Felix Romuliana, The Most Important Roman Palace in Serbia to Visit
Serbia is an exceptionally rich country when it comes to the Roman legacy. 17 emperors were born here, and built palaces, temples, and cities, as the rich eastern territories of the Empire were gaining importance with respect to Westerners. Many of the archaeological sites belong to the last epoch of the unified Empire, the so-called Late Antiquity when the style in all the arts moved away from the classical canons and became the embryo of what would be the Romanesque period.
Normally, when people see the photos of Felix Romuliana for the first time, they think that it is a small old Italian town. Well, this assumption is not incorrect, since the settlement of Felix Romuliana represents a piece of ancient Rome, located in eastern Serbia.
Among these deposits, there is one of exceptional importance for its (relatively) good state of conservation, its size and the historical weight of its creator: Emperor Galerius. Like other emperors, he was originally from the Balkan area and had a palace built in his birthplace, which is now the town of Gamzigrad (about 3 hours’ drive from Belgrade).
The complex was built around 300 AD and became the residence of the emperor and some of his successors. In the seventh century, it was abandoned because of the invasions of barbarian tribes. It was rediscovered and studied from 1835, and at first, it was believed that it had been a camp; It was not until 1953 that an exhaustive study was started and it was concluded that it was actually a palace.
Felix Romuliana is often considered the most important Roman settlement of all the Balkans, not only for its size and details but also for its uniqueness. Its floor mosaics are widely known as one of the best examples of late ancient art. Most of the artefacts found in this archaeological site are part of the permanent exhibition of the Museum of the City of the nearby city of Zajecar.
Palace and place of worship
Actually, it is not just a palace, but a palatial complex consisting of two palaces, two temples, and other monuments. Its name is Felix Romuliana, which was discovered in 1984 in an inscription of an arch and which is a tribute to the mother of Galerio, Rómula. In fact, the Felix Romuliana had a double function as a residence and place of worship, since it is believed that Galerio and Rómula were buried in separate mausoleums inside the complex, in which they were worshipped.
In the artistic aspect, it is one of the most exceptional Roman villas, especially for the luxury of building materials, among which the valuable porphyry. The decoration blends the classic Greco-Roman style, which can be seen in a mosaic of Dionysus and Medusa in the unidentified building; with the late antique, characterized by less stylized forms. The presence of oriental motifs, from Greek mythology, dominates the decoration and many scenes are dedicated to the Greco-Roman gods.
So far, five buildings have been unearthed and studied, although excavations are ongoing. These buildings are two palaces, two temples (one of which is dedicated to deified Galerius) and a fifth building from which the function has not been determined. The Felix Romuliana is one of the most interesting legacies of late antiquity in Serbia and still hides secrets. It is very worth visiting.