It is located 150km southeast of Sofia, connected by non-stop motorway, 2 hours by car. Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and one of the oldest in Europe.

The five  Plovdiv hills were the site of a Thracian Eumolpias, the chief centre of the Odyrsae tribe. The Thracian tribes were subject to a degree of Hellenisation, which rapidly accelerated after the conquest of the town by Alexander the Great in 341 BC. Later Greek rulers built the extensive fortification system. The town was renamed Philippopolis and grew to become an important regional centre, and a centre of Greek learning, particularly philosophy. Philippopolis was taken by the Roman invaders of the Balkans in AD 46, and a large number of legionary veterans were settled in the vicinity. An extensive system of aqueducts was built to bring water from the Rhodope Mountains to the city. The town was refortified by Marcus Aurelius, and was renamed Trimontium, and became a rich and famous centre of learning. Philippopolis was destroyed by the Goths in 251, and became a part of the Eastern Empire in 395, then totally destroyed by the Huns in 447. It was rebuilt and refortified by Justinian in the 6th century. After the Slav and Avar invasions, it fell within the borders of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. In the time of Kham Malamir it was given the Slavonic name of Puldin. For many years Byzantines and Bulgarians fought for the city and after 1018, it was fully reincorporated into the Byzantine Empire. It was severely damaged during the First Crusade in 1204, when Kind Kaloyan recaptured what was then known as Plovdiv and incorporated it to the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The town grew under the reign of Tsar Ivan Assen II (1218-41). It was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1364. It prospered for a while under Ottoman occupation, becoming a supply centre for rice, tobacco and woollen garments for the Ottoman army, and then stagnated. It was revived again in the 19th century when it became a focus of  the expansion of Greek economic influence in the region. Craft industries, such as soap making and rug making, were developed. Plovdiv merchants opened workshops in Constantinople, Athens, Odessa, Manchester and Calcutta. Plovdiv was liberated in 1878 and under the Treaty of Berlin became capital of the province of Eastern Roumelia. In 1885 it was fully integrated into Bulgaria. In 1936 Old Plovdiv was declared a “historic preservation area”, and in 1979 the town was awarded a European Gold Medal by UNESCO for protecting its monuments.

Things to see:
With its art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafes, Plovdiv equals Sofia in things cultural and is a determined rival in nightlife as well – it has a lively, exuberant spirit befitting its status as a major university town. Being a smaller and less stressful city than Sofia, Plovdiv is also great for walking. Plovdiv’s lovely old town, largely restored to its mid-19th-century appearance is packed with atmospheric house museums and art galleries and – unlike many other cities with ‘old towns’ – has eminent artists still living and working within its tranquil confines. The neighbourhood boasts Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian antiquities. One of the most remarkable sights here is the magnificent Ancient Amphitheatre, built in the 2nd-century-AD by Emperor Trajan, only uncovered during a freak landslide in 1972. It once held about 6000 spectators and is the grandest building of its type discovered so far on the Balkan Peninsula. After being almost fully restored, it again hosts large-scale special events and concerts. Intriguing here is also the Ethnographic museum housed in one of the most renowned National Revival period house in the Old Town. It features 40,000 exhibits, including folk costumes and musical instruments, jewellery and traditional craftworks like weaving, metalworking, winemaking and beekeeping. Traditional tools displayed range from grape-crushers and wine-measures to apparatuses used for distilling attar of roses. Around the so called “Friday Mosque” built back in the 15th century, you will find plenty of places to try some delicious Bulgarian sweets and sip on a cup of aromatic coffee. Plovdiv’s modern centre, on the south side of the Maritsa River, features a shop-lined pedestrian mall,  Knyaz Aleksandar Street, which passes over the Roman Stadium and up to a splendid square with gushing fountain. The nearby Tsar Simeon Garden is a shady, popular spot for relaxing. Plovdiv’s cafes and bars are widespread, though one concentration of popular places is in the Kapana district, northwest of the old town. Like Rome, Plovdiv boasts seven hills, though one was flattened by communists and only four impress: Nebet Tepe, with Thracian fort ruins above the old town; Sahat Tepe (Clock Hill), crowned with a clock tower; Bunardjika (the ‘Hill of the Liberators’) to the west; and Djendem (‘Hill of the Youth’) in the southwest. Plovdiv’s always been among Bulgaria’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities, and it’s also Bulgaria’s second-largest road and railway hub and economic centre. It certainly repays a longer visit and will not fail to draw you in if you let it.


Photos from Plovdiv

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