An imperial residence on the UNESCO list

Beauty, uniqueness, and importance that transcends national borders are the qualities that warrant inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists – and you’ll definitely find a part of humanity’s cultural identity in Serbia. One of the sixteen entries on the UNESCO list in Serbia is the Felix Romuliana archaeological site.

Near the town of Zaječar in the eastern part of Serbia, 250 km from the capital of Belgrade, is the late antique Imperial Palace of Felix Romuliana, a brilliant example of Roman palace and memorial architecture. Emperor Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus (ad 293–311) was one of sixteen Roman emperors born on the soil of today’s Serbia, accounting for one-fifth of the total number of all Roman emperors.

Given its unique architectural features, as well as the beauty and quality of its preserved works of art, primarily mosaics, Romuliana was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 2007. For now, it is the only archaeological site in Serbia that is included on this list. The two most beautiful mosaics, which depict the Labyrinth and Dionysus, were moved to the Zaječar National Museum, which also houses the emperor’s portrait in porphyry.

Felix Romuliana is an endowment that Galerius erected in the late 3rd and early 4th century in his birthplace and dedicated to his mother, Romula, as evidenced by the inscription on the archivolt found on the site. Galerius intended to spend his old age in peace there, but unfortunately, his premature death in 311 put an end to his idea of resting in his palace.

Although history has marked Galerius as one of the greatest persecutors of Christians, in 311, on his deathbed in Nicomedia, he issued the Edict of Toleration, which stopped the persecution of Christians two years before Constantine’s famous Edict of Milan of 313.

Felix Romuliana was an imperial residence of extraordinary beauty, but it is much more significant for being a place of man’s last divinization or apotheosis. On nearby Magura hill, about one kilometer from the main eastern gate, are two mausoleums, Galerius’s and Romula’s, in the form of giant tumuli. By the act of apotheosis, the emperor and his mother were initiated into the order of divinity. The complex on Magura Hill is not only a monument unique in the world but also the last witness of this act of divinization of the ruler and his family members.

Felix Romuliana was built as a place where the Roman emperor and his entourage could enjoy themselves, a place to celebrate the human need for the sublime, a place where the greatest artists created valuable works of art; today it is also a place of contemporary creativity, that attracts interested tourists, lovers of ancient history, and audiences for cultural events.

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