A Day in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv is an historic city situated near the Rhodope Mountains (the legendary homeland of Orpheus). It is Bulgaria’s second largest city after the capital, Sofia.

I would never have known Plovdiv existed if it hadn’t been recommended to me. So now I’m passing on the recommendation! You’re welcome.

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Plovdiv’s Old Town

Plovdiv Old Town

The Old Town of Plovdiv has houses from the 18th century built in the Bulgarian National Revival period style. You will also find the Ethnographic Museum, the Roman Theatre (below), hotels, hostels, churches, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

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The ethnographic museum

Roman Theatre

The Theatre overlooks the city, with views all the way over to the Rhodope Mountains. While it is a Roman ruin, it is one of the best preserved in the world and is still actively used as a venue for events and shows.

Entrance was just a few Euro (5 Lev), and it was refreshingly uncrowded.

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The theatre

Roman Stadium

Venturing out of the old town and right in the middle of the main shopping street of Plovdiv, you will find ancient ruins of the now underground stadium. In its glory days the stadium would host up to 30,000 spectators to watch athletes compete in games similar to the Olympic games. Built around 2nd century AD, only a fraction is now visible. The rest is buried under the main pedestrian street of Plovdiv, making it quite awkward to think about digging it up.

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A model of the stadium
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The only section of the stadium that is uncovered

The Trap

The Kapana area is also known as “The Trap”, so-called because it’s apparently easy to get lost in its narrow, winding streets. I didn’t get lost though, so you don’t need to be afraid to wander there at will and see the colourful streets, cafes and galleries.

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Colourful streets

Interesting facts about Plovdiv

It is Europe’s oldest inhabited city, older even than Athens (this claim is contested by Nessebar, also a Bulgarian city, and Cadiz in Spain).

It was built on seven hills (like Rome), but the locals say they ‘drank’ the seventh by using it to build a brewery.

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A view across the seven hills

The second highest hill, Bunardzhik, is topped by a monument of a generic Soviet soldier. According to legend, they based the statue on a photo of an unknown soldier, who turned out to be a tourist to Plovdiv some years later, and who was startled to see his figure dominating the skyline. Bulgarians are were very grateful to the Russians for their help in ousting the Turks in 1878, so you will see monuments in honor of the Russian army everywhere.

Plovdiv has had many names and identities and is regarded as a tolerant and cosmopolitan city with a ethnically and religiously diverse history.

Plovdiv began as a Neolithic settlement known as Evmolpiass (and then later Pulpudeva) in 4000BC.

It was conquered by King of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, in 342BC and renamed Philippopolis.

From AD 46 it was called Trimontium and was the capital of the Roman province of Thrace.

In 1364 it was taken by the Turks, who called it Philibé. The Ottomans rules for more than 500 years until the Bulgarian independence in 1878.

Plovdiv only came to be called Plovdiv after WWI.

Plovdiv will be European Capital of Culture 2019.

Directions

You can get a bus from Sofia at about 2 hours each way. Buses are generally more reliable than trains in Bulgaria.

Plovdiv also has an airport with direct flights from abroad.

Complete your experience

Read

Plovdiv is home to the first public library in Bulgaria, the Ivan Vazov National Library. The library was founded in 1879 and named after the famous Bulgarian writer and poet Ivan Vazov who worked in Plovdiv for five years. Vazov’s 1893 novel Under the Yoke, which depicts the Ottoman oppression of Bulgaria, is classic Bulgarian literature. I can’t say I’ve read it, but I suppose it’s good to know. Here is a quote …

Despite its negative side, the yoke on people’s shoulders has at least one outstanding, positive result: it makes these people laugh. A society not being granted access to any political and spiritual activity, where great ideas cannot be debated, a society which uses all its energy in miserable cancans or in local intrigue, finds its greatest pleasure in the easiest to get laughter life can provide.

… so … not exactly light reading, I’m guessing.

Eat

You can try Bulgarian food at Restaurant Megdana – a traditional restaurant in “mehana” style, reflecting the Ottoman part of Plovdiv’s history. A folklore show takes place every evening. Enjoy with a glass of rakia.

Listen

I could recommend some Bulgarian folk music but, let’s be real. I have never listened to anything remotely resembling that sort of music. I did listen, just to check, and it wasn’t me.

So. Here’s a song I like which has no connection to Plovdiv nor Bulgaria.

Jungle by Tash Sultana

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