At approximately 150km from the capital (1h45 by car and good traffic) lies the second largest city in Bulgaria by population: Plovdiv. This vibrant town has a very well-preserved and charming historical center and a diverse cultural offer.
The city can trace its origins back well before the founding of Rome and was most likely founded by the Thracians’s ancestors around 1200 B.C. It was built on the southern bank of the river Maritsa and on three of the foothills of the Rhodope mountain range (Nebet Tepe, Taksim Tepe and Djambaz Tepe), which provided natural protection. The Thracian name for the city was Evmolpia, but since it was conquered a number of times, it changed names as it changed hands. The Macedonians dubbed it Philippopolis, the romans called it Trimontium (which translates to “Three Hills” and the Ottomans renamed it to Filibe.
Probably thanks to its location, the city remained important all the way through the Eastern Roman Empire rule. After the Ottomans conquered present day Bulgaria, however, the city was nearly raised to the ground. However, in recent years Plovdiv has been restored in a fast tempo due to Plovdiv’s participation in the European Capital of Culture 2019 programme and much of the historical remains are now in accessible to the general public.
Some things which you should totally not miss out on in Plovdiv are:
- The forum and odeon of Philippopolis – In the General Gurko street, south of the three hills which make up to old city center, you can find the ruins of the forum of Philippopolis. Although it could probably use some maintenance, the size of the forum and the magnificence of the standing pillars are testimony to the importance of the city in Ancient times. Next to the forum is the odeon, a place where in ancient times, musical and poetical performances were held. Although it is only partly excavated, it is easy to imagine the inhabitants of the city enjoying a performance after a business meeting on the forum.
- From the forum you can head north, down the Kynaz Alexander I street, following the pedestrian area towards the three hills. This will take you passed the Stefan Stambolov square, with its nice flowerbeds and characteristic round fountain. Further down the street, after passing the stores in their well-maintained colorful buildings, you will encounter the large PLOVDIV letters and a flight of stairs, leading west to Sahat Tepe (the Danov hill). You will also find the statue of Milo here. He has a little trouble hearing you, so feel free to speak up! Follwing the street further north, you will encounter the Djoumaya mosque and the Stadium of Philippopolis.
- Danov hill – This 210m high hill is rumoured to have been to location of a Roman temple of Venus. Although no remains are visible of such a construction, it still pays to make the climb, as it gives you an excellent view on the historical city center.
- The Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis – On the square right next to the Djoumaya mosque you can find the northern remains of the Roman Stadium, built in the 2nd It could seat up to 30 000 spectators and was 1000 Roman steps (240 meters) long and 250 Roman steps (50 meters) wide. However, since most of the remains are below street level, the rest of the stadium is hard to excavate or display. Nevertheless, the well-preserved part at display will give you a good idea of how impressive the games must have been.
You can enter the stadium by going down a flight of stairs next to the mosque and then by walking through the vaulted corridor of the Stadium, above which the seats of honour used to be. Once inside, you can see a portrait suggesting how the rest of the stadium could look.
- Djoumaya mosque – This impressive building is a three-naved Muslim place of worship. The central nave has three domes and at the northern front side of the building you can find a minaret. Members of Plovdiv’s Muslim community visit the mosque regularly.
- Church of the Holy Mother of God – Following the street at the southern side of the mosque, you will be lead to a broad flight of stairs. These mark the start of Taksim Tepe and the historical city center. Climbing those stairs, you will find a large terrace with the church of the Holy Mother of God built in the middle. It was completely restored in 2000 in commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Inside this 32 by 17 meter building, you can find baroque icons decorating the place of worship.
- Plovdiv’s Roman Amphitheatre – Running just south of the Church of the Holy Mother of God alongside the stone wall is the Todor Samodumov street. If you walk through it, you will quickly find an ally to your right, leading to an open space where you will find the Ancient Amphitheatre of Plovdiv. Located on the flanks where Taksim Tepe and Djambaz Tepe meet, it gives you quite the impressive view on the Rhodope mountain range. Built some 1900 years ago, the theater was an important contribution by the Romans to the capital of their Thracian province. This impressive building is in such a good state, that it hosts a wide variety of cultural activities which can entertain approximately 3500 spectators.
- North of the Church of the Holy Mother of God, you will find the Saborna Street. It is the Artery of the historical center and it leads you straight to Nebet Tepe. However along the way there are a few stops you could make. For starters, say hello to the Artist of Plovdiv, inspecting his frame. He looks like he could be the brother of Milo, maybe give him his regards, while taking a picture with him!
- St. Konstantin and Elena Church – Next stop on the Saborna Street is one of the older Christian churches in Plovdiv: the St. St. Konstantin and Elena Church. The church was leveled and rebuilt several times throughout its history, but in the first half of the 19th century the version of today was erected. Not surprisingly it is located in the absolute center of the historical city. The first thing you will notice is the large white bell tower with its golden dome. The rest of the church is mostly hidden behind the wall around it, so make sure to enter the gate to marvel at the baroque style iconostasis and the completely preserved frescoes inside.
- Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic Museum – Right next to the St. St. Konstantin and Elena Church, you will find the second largest ethnographic museum in Bulgaria. This renaissance
house hosts a permanent exhibition displaying the ways of life of the Bulgarians in the region during the period of National Revival. The museum is also involved in organizing traditional events and makes presentations of traditional crafting methods.
Phone contact: +359 32 625 654
Summer working hours: 9h00-12h30 and 13h30-18h00 (closed on Mondays)
Winter working hours: 9h00-12h30 and 13h30-17h00 (closed on Mondays)
- Fortress on Nebet Tepe – continuing on Saborna Street all the way to the end, you will find the old Fortress of Plovdiv. Although little of the fortress remains, you can deduce by the size and location of it, that it must have been quite impressive. However, after the Ottoman invasion it played little to no role in the city’s defense. Yet, the wide open space on this hilltop overlooking the river and the valley below is the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset.
This list of recommendations is not exhaustive however and you will find that just wondering through the small and beautiful streets of the center will give you a sense of peace and rest and can lead you to stumble upon unexpected, picturesque locations. So in case you are travelling from Sofia to Burgas, make sure to plan at least one day to stop and marvel at what Plovdiv has to offer!