Caricin Grad Iustiniana Prima Archaeological Site

Caricin Grad Iustiniana Prima Archaeological Site

The Caričin Grad – Iustiniana Prima – Empress Town Archaeological Site is one of the most significant Early-Byzantine towns in the interior of the Balkans from the 6th century. The Iustiniana Prima archaeological site is located 29 km west of Leskovac, 7 km away from Lebane, close to the Prekopčelica village, on the confluence of the Caričina River and the Svinjarica River. Discovered military and civil architecture, urban spatial planning, construction of houses and remarkable remains of the material culture of the Iustiniana Prima site testify on the achievements of the early Byzantine civilization, founded on the Graeco-Roman tradition. It was built on a plateau which ends with a rocky terrace at the confluence of the two small rivers. It was established by the Emperor Iustinian I in the 6th century on the site of the original Bederiana fortified settlement. On those assertions testify remains of the monumental basilica in the lower part of the site bearing an authentic Iustinian monogram, and the large episcopal basilica on the acropolis. The settlement was the seat of the whole north Illyric, and included ten basilicas, among the other discovered structures.  

Significance of the Iustiniana Prima – the Caričin Grad site is known by the fact that the settlement was Episcopal seat and military and administrative center of the Iustiniana Prima Illyric Province, and the seat of the Archbishopric of the North Illyricum, mostly inhabited by the Slavs-Serbs since the middle of the 6th century. As per Procopius’s records from 545 Emperor Justinian I had built Justiniana Prima to become a city “worthy to be the metropolis of the whole region” which had became the capital of Dardania. In addition, Iustiniana Prima has been chosen as the see of Illyricum, featuring the numerous churches, lodgings for magistrates, the great stoats, the fine market-places, the fountains, the streets, the baths, the shops. The jurisdiction of the new archbishopric covered five provinces of the diocese of Dacia, that is, the northern part of the prefecture Illyricum: Dacia Mediterranea, Dacia Ripensis, Moesia Prima, Dardania, and Praevalis, and the northern part of the diocese of Macedonia with the province of Macedonia Secunda and, finally, part of the province of Pannonia Secunda with the city of Basiana.

The Caričin Grad archaeological site makes outstanding monument of antique urbanism and architecture, its urban core, monumentality and richness of the architecture of particular structures and lavish mosaics align it among historically most important and touristically most attractive archaeological sites of the Serbian cultural heritage. Excavations on the Caričin Grad started in 1912, marking the such long activity the good reason for insight into the sense and judgement of all that has been achieved, and generating the new project “Protection of the cultural heritage and tourist presentation of the archaeological and historical locality of the Caričin Grad”, that will mark a century of archaeological and historical research of the Caricin Grad site. Vujadin Ivanišević

Caričin Grad lies on the gentle slopes which descent from Radan Mountain toward the Leskovac Ravine, on the remote location, off the key traffic routes, which was the reason that first news on the significant remains of city lost somewhere in the Valley of Pusta Reka River, between the triangle of Bojnik and Medvedja and Lebane appeared only at the end of the 19th century. Ruins of the Empress Town – Caričin grad have been first time researched by Mita Rakić in 1880 in «Otadžbina» Newspapers, but nowadays this significant settlement in the history of the Byzantine urbanism attracts scholars attention and provokes future archaeological research. The archaeological excavations at the Caricin Grad – Iustiniana Prima in the period from 1981 to 1990 as per the most recent and continued program of scientific projects were conducted by Vujadin Ivanisevic, researcher of the Archaeology Institute in Belgrade and scientists from French institutions which resulted in a significant referent catalog for the material and spiritual culture of the paleo-Byzantine civilization in the region of northern Illyricum.

The Earliest traces of human existence in this area date from the Early Stone Age Neolithic Age, about 3000 BC. Remains of the Late Antiquity town of Iustiniana Prima – the endowment of Byzantine Emperor Iustinian I, who was born in the nearby village of Taurisium, testify on the fact that there was one of the largest and most prosperous Byzantine town at this spot in the 6th century AD. Beautiful and ambitious Empress Theodore, wife of Emperor Justinian, who loved her enormously, was born in nearby village of Lebane, what greatly contributed to her influence on husband to construct such magnificent urban center.

Iustiniana Prima – Caričin Grad, as the urban settlement has been divided into three parts : Lower, Middle and Upper parts of the Acropolis of the Empress Town, which has been extended to the vast lower part and monuments in close and further vicinity. The central part of the settlement which covered the surface of more than 10 hectares was defended with strong fortified walls. Iustiniana Prima represented the type of settlement built by pattern of the East settlements, featuring the Acropolis, the central square and row of streets with porticoes, while blocks – insulae that have created interior spaces own their legacy to the Roman tradition. The Iustiniana Prima – Empress Town was urban settlement extremely rich in numerous Byzantine palaces and basilicas, Baptistery, Crypt, a water supply system with aqueduct and large cistern, square, streets paved with stone blocks and bricks, houses decorated with frescoes and mosaics, baths and gates – all surrounded with fortified walls with towers. A large number of structures also had story, illustrated by the discovery of staircases. The lower parts of the buildings were made of stone in a dry building-technique, while the upper floors were made of lightweight materials, wood and clay. Iustiniana Prima – Caričin Grad – Empress Town prospered only during the eight decades, between 535 and 615, when it encompassed the surface of 42000 square meters. Caričin Grad – Iustiniana Prima represented the administrative and religious center of the entire West Ilyricum/at that time the Byzantine Province, that is present day the Central Balkans/. Nine Byzantine Basilicas and the Church with the Baptistery built of bricks, with floors decorated with mosaics have been excavated at Iustiniana Prima – Caricin Grad – Empress Town. The Residence known as “Villa Urbana”, with the dining room and the apse is only partially researched. Latest excavations in Caričin grad – Iustiniana Prima report complex of the trefoil Basilica with 45-meters long transverse in the southern part of the Lower Town /Urbs Meridionalis/. Those structures represent the most monumental examples of the Byzantine architecture in the Balkans.

Soon after the death of Emperor Justinian, the Empress Town – Iustiniana Prima was conquered by the Slav tribes, and in the 7th century left to degradation and disappearance. It is presumed that degradation of the Iustiniana Prima was caused primarily by negligence of water supply, most probably by destruction of the Aqueduct and drying of the accumulation on Caricina Reka River. Caričin grad – Iustiniana Prima is located 28 km southwest of Leskovac and 8 km northwest of Lebane, at the foot of Radan Mountain, in south Serbia. Visitors to Iustiniana Prima archaeological site can enjoy the 3-D-reconstruction of the monuments and fortifications built on Acropolis, Episcopal basilica, baptistery, „Consignatorium”, „Bishop Palace”, streets with porticoes and ramparts with towers and gate, prepared in 3-D-patterns presentation of the basilica with the crypt, the cruciform basilica, the principia /garrison commander residence/, the double basilica, the basilica with the transept and the baths extra muros. At the “Teodora” Visitor center there are 8 rooms available for accommodation of visitors – 6 double and 2 triple rooms, and the equipped meeting room with 50 seats and the restaurant which accommodates 60 to 40 visitors. Iustiniana Prima – the Empress Town is on tentative UNESCO Heritage List. The Iustiniana Prima Caricin Grad Archaeological Site is favorite part of our Special interest tour – Archaeological Tours.

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