Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria is situated in contemporary North-Western Bulgaria near the village of Archar, Municipality of Dimovo and is considered one of the most important Roman and Early Byzantine centres in the region.
Ratiaria is established in the 1st century AD as a Roman military camp and a civilian settlement which grew around it. In 106 AD the emperor Trajan founded five colonies, one of which is Ratiaria. Colonies were cities with highest degree of autonomy, each of which represents a model of Rome itself. The full name of the city is known from an inscription dated in 125 AD – “Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria”. In the 2nd and 3rd century Ratiaria is prosperous city organized in Italian model. It is a great craft and trade centre - here lies an important customs point.
After 272 AD Ratiaria was proclaimed as capital of the newly established province Dacia Ripensis. The military and the administrative governors of the province were located in Ratiaria. In 4th century Ratiaria became an important Christian centre. The written sources mention bishops of Ratiaria - Paulinos, Sylvester, Palladius. According to Priscus, in the first half of 5th century Ratiaria is "large and populous city." An inscription, stood at the entrance of the city and saying "Ratiaria of [Emperor] Anastasius will flourish forever" was discovered during the excavation of the western wall.
The first excavations here were carried out by V. Velkov between 1958 and 1962. Studies were renewed during the 1976-1991 period, including work with Italian specialists. The Western Gate of the city, parts of the Western defensive wall, impressive building interpreted as residence of the Governor of the Province Dacia Ripensis were discovered. Studied architectural remains have been restored and preserved. In 1991 the excavations were cancelled.
Many unique finds including the famous statue of Hercules, gold jewellery, mosaics, etc. were found in course of the researches. Over 100 epigraphic monuments are known so far from Ratiaria and its area.
The critical condition of Ratiaria is well known because in the last 20 years instead to be an object of scientist researches and touristic attraction the place is a crime scene of treasure-hunters’ invasion and illegal traffic of cultural artefacts. The treasure hunters’ intervention has affected an area with a length of 2 km. (East – West) and a width 1 km. (North - South), which covers entirely the area of the site. Some of the treasure-hunters' holes reached a depth of 10 meters and discovered remains of many buildings and architectural details which are observed over the entire area of the site.
In 2009 the Bulgarian Archaeological Association (BAA) started campaign: “Help to preserve the biggest archaeological site in Northern Bulgaria – Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria”. More than 700 scientists from all over the world supported the petition for saving Ratiaria. Materials about the cultural catastrophe in Bulgaria were published in “Current World Archaeology”, “Past Horizons”, “Rescue. British Archaeological Trust” and “Washington Post”. The Australian television “SBS ONE” broadcasted shocking documentary of destructions and vandalism on the site. Voluntary donations were sent to BAA from United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Austria, France, Germany and Spain for saving Ratiaria.
In 2010 the Ministry of Culture ordered to organize the preservation of cultural monuments found on the territory of Ratiaria and to start rescue excavations at the site. The financial support for these activities was provided by Municipality of Dimovo and BAA. Renewed studies in Ratiaria proved that 2 m below the layers destroyed by treasure hunters laying intact Roman city from the early second century. The rescue studies of ancient town discovered numerous remains of monumental constructions and evidences of temples and public buildings. Of particular importance is the discovery of one of the main streets of the city – decumanus maximus with east-west direction situated 500 m. away from the Western Gate of the town.
According to Order of Ministry of Culture of Republic of Bulgaria the newly discovered findings as well as the epigraphic and architectural monuments from Ratiaria formed a new Public collection situated near the archaeological site in village of Archar. The number of items in this collection is growing rapidly. Only for two years the Latin inscriptions, sculptures and architectural monuments included in the exhibition reached 21 pieces – much more than discover in all over Bulgaria similar artefacts in the same period. Many of them have unique scientific and artistic significance such as the beautiful Corinthian capitals dated under Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD) and the inscription left by Legio IV Scythica considered one of the first Roman troops placed on the territory of modern Bulgaria in the beginning of 1st century AD. With the rate at which increases exposition in the village of Archar the monuments exposed here soon will exceed in quantity those presented in Vidin Museum and will form one of the richest collections of epigraphic and archaeological sources in Bulgaria.