Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, situated on the Maritsa River. Its unique location on these ancient crossroads has stimulated strong cultural and political influences from East and West civilizations, and yet maintained its unique cultural identity. Being older than most of the oldest towns like Rome, Athens, Carthage or Constantinople, an almost contemporary of Troy, Plovdiv is a town built upon layers of towns and a culture developed upon layers of cultures.
Plovdiv is a picturesque town, with many parks and gardens, museums and archaeological monuments. Its old part, called the Old Town, with houses from the National Revival period (18-19th century), is an imposing open-air museum situated on the three hills of the ancient Trimontium. One of the most remarkable sights of the town, the Ancient Theatre (a well-preserved Roman theatre), is located there and is still used for open-air performances.
Remains of ancient, mediaeval, revival and modern culture coexist and are interwoven into the unobtrusive, irresistible and eternal beauty of this city. They do not stand in each other's way; they complement and enrich each other to make Plovdiv a synonym of Bulgarian history and a genuine world city.
Plovdiv is very, very old. The Eternal City, as Rome is conventionally called, is much younger. Athens, Carthage and Constantinople came into being later. A contemporary of Troy and having survived Mycenae, Plovdiv is a city upon layers of cities and an epoch upon layers of epochs. Plovdiv is all in one: a Thracian and classical Greek polis, the pride of Philip of Macedon, the capital of Thrace under the Roman Empire, a centre of Byzantinism, a stronghold of the Bulgarians, a dream of the crusaders -- a magnificent, wealth and most important city.
Kendros, Eumolpia, Philippopolis, Pulpudeva, Thrimonzium, Pulden, Populdin, Ploudin, Filibe -- those were the ancient names of Plovdiv throughout its 6000 to 8000 years of existence. The name Plovdiv first appeared in 15 century documents and has remained till today.
In the distant past Plovdiv was situated on seven hills: Taxim, Nebet, Jambaz, Sahat, Jendem and Bunarjik. The seventh hill, Markovo Tepe, has nowadays subsided completely under the pavement of modern Plovdiv.
In 432 B.C. the town was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia. During his rule the ancient Thracian fortress and towers were rebuilt. The vain Philip II gave the city his own name, Philippopolis. Soon it became a Thracian town again, called Pulpudeva. During the 1st century A.C. it was conquered by the Romans. The practical Romans called the town Thrimonzium (lying on three hills) because the Roman town was situated on three hills, Taxim, Nebet, and Jambaz Tepe. The Roman emperors Trayanus and Marcus Aurellius built solid fortresses around the town. They intoduced many improvements, as well as coin minting. At the time Plovdiv was known as Ulpia Thrimonzium, the most flourishing metropolis of the Thracian province.
The magnificent amphitheatre above dates back from Roman times. Now it is restored and classical drama, operas, and concerts are presented on stage in the open air... In 447 the Huns ruined the town. In the sixth century the Slavs settled in the Balkan Peninsula and introduced the names Pulden and Plundiv. In 815 Khan Kroum seized the fortress. In the following five centuries the town was ruled by Bulgarians, then conquered by Byzantium. The Bulgarian army came again later. The Crusaders demolished and plundered the town several times on their way to Mecca.
1365 was a fateful year for Plovdiv. The town fell under the Turkish yoke. Later it was renamed Filibe and became an important administrative and military center of crafts. Filibe was the seat of the ruler of the district of Rumelia. At that time the town possessed a mysterious charm and striking poverty typical of the Orient. The functioning Jumaia Mosque attracts visitors to the center of modern Plovdiv with its fine minaret and its sun-dial.
The commercial area of the town was between that mosque and the river Maritza. One of the oldest clock towers in Eastern Europe is located behind Sahat Tepe. The clock is working even nowadays. As the Turkish traveller Evlya Chelebi wrote in 1651, "Philibe is the biggest one among 10 big towns in the European part of Turkey, and is getting richer every day".
The 19th century brought Plovdiv closer to the rennaissance from cultural opression during the Turkish occupation. That was the time of spiritual awakening when the Bulgarian people began their struggle for religious, cultural and political independence. Many citizens of Plovdiv sacrificed their lives because they had the courage to rise against the sultan. In 1850 the well-known enlightener Naiden Gerov established a class school. In the following year the anniversary of the Slavic enlighteners Sts. Cyrillus and Methodius was celebrated for the first time. Hristo G. Danov founded the first Bulgarian publishing house in 1855. He circulated the printed books, newspapers and magazines around the Bulgarian land. The first printing press in Bulgaria appeared at that time. The Bulgarian revolutionist Vassil Levski organized a revolutionary committee in Plovdiv.
The long cherished liberation came to Plovdiv on January 19, 1878, after 500 years of waiting. However, the extasy of it was short. The Berlin Congress divided newly liberated Bulgaria into the Principality of Bulgaria and the autonomous region of Eastern Rumelia with its capital Plovdiv. Just seven years later the unification of Bulgaria was proclaimed on September 6, 1885. That was the first blow agains the unfair Berlin Agreement. This is a photo of the lovely monument in the middle of Unification Square that honors the hundredth anniversary of that great event. The monument depicts the Mother-Country with the laurel wreath of victory stretched in her hands, with her two wings, the two regions brought together, ready for the coming 20-th century.
