Plovdiv, the ancient Bulgarian city
Plovdiv is known as „The City on the hills“, because it was built on six hills, originally on seven. Located on the crossroads between the West and the East in the fertile plain of Thrace, it has been a home for many various nationalities since ancient times.
Plovdiv is located in a region of south-central Bulgaria on the banks of the Maritsa river, and between the Balkans Mountains and the Rhodope Mountains.
Owing to the collaboration with the Bulgarian Travel Organisation, I had an opportunity to visit this amazing city during the press tour this year in August.
Since it was my first visit to Bulgaria, I have to admit that Bulgaria far exceeded my expectations. One of the highlight places which we visited was definitely Plovdiv. This city became a very popular tourist destination in the last few years.
By the way, do you know that Plovdiv is the oldest city in Europe that has been continuously inhabited since the 6. millennium BC?
A few words about Plovdiv’s history
According to archaeological remains, people have lived there since 6.000 BC. Because of its specific position at the crossroads between today’s Europe and Asia, this region of Thrace was conquered many times during history.
The first habitants were the Thracians tribe. In 342 BC, they were conquered by the Macedonians under the rule of Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. In his honour, the city was named “Philippopolis” or “the city of Philip”.
Then in the 1st century, Plovdiv became a part of the Roman Empire, and it was called Trimontium, meaning “Three Hills”. During the Romans, the city flourished and had many public buildings, a water system and a sewerage system. In the 4th century, the city was part of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Slavs tribes have settled this area by the middle of the 6th century.
In 836, under the rule of Khan Malamir, Plovdiv became part of the First Bulgarian Empire. Then the city was conquered by the crusader army of Frederick Barbarossa in 1189, and after in 1205, by Kaloyan, Bulgarian tzar. The Ottomans captured the city in 1371 and they changed the city’s name to Filibe.
The city was finally liberated from them in 1878 after the Battle of Philippopolis. According to the Treaty of Berlin, Plovdiv became the capital of Eastern Rumelia, a semi-independent area in the Ottoman Empire, and it was separated from the Principality of Bulgaria. But the local population had made a coup on 6th September in1885. It was the act of independence and unification of the Principality of Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia. This day is celebrated as the Unification Day and the Day of Plovdiv, as well.
The modern city of Plovdiv
After the unification, Plovdiv became the second most important city in Bulgaria after Sofia. It was the time of the National Revival period in the country and the forming of their own identity. Also, many wealthy merchants built beautiful and decorated houses, with wood-carved furniture and ceilings. The facades were also decorated and painted in various colours, making a specific look of the Plovdiv houses. This architectural style can be seen even today.
In the meantime, Plovdiv became one of the most important economic, educational and transportation centres in Bulgaria. Also, Plovdiv is the cultural capital of Bulgaria and it was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Plovdiv is a multicultural city and about 380.000 inhabitants of various ethnic groups live there. It means that Bulgarians, Armenians, Turks, Jews, and Roma people live there together.
What to see in Plovdiv city
The most interesting part of the city is the Old town of Plovdiv, nestled on three hills: Dzhambaz Hill, Nebet, and Taksim.
Walking around the cobbled and narrow alleys of the town takes us back to the past and the National Revival period. On every corner, you can see houses and buildings mainly from the 19th century.
In front of the fortified walls of the city, there is the Saint Nedelya Church. It is one of the oldest churches in the city, built in 1578, and renovated in 1831.
Close to the church, there is the Regional History Museum of Plovdiv, housed in a beautiful orange-coloured building.
Next to the museum, you can see the fortified walls of the city and Hisar Kapiya.
It is an ancient gate built in the 11th century AD on the former gate from Roman times. Once it was one of the three entrances to the ancient city. The current structure of the gate was formed in the 13th – 14th century AD. It was restored in the 20th century because of its bad conditions. Today it is a landmark of the city and a must-see tourist attraction.
The Plovdiv Regional Museum of Ethnography is the second largest museum of its kind in Bulgaria, and it is located in the Kuyumdzhioglu House.
For me, this is the most beautiful building in the old town. Once it was the house of Arghir Kuyumdzhiouglu, a wealthy merchant from Plovdiv. It was built in 1847 in the Baroque style.
At the end of the 19th century, the house became a girls’ boarding school and a millinery factory. Then, Antonio Colaro, a tobacco merchant, bought it in 1930. But in 1938, on the initiative of the Municipality of Plovdiv, it became the Regional Ethnographic Museum in Plovdiv. Since 1943 the house has been open for visitors and today it is a National Monument of Culture.
The entrance fee is 6 Bulgarian lev (BGN), which is about 3 euros.
So the house has twelve rooms and all of them have wooden and carved ceilings. There are more than 60.000 items that represent the traditions of the Plovdiv population and its cultural and economic environment.
