Felix Romuliana, Gamzigrad, Serbia
So far in my writings about Serbia, I have concentrated mainly on recent history – of unification and dissolution and conflicts over those two.
But Serbia’s history is much longer than anything anyone alive can remember.
For my visit to Gamzigrad, I have to go back thousands of years to a time when this land was very much part of the Roman Empire.
In the year 306, Emperor Caius Valerius Galerius Maximianus was the most powerful man in the Roman Empire. Here, on this site at Gamzigrad in today’s eastern Serbia, he had already started building his own palace and compound.
But when he took control of the greatest civilisation known to man at that time, he set about expanding it to make it fit for an Emperor.
Within the impressive fortifications there were basilicas, temples, hot baths, a memorial complex, ceremonial buildings and a palace.
Being a good boy he named the whole place after his mother, Romula, and so it was known as Felix Romuliana.
It is the most important Roman ruin discovered in Serbia. Not just for its size and its detail but because it was quite unique in its layout.
In a direct line from the compound, high up on a hill in front are two large memorial mounds where Galerius and his mother are buried.
The idea was not just about respect for the dead – the belief at the time was that the two of them would achieve divine status through the societal position of Galerius in his life and the physical position of their memorials.
Today the site is in ruins and little has been done to uncover everything and restore that which has been found. There is still a fair bit to see and it is easy to imagine what a grand mini-city this would once have been.
It’s impressive that, 1700 years later, you can see as much as you can.
Intricate mosaics on some the floors have been discovered and are protected simply by a few ropes to stop visitors walking over them. Not that there are many visitors – I am the only person here on the afternoon I’ve turned up.
I’m given a ticket and left to wander around, signs in English explaining what each building is.
So many years have passed and so much has happened since the time Galerius took control of the Roman Empire and built his home here amongst the fields near some crossroads.
The site itself was turned into a community and market zone long after his death, before it was sacked by the Huns, rebuilt, and then eventually abandoned because of constant attacks from the Avars and the Slavs in the seventh century.
And now it’s a tourist site.
With so much of Serbia and this region defined by events from the past few decades, sometimes you need to look back centuries to get some perspective.
11 thoughts on “The Palace of Galerius”
I’ve never thought of Serbia as a place to see Roman ruins, but it totally makes sense given how far their empire spread. Looks like a cool place to visit.
I love ancient ruins! Judging by the scale model it was an amazing city
Wow, that’s incredible to completely have the ruins to yourself!
It’s amazing to see what remains to this day – particularly as the site is not protected from the elements, although I suppose that is typical of ruins. The mosaics are gorgeous, even in decay and it is, as you pointed out, incredible how much can still be seen and to view what archeologists believe may have stood on this site 1700 years ago.
It’s been surprisingly well-preserved considering how old it is but I would love to have seen the site when it was at its height. It seems like a beautiful mini city full of grandeur and stunning decorations. Oh well, lucky we have vivid imaginations! 🙂
Actually Serbia has the largest number of Roman emperors born outside of Italy, among them are Constantine I and Justinian I. Great post! 🙂
Yeah, it’s interesting to find that out, isn’t it? I don’t know if there’s a particular reason for that or if it’s just a coincidence… but I was really surprised to learn about it.
This site must have been stunning in its day! Today,
Yeh… it’s definitely nothing like it used to be but I still found it quite interesting to go there and imagine…
I grew up 30km from this place in the mining town Bor, which was the biggest cooper mine in Europe (I’m not sure if it still is the biggest, but it’s big even today). I remember when I was in high school we used to come here during the summer vacation to wonder around, it was open, unprotected. It was kinda cool to spend time there completely alone in the place where Roman emperor used to live… On one occasion I even bumped with my rear bumper into the wall of the complex while I was turning my car around 🙂 Luckily there was no damage neither on the wall nor on the car 🙂 In my hometown there were stories about hidden treasure of the emperor, so a lot of treasure hunters were digging and looking for treasure. Sometimes some of them would be caught and arrested and sometimes strange accidents would happen, like sudden lightning and thunderstorms in the middle of a clear night… At least that is what people used to tell… Anyhow, I really love this place, and I’m always excited when I have the chance to take my guests there because East Serbia is one unique place in this part of the world.
Great photos! I’ve written a post about Gamzigrad and have listed yours as a resource. Cheers!