“COSMOPOLITAN”, “ARISTOCRATIC” AND “ARTISTIC” ARE ONLY A FEW OF THE EPITHETS THAT BEFIT PLOVDIV.
The excessive use of superlatives usually raises eyebrows and quite rightly so. But Plovdiv is an exception. You can safely say that it is one of the most ancient, most aristocratic most cosmopolitan, most picturesque and most artistic cities in this country. Oh, and one of the most important too..
Each of the superlatives above has its justification.
Situated on the shores of the Maritsa in the Upper Thracian Valley, the city occupies a spot, which people found suitable for habitation 8,000 years ago and build a prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe Hill. The surrounding valleys were fertile and the important route from the Bosporus to Central Europe passed through it. The Romans called it Via Diagonalis while for the present-day bureaucrats it is Pan-European Transport Corridor 4.
It is as difficult to briefly describe Plovdiv’s history as it is to write a synopsis of War and Peace: in both cases the details will be lost and they are what we find the most interesting.
An easier solution is to go to the city centre and let the buildings and the people around you act as a kind of guidebook.For example, the exquisite houses from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century lining the main street, named after Knyaz Alexander 1, are a reminder of the first years following the liberation of the city from Ottoman rule. After the Treaty of Berlin of 1878, Plovdiv became the capital of Eastern Rumelia, an autonomous province under Ottoman suzerainty.
On 6 September 1885 it joined the independent Principality of Bulgaria – an even still celebrated as Unification Day.
The main street takes you to Dzhumayata Square, where several epochs of the city’s past come together. In its centre lie the remains of a Roman stadium from the 1st Centry AD, a reminder of the time when Plovdiv was known as Philippopolis and was the capital of the Roman province of Thrace. Near it stands the statue of Philip 2 of Macedon. Alexander the Great’s father conquered the Thracian city of Pulpudeva in 342 BC and named it after himself. The recently renovated Dzhumaya Mosque also rises nearby. One of the oldest in the Balkans, it it appeared several dacades after the Ottomans took the city in 1364. Before that crucial moment, Pluvdiv-Philippopolis was an apple of discord between the Bulgarians and Byzantines. Their first war for it was in 812, when Bulgarian Khan Krum conquered it. The conflicts continued until 1344, when Emperor John 5 Palaiologos gave it to Bulgarian King Ivan Alexander as a reward for the help he got from him when fighting for the throne.
From Dzhumayata, you can go in several different directions. On Sahat Tepe, you will see a string of old urban architecture, the largest protestant church in Bulgaria and, on top of the hill, one of the oldest clock towers in the Balkans, built in the 16th Centure.
However, Plovdiv’s most picturesque area lies uphill behind the mosque. Built in the 18th and 19th Century, the houses from a maze of colorful walls and decorative alcoves, called alafrangi with murals painted on them and overhung by bay windows and heavy roofs. Behind the wooden walls, you will find art galleries, cafes, museum (don’t miss the Ethnographic Museum in Kuyumdzhievata House) and historic houses. The best-known of them is Lamartinovata House. French poet Alphonse de Lamartine stayed behind its ochre-covered walls for three days in 1833 while travelling across the Orient.
Whatever course your walk takes I the maze of Old Plovdiv, sooner or later you will come across an unexpected view: an ancient theatre. Although it was built in the 2nd Century and lay buried under people’s homes in the Middle Ages and the Bulgarian Revival, today it again serves its purpose: its stage is used for concerts and theatrical performances.
Plovdiv boasts a much more spirited and diverse cultural life, however. Even if you miss the festivals, exhibition and days of culture that abound in the local culture calendar throughout the year, you can always fell Plovdiv’s artistic atmosphere. You should just go into an art gallery in the Old city duringthe day or one of the clubs, at night.