and renamed Ulpia Serdica.
Parts of the Roman fortress in the area close to the current excavations site and an adjacent church dating back to the fourth century have already been excavated and fully reconstructed.