Museums and protected sites
Plovdiv is a tourist's treasure trove. It has more than 200 known archeological sites, 30 of which are of national importance. Some of the world-famous sites include the Ancient Theater (early 2nd century AD), the Roman Stadium (late 2nd century AD), the magnificent colored mosaics of the villas, the ones of the episcopal temple, the Nebet Tepe archaeological complex and the noted samples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, such as the Balabanov House, the Kuyumdzhiev House, the Lamartine House, and the houses of Georgiadi, Nedkovich, and Hindian.
Also of note is that there are more than 30,000 cultural artifacts, kept in the five Plovdiv museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Historical Museum, the Natural Museum and the City Art Gallery. The Panagyurishte Golden Treasure from the end of the 6th century BCE consists of six uniquely decorated golden utensils, together weighing more than 6,000 kg.
The Old Town of Plovdiv is a historic preservation site known for its unique Bulgarian Renaissance architectural style. The Old Town covers the area of the three central hills - Nebet Tepe, Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe. Almost every house in the Old Town is characteristically impressive in its exterior and interior decoration.
The Bulgarian Museum of Aviation is located on the western edge of Plovdiv International Airport.
Churches, mosques and temples
There are a number of 19th century churches, most of which follow the distinctive Eastern Orthodox construction style. Those are the Saint Constantine and Saint Helena, the Saint Marina, the Saint Nedelya, the Saint Petka and the Holy Mother of God Churches. There are also the Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Plovdiv, the largest of them being St Ludovic. There are several more modern Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other Protestant churches, as well as older style Apostolic churches. Two mosques remain in Plovdiv from the time of the Ottoman rule. There is also one Jewish temple.
The spirit of Plovdiv bears the creative power of its artists, writers and musicians. Notable events include the Chambre Music International Festival, which takes place in the old town since the 1970s; the Golden Chest International TV Film Festival, organized jointly with the Bulgarian National Television since the 1980s; the Golden Rhyton International Festival of Documentary Films, which is a joint initiative with the National Film Centre, which dates back to 1980s; the Verdi Festival, the venue of which is one of the most attractive places in the city - the Ancient Theatre; Easter and Christmas music festivals; the International Folklore Festival that is one of the most exotic events at the end of the summer. Of particular interests are some recent initiatives - the Stage on a Crossroad International Theatre Festival, the Week of Modern Art that takes place in the Ancient Public Bath, the Impresiya Art Fair.
In 1999 Plovdiv was the host of the European Cultural Month. On the traditional stages in the city and on alternative culture spaces, the program carried out the biggest culture forum in Bulgaria at the turn of the century. Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova, Lyudmil Anguelov, the Bamberg Symphonic Orchestra, Michael Nyman, Hanna Schygulla, Goran Bregović and his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra, Metallica, Apocalyptica, Grand Funk, Ritchie Blackmore and many others took part in it.
The existing infrastructure of the city adds to the development of cultural activities. The Plovdiv Drama Theatre is an inheritor of the first professional theatre group in Bulgaria founded in 1881. The Plovdiv Puppet Theatre, founded in 1948, remains one of the leading institutions in this genre. Established in 1953, Plovdiv Opera achieved serious professional acknowledgements not only in Bulgaria, but also in Germany, Denmark, Spain, Italy.
Another post of the culture of Plovdiv is the Philarmonic, founded in 1945. Works of the classic and of the modern symphony are included in its repertory. Soloists such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Sviatoslav Richter, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yuri Boukov, Mincho Minchev worked with the Plovdiv Philharmonic. The orchestra toured in almost all of the European countries. Known for its originality and professionalism is the Trakiya Folklore Ensemble. Founded in 1974, it has performed thousands of concerts in Bulgaria and more than 40
countries of the world. The Trakiya Traditional Choir was nominated for a Grammy Award.
The city's traditions as a literary centre are preserved by the first public library in Bulgaria, the Ivan Vazov National Library, by the 19 chitalishta (cultural centres), by the numerous booksellers and publishers. Today the Ivan Vazov National Library is the second largest national library institution, owning rare Bulgarian and European publications. The modern publishing houses add their significant contribution to the book market in the country and represent Bulgarian literature abroad.
For its 112 years of existence, the International Fair in Plovdiv has gradually evolved to the definition of the "oldest, largest, most authoritative" representative of the exhibition industry in South-East Europe. Its size and rate of activity has made it the sole Bulgarian full-right member of the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) and earned it a deserving place within other guild associations such as the Central European Fair Association (CEFA) and the Exhibition Association of South-East Europe (EASE). The Fair occupies an area of 360,000 sq.m. and houses over 24 multifunctional pavilions. Annually, the Fair hosts 52 events.
With the newly-opened Congress Centre and its eight halls, the Fair intends to become a focal point for seminars, conferences, symposia. In this way, the fair administration subscribed yet again to its motto "We create new opportunities."