The Bulgarian culture can be experienced in the villages and cities, which have for centuries preserved the authentic spirit and heritage of the country. One such place is the second most populous city – Plovdiv.
This city has always been special for Bulgaria with its unique beauty, history, and culture. What is more, in recent years Plovdiv has been considered the newly found treasure destination in Eastern Europe.
There is some magnificence in it which words are powerless to describe. Its geographical location, an architectural blend of the old and modern times, its historical sights have never failed to make anyone just fall in love with it.
On a historical note, Plovdiv is as old as the city of Troy and gives you that same feeling of immersing into the past by whether walking on very ancient streets, admiring authentic ruins of old buildings or enjoying the amenities of modern life.
According to historical records, Neolithic traces of life were found in this region from as early as the 6th millennium B.C. In the course of time, the first Thracian town became the object of conquest for the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks and other tribes each of which left its influence on its land and life.
Additionally, what makes Plovdiv a unique place is the fact that it’s one of the few cities (similar to Rome), founded on seven hills in the middle of the fertile Thracian valley and on the banks of the Mariza river.
As a destination, Plovdiv is easily accessible because of its airport and vicinity to the capital Sofia airport which is just a two-hour drive.
Today the city is standing on six hills (the seventh has been destroyed), each of which reveals a picturesque view of the Rhodope mountains to the south and a variety of houses just outside the city.
These hills are one of the trademarks of the city. You can often hear local people claiming that the hills are powerful energy places with a long history. There are so many legends and myths about their origin and development because of their interesting location in a vast valley next to the Maritsa river. Each of the hills has its name and history – in the past on each hilltop there was once a statue of a different deity.
- The tallest hill is called Dzhendem tepe. Tepe is the Turkish word for hill and in translation, it means the Youth hill. It has beautiful parks with rare representatives of unique flora and fauna.
- The second one is Bunardjika or the Liberation hill famous for its historical monuments.
- Sahat tepe or The hour hill is in the center of the city taking its name from the clock tower on its top
The remaining 6 hills Nebet tepe, Dzambaz tepe and Taxim tepe comprise the complex of The Three Hills which together with the so called Old Town are declared an Architectural and Cultural reserved zone.
If you decide to have a walk around any of the hills you will be surprised how many oddities you will discover at almost every corner – the remains of a Roman aqueduct, a secret house left by the time of the communism.
The Meeting Place of Religions and Styles
Interestingly enough, Plovdiv is a city where many religions meet and have been living together in peace and harmony. Something that not many places can be proud of.
Even while just walking along the Main street – the shopping center of the city, looking for a place to have dinner you can see Turkish mosques next to Roman remains and a Catholic church nearby. While the main religion is Eastern Orthodox you can still find churches in the Gothic Western European styles as well as many buildings which are typical examples of The Renaissance.
The Old Town and the Amphitheater
Like every city, Plovdiv has a must-see place and this is the Architectural and Cultural reserve – The Old Town. Its narrow cobblestone streets, authentic houses, and shops full of crafts convey a second-to-none experience and glimpse into the Bulgarian Renaissance period.
In most of the magnificent houses, there are first-class restaurants with traditional Bulgarian cuisine and wines.
Very close to the Old town is the ancient Roman amphitheater – a gorgeous white-stone relic of the Roman reign of the city. Every year on the stage of this marvelous theatre a plethora of cultural events are held – such as operas, various art performances, concerts, festivals and different shows.
Kapana, The Trap, Neighborhood
The word “Kapan” in Bulgarian means “a trap” and once you get into this area of the city you may really be trapped. The reason, however, is not that you can’t find your way out. It is just your desire not to leave the place.
The Kapana is a car-free area where people who create any type of handmade products, paintings, art, music, or even food have a place and space to show their works and socialize all day long.
The Kapana has a historical significance in the development of Plovdiv. It is here that the first stores and workshops of the city originated. Almost all of the small houses used to be workshops of various craftsmen – shoemakers, candle makers, blacksmiths, and jewelry-makers.
Today this is an area that has many bars, restaurants and coffee houses. If you prefer to visit a gallery, then this is the right place where you can see many small and not so small handmade arts, crafts and hobby shops.
The Main Street and Center
London has its Oxford street, Tokyo has its Ginza street and Plovdiv has its Main street which is one of the longest city streets without cars, designed only for walking. Though not mentioned by name often, the street is actually named Alexander of Battenberg.
It’s a street for having strolls around the shops and cafés. If you want to shop around then this is your place!
The Rowing Canal
Plovdiv has been a host of rowing competitions on the national, European and international level. With a length of 2 km and a depth of 3 meters, the city’s rowing canal is the biggest in the Balkans.
The area around the canal provides a place for working out, running, riding bikes or doing any type of sport that requires open space.
There are beautiful green parks dotted with snack-bars or beer-houses but the city tradition has it that if you go to the rowing canal you have to try the “tsatsa” fried fish with french fries and beer, just as the locals do.
The Central Garden
Plovdiv has a big and beautiful central garden named after one of Bulgaria’s kings, Simeon. The biggest park in the city was opened in 1892 and has been given the title of a national monument for park and garden art.
If you are in Plovdiv you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to have a long walk with ice cream (or the famous Bulgarian yogurt summer drink called airyan) in this wonderful garden.
Another place worth seeing there are the singing fountains. Having been recently renovated they are attractive for both locals and foreigners.They are called singing because they entertain each night with synchronized music and lights.
Art and Culture in Plovdiv
Plovdiv has entered the world stage as a candidate the European culture capital in 2019. This naturally means that there have been many events, cultural performances, and festivals as well as concerts and art exhibitions.
Every month the city municipality organizing various events maintaining and enhancing the cultural life of the city. Numerous art exhibitions and movie festivals, as well as live shows, are being held on the open stages in the summer theaters in the city.
Although Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, its future looks not only bright but it also holds an undeniable promise for a brilliant development.
With the airport opening new lines for easier travel and access to the city, with its affordable prices for delicious food and comfortable accommodation and with its foreigner-friendly people, Plovdiv is becoming a preferred destination for tourists from all over the world.
Plovdiv is definitely the best unique ancient destination for all those who are looking for new cultural and tourist challenges and once-in-a lifetime experiences.
The unforgettable memories it offers have made its first-time visitors come back again and again to find new sources of excitement and inspiration and to appreciate fully the real meaning of its well-deserved name The Eternal City.