|Russian Church, Sofia
1. The food.
Food is always a good way to go back to Roman times, or at least to get you thinking about it. Today it starts at breakfast with the hotel buffet. I help myself to olives, cucumber, wholemeal bread and white cheese. This is a Roman breakfast, I'm sure of it! And it's delicious.
|Sofia subway roman tombstones
I try to go to the Sofia Archaeological Museum to see some Roman artefacts; that's always a good way of bringing the past closer. But they're filming a movie with Martin Sheen in the square out front, so it's closed. But then I unexpectedly come across part of the Roman walls in an underpass. There are some columns and tombstones here. The Romans were here of course: this was Thrace.
3. The way people look.
I often sit at a cafe and watch the natives and try to imagine them in Roman garb. It's easy to imagine some of the Bulgarians in rough tunics; most of them seem like farmers and peasants: the plebs. You don't see as many 'patrician-types' as you do in Rome or Naples.
|Sofia Women's Market
These often reveal aspects dating back to Roman times. I get to Sofia's synagogue before 1.00pm, as the guide book recommends, only to be reminded that today is Yom Kippur. But the nice caretaker says if I come back later, he'll let me have a quick peek. I come back at 4.00pm and he lets me in. Although this synagogue was built around 1905 its layout is not much different from the synagogue in Ostia, Rome's port.
|lunch with pigeons
As I sit on a park bench eating cold, folded-over pizza from lunch, I realise I have never been in a city where so many people eat fast food. They eat on the move, they eat on benches, they even eat hunkered down on their haunches. Some eat openly, some furtively. On every block there is a place selling food to go. This is very Roman. In Rome, Pompeii and Ostia, most small houses or apartments didn't have a kitchen. A hearth with a fire would be too dangerous. What did they do? They ate fast food from all those tabernae and thermopolea.
7. Human behaviour.
That young man with a cane, sitting on a bench and tossing bread to attract pigeons... is that something you would have seen in ancient Rome? That little girl, running gleefully among the same pigeons and making them scatter. I'm sure you would have seen that. The old couple, just sitting and watching the world go by. That couple kissing on the park bench, hardly coming up for air... would that have been allowed in Rome? It's all food for thought.
[Season 2 of the Roman Mysteries TV series was partly filmed at Boyana Studios in Bulgaria. The TV series is based on my books, The Roman Mysteries, and is now available on DVD.]