The town of SILISTRA – the ancient Durostorum and the medieval Drastar – was founded in 106 AD when one of the elite units of the Roman Empire – the 11th Claudius Legion – was placed on the territory of the present-day town on the order of Emperor Trajan. That was the beginning of a remarkable and glorious story. In 169, the emperor and philosopher Mark Aurelius declared Durostorum a self-governing Roman city- municipium. Between the 2nd and the 6th century, Durostorum was the main picket of the empire against the barbarians of the Lower Danube.
Here, Flavius Aetius was born – a patrician, consul, supreme commander of the Roman Empire, the winner of the Huns and Attila, also called the last Roman. Another prominent general of Durostorum, general /legate/ of the legion, left a remarkable monument: a chariot with unique decorations of the 3rd century as well as remarkable swords and golden ornaments now stored in the Archaeological Museum of Silistra. The most remarkable monument of this era, however, is the Roman Tomb with unique frescoes from the middle of the 4th century, made on the order of a Roman patrician from Durostorum.
During the period from 303 to 307, 12 martyrs died in the city, thus laying the foundation of Christianity in the Bulgarian lands. The relics of one of them, St. Dasius Dorostolski, have been preserved in the Silistra Cathedral. As early as at the end of the 4th century, a Bishopric was established in Durostorum, headed by Mercurian-Auxentius, a disciple of the Gothic apostle Ulfilas. Four early Christian Dorostolian bishops are also known and not far from the center of the city, there are the Episcopal Palace, the Episcopal Basilica, and the adjacent Roman buildings of the 4th-6th centuries.
During the First Bulgarian Kingdom, at Khan Omurtag in Drastar, the Glorified House on the Danube Residence of the Bulgarian khanes and tsars was built, where Simeon the Great settled in 896 – 897. Its ruins and the polygonal fortified Drastar citadel impress even today with their size and solidity. In 870, the town received a Bulgarian Bishopric headed by Bishop Nikolay and in 927; the first Bulgarian Patriarchal Department headed by the first Bulgarian Patriarch Damyan was founded in Drastar.
On the banks of the Danube River, the Patriarchal Temple and the Patriarchal Palace were found and preserved.
Between the 11th and 12th centuries, Drastar was the capital of the northern Bulgarian lands – Podunavie (Podunavlje), where civilian governors and generals resided, among which the name of Nestor is standing out, as well as the Drastar bishops, one of them being the prominent intellectual and theologian Лъв Хрисианит.
During the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, Drastar was a Metropolitan Department and a residence of regional governors. Here, in 1279, Tsar Ivaylo stayed with his army deflecting the Tatar raids. A little later, Despot Theodore Svetoslav resided in Drastar prior to his enthronement in Tarnovo in 1299. In about 1370, Drastar was emancipated in the capital of an independent feudal principality led by Terter, the son of Dobrotitsa, Despot of Dobrudzha.
After the Turkish conquest (1388 and, finally, 1416), the city became the capital of the huge Silistra Sanjak covering all Dobrudzha, Bessarabia, and present-day Eastern Bulgaria. In the 15th – 16th centuries, Silistra was the scene of military clashes of the Ottoman Empire with the Vlachs voivodes and the West European knights’ armies and fleets. At the beginning of the 15th century, the Metropolitan Department of the city was restored. Remarkable periods of the history of Silistra were the Russo-Turkish wars from the end of the 18th century to the first half of the 19th century, when the Generals Rumyantsev, Kutuzov, Suvorov, Bagration, Dibic, and others were active here. In the battles for Silistra, the prominent Bulgarian Cap. Georgi Mamarchev took part, the uncle of G. S. Rakovski, who settled temporarily in the city after 1830. With the siege of Silistra by the Russian army in 1853, the Crimean War began; from that time is the preserved to this day Medzhidi Tabia Fortress. The great Russian writer L. N Tolstoy, a young officer at that time, took part in the battles around Silistra. In 1877, Silistra was liberated by the Russian army.
Following the Liberation Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, the Silistra bourgeoisie made its first steps in the development of industry, banking, and trade. At the end of the 19th century, there were four joint-stock companies and one agricultural fund. A leather factory, a soap factory, and a soft drinks factory began work; many attorneys and entrepreneurs, goldsmiths, hotels, and more opened doors.
Silistra became one of the centres of pedagogical education in Bulgaria. In the 90s of the 19th century, the Silistra State Pedagogic School was opened and its building is still one of the symbols of the town (the present-day building of the Art Gallery).
Regional Museum of History, Silistra. It is located in the central part of the town and hosts a not very rich but well-arranged exhibition of ancient antique exhibits from the region. For 30 – 40 minutes, you can dive into the history of the region and get to know the culture of the Roman, Slavic, and Bulgarian inhabitants of Silistra. The museum is among the 100 national tourist sites.
Art Gallery. It is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Silistra – the former Pedagogic School built in the early 20th century. The gallery has an interesting exposition mostly by local artists.
Medzhidi Tabia Fortress. Until 1989, there was a museum exposition in the fortress arranged by the Regional Museum of History. After many years of destruction, the fortress was left to be managed by ET Valentin Petkov, who used his personal funds to reconstruct the museum part of the fortress and put in it his personal collection of photographs, cards, uniforms, melee weapons and firearms; in the collection, there are materials from 7 consecutive wars that continued for almost a century: from the Crimean War (1850s) to the Second World War (1940s).
Srebarna Natural History Museum at Srebarna Biosphere Reserve. The museum has an exposition of stuffed inhabitants of the reserve. From the museum, visitors can observe the birds in the reserve. There is a video camera placed in the heart of the marsh, where pelicans nest, and via a video connection, the picture and sounds are transmitted onto a screen in the museum. An eco-path has been made around the reserve and, along the path, there are shelters for relaxation as well as observation sites built, from which birds can be observed. Srebarna is among the One Hundred National Tourist Sites of the Bulgarian Tourist Union and has a seal. The opening hours of the museum are 8:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 18:00, only during the active season from 1st May until 1st October, with no day off. Thursday is the day when one can visit the museum free of charge.