Gamzigrad-Romuliana, the imperial Palace of Galerius, is one of the most important Late Roman sites. Construction works started in 289 by the tetrarch Galerius to mark the place of his birth after a victory over the Persians. It was given the name Felix Romuliana in memory of his Queen mother Romula, a priestess of a pagan cult.
Like Diocletian’s Palace in Split
, the palace was designed to be a representative Imperial residence, housing an abdicated Emperor while retained the imperial symbols.
Archeological excavations in the fortress have unearthed the remains of a palace with exceptionally fine mosaics, baths and impressive gates. Among the important finds from the site are portraits of rulers made from the Egyptian purple stone called porphyry and coins that help to date the complex.
Visit May 2013
Felix Romuliana, the fortified palace, is a pleasant surprise. It is situated in the countryside of eastern Serbia. I arrived around midday, just when the sun broke through again. Two things stood out immediately: the almost perfect walls around the palace complex, and the ticketbooth at the entrance. This was my first taste of “Serbian tourism”: a bus full of schoolchildren was already there, and later another group arrived (I sneaked up on them and believe they were Belgian tourists). And I paid my first entrance fee here in Serbia. It costs 200 dinar, just under 2 EUR.
The palace walls were made out of opus mixtum, a mix of brick and stone. This results in a fine decoration all along the fortifications. It looks so good (also from a distance when you’re driving up the road), I initially thought it was a reconstruction that had gone a bit over-the-top. But the walls are all original.
The site within the walls is mostly overgrown with grass. I read in the AB evaluation that they plan to leave it this way, as more archeological digging would lead to more harm. You can walk around freely, except for the mosaics on the ground there are no forbidden areas or warnings not to touch anything.
Also special is the visual link that has been made between the palace and the two tumuli on a nearby hill. This is were Galerius and his mother were buried. For Emperor Galerius it was the spot of his apotheosis: the ceremony where he turned from man into a god. The best place to ponder these kind of sacred connotations is from the terrace of the little on-site café, which has great views of the palace with the tumuli in the background. It’s an atmospheric place in general, and there are many stories to be told.
After I left Gamzigrad, I drove on to the nearest large city: Zajecar. I stayed overnight, and visited the local museum. This is a good addition to a field visit, as the most important findings are kept and displayed here. It was a surreal museum visit though – the staff all seemed very busy at their offices, and a ticket for sale had to be retrieved from a drawer. Then I was left on my own, wandering the 8 exhibition halls or so. All the lights were turned off, so I switched them on one by one myself. And yes – I switched most of them off too after I had finished a room. The displays in the hall on the ground floor were the best, among them the greatest mosaics that were discovered at Gamzigrad. On the first floor there’s a large model of how the fortified palace would have looked like in its heyday. Very impressive.
More photos can be found in the Picture Gallery
|Szucs Tamas (Hungary):|
Gamzigrad Romuliana is a bit off the beaten track Wh site (as all of Serbia is), but really worth to see. It is not a great adventure to go there – but requires some time. Can be done as a day trip from Belgrade – providing you have your own vehicle, and you get up quite early. Most visitors will approach Gamzigrad from the Belgrade – Nis motorway –as we did it. There is a huge brown signboard before the exit, so you cannot miss it.
From trhe motorway it is less than 100 km, but be prepared, road conditions are quite various. After a couple of km of really good road we had to make a detour on curvy and humpy-bumpy country roads. In a sunny summer day it could have benne fun – driving through the Serbian villages. At night, in a thunderstorm it was a nightmare. A road seemed to be endless, but after almost two hours we reached Zajecar. This sleepy provincial town (the name means something like Rabbitville in Serbian), proved to be very friendly and surprisingly good looking. We found a cheap hotel (USD 30 for a double) and prepared ourselves for the next day in Ganzuigrad.
To reach Gamzigrad from Zajecar is easy, the road is well signposted, and in the sunshine the whole area looked much friendlier than last night. We first could see the site from the narrow tar road leading to the entrance through the fields. It is a fantastic sight. With its massive towers and walls the palace of Galerius still rules the area after 1500 years. For a historian it is even more important – as the almost only remain of the late Roman military architecture in this region. At least none of them is so huge. Early explorers believed the ancient ruins to have been a Roman military camp, because of their size and numerous towers.
Coming closer, in the parking lot we had to realize, that it is bigger then we thought – the walls are at lest four meters high on their highest point. We were offered a golf car from the parking lot to the entrance – the price is included in the entrance fee.
Inside there is a small museum, where a knowledgeable guide – presumably an archeologist – explained us the story of the building in bright English.
Ha told us that, systematic archaeological excavations conducted since 1953 revealed that the site was, in fact, an Imperial palace. It was conceived and built by one of the Tetrarchs, Emperor Galerius, the adopted son and son-in-law of the great Emperor Diocletian. Galerius started construction in 298 (after a victory over the Persians that brought him admiration and glory) to mark the place of his birth. The name Felix Romuliana was given in memory of his mother Romula, who was also a priestess of a pagan cult. The complex of temples and palaces served three main purposes - a place of worship of his mother’s divine personality, a monument to his deeds as emperor, and a luxurious villa for Galerius. Romuliana survived until it was plundered by the Huns in the mid 5th century. Later the site became a humble settlement of farmers and craftsmen, finally to be abandoned at the beginning of the 7th century with the arrival of the Slavs.
After the explanation we were allowed to explore the site ourselves. (We were the only tourists that time. ) The inner structures are mostly in ruins, much less impressive than the walls and the towers. Though the remains of the grand temple and the palace are really nice. (And it is a great experience to wander around a Roman city alone – something that you can never do in Italy or France.)
But even though it is a pity that so few tourists dare to put this site (and Serbia)on their travel plan.
| Date posted: March 2011|
I have been there on day when Gamzigrad-Romuliana, Palace of Galerios inscribed as place of World Heritage. It was my fabulous day in life. I just wont to invite to vist this wonderful place
| Date posted: June 2008|
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