The Puzzle of Plovdiv, Bulgaria: 6 Reasons to Discover This Ancient City
Plovdiv, Bulgaria is one of the oldest cities in Europe – in existence since the 12th century BC, but populated since the early Neolithic age. People settled here on a site protected by three hills, and the many layers of its history begin far below the level of today’s city.
Like most of Bulgaria, it’s been influenced and/or controlled variously by Thrace, the Persian and Roman empires, the 1st and 2nd Bulgarian Empires, the Ottomans, the 18th-19th century Bulgarian Revivalists, and the Soviets.
Putting together the puzzle pieces of Plovdiv’s splintered history creates a portrait of an enduring and diverse civilization built on layer upon layer of local cultures and connections. Let’s dig down and discover some of the parts that make up Plovdiv.
At the National Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv, a large variety of finds from Southern Bulgaria show the life and culture of the tribes that populated the Thracian lands from the Stone Age to the early Ottoman period. Other ancient monuments are found in situ, such as the dramatic Roman Amphitheater.
Built by Emperor Trajan during the late 1st and early 2nd century, Plovdiv’s amphitheater originally seated 6,000 spectators. 20 rows of its original marble seats have been preserved. The theater is now used for staging summer festivals and performances, with a capacity of 3,500. Carved friezes, statues and inscriptions are found on the stage and the seats.
Plovdiv also boasts a Roman Stadium used for Olympic-type games, and a section of the ancient Roman aqueduct that brought Plovdiv its water from the Rhodope Mountains.
2) Old Town and Bulgarian Revival Architecture
Just as the Renaissance began flowering in Italy, the Ottoman Turks captured the territory of Bulgaria, cutting it off from Europe for the next 500 years. In the monasteries and in the remote valleys of the mountain ranges, monks and lay people conserved Bulgarian history and traditions until the mid 18th century, when Bulgarian culture began to experience a flowering of its own. This is called the “National Revival,” and it expressed itself in architecture, literature, and the struggle for freedom of religion and against the Ottomans.
Plovdiv’s diverse and inclusive background is reflected in its wealth of historic sacred buildings.
Remains of a small Christian basilica from the 5th century were discovered during construction work in 1988. Its beautiful mosaics have been preserved under a modern shelter. A small synagogue with similar mosaics was found nearby.
The people of Plovdiv have been potters since Thracian times, when artisans began to use that new invention, the potter’s wheel. Bulgarian pottery is colorful and sturdy, and in Plovdiv there are quite a few opportunities to observe masters at their craft, and to purchase gifts.
When you’re in Plovdiv, don’t miss a tour and tasting at Todoroff Winery in nearby Brestovitza. A prime grape-growing region, the area has produced wine since Roman times. Originally founded in 1945 and renovated in 2001, the Todoroff National Revival-style winery complex includes cellars for wine-tasting.
6) 2019 Capital of Culture
The European Capital of Culture program was launched in 1985 to help introduce and bring together the different cultures of Europe. Each year one or more of Europe’s most wonderful cities is given the title, (as was Riga in 2014) and invites the world to join a year-long cultural celebration that can include music, dance, art, drama, exhibitions and festivals – anything that shows off the history and traditions of the place.
Plovdiv will have this honor in 2019. If your travel plans stretch far into the future, consider 2019 for a visit to Plovdiv, when the arts will take center stage.
Want to know more about Bulgaria?
- Video Check-In: Folk Dancing at Bulgaria’s Kazanluk Rose Festival
- Bulgaria’s Flower Festival: Stop and Smell the (Kazanlashka) Roses
- Photo Check-In: Soviet Kitsch Found in the Backwaters of Bulgaria
- Drink Up! Fine Wines of Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova
- Watch the Changing of the Guard in Sofia, Bulgaria
- Birdwatching in Bulgaria: An Interview with Expert Iordan Hristov
Travel to Bulgaria with MIR
MIR has more than two decades of Bulgaria travel experience, offering on-the-ground support and quality you can trust, and guides and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Visit Plovdiv on these small group journeys and rail journeys by private train:
- Bulgaria & Romania: Frescoes & Fortresses – small group tour
- Budapest to Venice by Private Train – rail journey by private train
- Venice to Istanbul by Private Train – rail journey by private train
Or, discover Plovdiv’s highlights for yourself on a custom, private tour through Bulgaria. MIR specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
Top photo: Wandering the winding streets of Old Town Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Photo credit: Michel Behar
PUBLISHED: January 4, 2017