Pavlikeni, a town in central northern Bulgaria, can boast few landmarks. Yet this small and quiet place is the home of two of the most interesting ancient Roman sites – the remains of a mausoleum and a villa rustica with incredibly well-preserved pottery manufactury.
The mausoleum – more correctly, a 13.8-metre obelisk-like structure from stones carefully hewn from what was once a mausoleum – was the first to attract historians. The locals from the nearby villages called it The Pillar: a tall pillar rising from the ground next to a rubble of architecture fragments and near a burial mound. Another name was Markov Kamak, or the Stone of Marko. Marko is a Bulgarian folklore hero who possesses immense strength. According to a local legend, he built The Pillar during a competition for the heart of the woman he was unhappily in love with. Marko won, but his beloved chose his rival. Enraged, Marko smashed the other man's imperfect pillar, thereby creating the pile of rubble near his own, still standing column. Then he left for good.
A 19th century engraving shows both pillars of the mausoleum
It was in the 19th Century that the obelisk at last drew the attention of historians. In 1871 the Austrian-Hungarian archaeologist Felix Kanitz surveyed it, and in his seminal work, Danube Bulgaria and the Balkan, he identified the standing and the smashed obelisks as the remains of the aqueduct which fed water to the city of Nicopolis ad Istrum. The Škorpil brothers, who visited the place at the end of the century, had another interpretation: The ruins belonged to a colonnade built to honour the victory of Emperor Trajan over the Dacians in the early 2nd Century.
From the air the other preserved structure of the ancient site are also visible
Several decades later the remains almost disappeared. In 1937 locals used the smashed pillar to source material for a road. The larger pillar was targeted in 1948, as it was deemed an obstacle for ploughing the bigger plots of land in the recently established co-operative farm in Lesicheri. The villagers tried to pull it down using ox carts. Unsuccessful, they thought of blasting it, but again the plan fell through. The pillar stayed.
Proper excavations began in the 1990s, and after a thorough survey of the remains of a pediment and other architectural elements, now preserved in the Veliko Tarnovo Regional History Museum, the story of the obelisk turned out to be quite different. Together with its long lost twin, the piece belonged to the family mausoleum of Quintus Julius or Claudius Valens (some letters are missing and the name can be reconstructed both ways). He lived in the 2nd Century and was a priest of the cult to the goddess Roma and a member of the city council of Nicopolis ad Istrum.
The mausoleum appears to have been an imposing construction. It had a pediment and two statues of lions guarding the entrance. Statues of those buried inside and of the Thracian God Rider are thought to have been present too. As time passed the memory of the buried started to fade and the mausoleum became a heroon, or a small shrine to a mythical ancestor. The temple survived until the 4th Century, when it was probably destroyed by overzealous Christians.