During the 4th century Philippopolis was an active centre of Christianity, particularly of Arianism, the rejection of the divine nature of Christ. As bishops condemned Arianism as a heresy at a special council in Serdica (now Sofia), in 343, Philippopolis housed a counter council. Its organisers were other bishops, the ones who adhered to Arianism.
The Bishop's Basilica during excavations
There are several monuments of that period in today's Plovdiv. By far the most spectacular is the Bishop's Basilica. Erected in the 4th century in what was the centre of the town it is 90 metres long and 36 metres wide, the grandest Late Antiquity basilica in the modern Bulgarian lands. What makes it so special is not the size, however. It is the two layers of floor mosaics, a total of 2,000 square metres. The lower layer represents an intricate web of geometrical ornaments and symbols in various colours, creating a near 3D effect. The upper layer depicts over 100 birds, symbolising the souls of the faithful that longed for God.
The Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis is also a good example of spiritual continuity. It was erected over the remnants of an earlier building, probably a pagan temple. After the 6th century, when the basilica had been abandoned, some houses appeared over it. In the 10th-13th centuries the site was a large Christian necropolis with a richly decorated church. Then, in the mid-19th century, next to what was already a long-forgotten cemetery, the St Ludwig Roman Catholic Cathedral was constructed.
The basilica's remains were discovered and partally surveyed in the 1980s, but were later again forgotten.
In the 2010s, the Bishop's Basilica of Philippopolis was researched and revived as a visitor centre that uses VR technologies and mosaic preservation to tell the story of the place in a way that appeals to modern audiences. The project was funded by the America for Bulgaria Foundation and Plovdiv Municipality.
Medieval crosses and a personal stamp discovered during the Bishop's Basilica excavations