So, you can see collections of items from various categories, such as agriculture, crafts, ancient weapons, copper work.
And there is the goldsmith’s workshop with an impressive gold collection.
Also, you can see costumes from all the Bulgarian ethnic territory, furniture, pottery, shepherd’s wood-carving, musical instruments, and works of Fine Art, completed with many photographs.
Churches in the Old town of Plovdiv
The church St. Konstantin and Elena is one of the oldest Christian churches in Plovdiv.
It was built in 337 at the sight of an ancient pagan temple. The church was destroyed and rebuilt several times. It is dedicated to Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helena. The current church is dating back to 1832. Beside it, there is a 13-meters high bell tower from the 1960s of the XIX century.
Another interesting orthodox church is The Assumption of the Holy Virgin Church. It was built on the place of the former church from the 9th century. The church was renovated in 1186 and it became part of a monastery, but it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1371. Today’s church is from 1844 and it was the main church of the city.
Walking around this part of the city, we saw many beautiful colourful houses. Some of them have been turned into galleries, museums, restaurants, and hotels.
For example, Klianti House is one of the oldest wooden frame residential houses, dating back from the middle of the 18th century. It is an asymmetrical two-storey house, The last restoration was finished in 2017 when the house was awarded „Building of the year“. Almost 2/3 of its original appearance has been preserved.
Ancient ruins from the Roman times
Close to the colourful buildings of the old city, there are ancient ruins from the Roman period, such as the theatre, the stadium, and the forum.
Philippopolis’s Roman theatre
Philippopolis’s Roman theatre is located between Dzhambaz and Taksim hills, constructed in the 1st century during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian. It is one of the world’s best-preserved ancient theatres. The theatre had an auditorium with 28 concentric rows of marble seats, and some of them were labelled for important persons. It is believed that could host between 5,000 and 7,000 spectators.
The stage has the shape of a horseshoe, and it is surrounded by buildings decorated with various statues and porticos.
It was used until the 5th century when it was probably destroyed by an earthquake. The stadium was discovered in the 1970-s during excavations due to landslides. The restoration of the theatre is considered as one of the best in the conversation in Bulgaria.
So today various cultural plays, concerts, and public events are organized in the theatre.
The Stadium of Philippopolis
The Stadium of Philippopolis was built in the 2nd century AD, during the reign of the emperor Hadrian.
It is located in the centre of modern Plovdiv, in Dzhumaya square.
The stadium was approximately 240 meters long, 50 meters wide, and it could host about 30.000 spectators. According to the inscriptions, games similar to the Greek Pythian Games were held in the stadium.
So today we can see only its northern part. Actually, you are walking on the ruins of the ancient stadium because the larger part still lies beneath the buildings along the main square. The square is surrounded by colourful buildings. The main pedestrian street starts from there. It is about 2 km long and perfect for a walk and shopping.
By the way, the stadium was discovered in 1923, but more excavations were made about half a century later. It was further renovated from 2010–2013. I have to say that I like very much the way how ancient ruins are incorporated perfectly into the modern streets of the city.
Close to the stadium, there is Dzhumaya Mosque.
It was built in 1363–1364 on the site of the Sveta Petka Tarnovska Cathedral Church after the Ottomans conquered Plovdiv city. In the 15th century, during the reign of Sultan Murad I, the old building was destroyed and replaced by a large mosque. This mosque is one of the oldest and biggest Ottoman buildings on the Balkan.
One of the most interesting parts of the modern city of Plovdiv is Kapana.
Located in a small area between the main street and the old town, it is a vibrant and colourful art district.
Kapana means „The Trap“ because its network of small streets makes the feeling that you are lost or trapped.
The district is fantastic, with tiny colourful houses, little terraces, small craft shops, outdoor decorations like on festival days, and murals.
Also, there are cafes, beer pubs, restaurants, and nightclubs. And many various events are organized there.
Since it was a very hot day and we were tired of walking, we took a break and had lunch in the Pavaz restaurant. The food was very delicious: salads, pork ribs, and fish. But I was especially surprised when I found my favourite mastiha lemonade on the menu. Since it is the best restaurant in Kapana, it is always crowded, so it is better to make a reservation.
How to get to Plovdiv
Plovdiv is about 145 km far from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria (an hour and a half), by the Trakia motorway. And it is about 250 km far from Burgas, a town on the Black Sea, which was our next destination. Also, Plovdiv has bus and train stations, as well as an airport.
The best time for a visit is from May to October. The hottest months are July and August when there are a lot of tourists and the accommodation prices are a little bit higher.
I really enjoyed walking around the city where the past and present are perfectly intertwined in everyday life. And I hope that Plovdiv will be one of your next destinations.
Just take comfortable shoes and get lost in this ancient and eternal city. And don’t forget to enjoy delicious Bulgarian food and fantastic wines.
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