Europe, Bulgaria, Central Bulgaria

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city

No Comments 21 July 2010

Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second city

Not every country can boast a 5,000 year-old city, but some can. As the Monkey learned during several 2002 visits, Plovdiv wears its age as a badge of pride.

Amphitheater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second largest city. Built on seven hills, it is an ancient place, having been settled even before the Thracians created a significant settlement there some 5,000 years ago. In fact, Plovdiv predates such classical cities as Athens, Rome, and Carthage. Phillip II of Macedon conquered it in 342 BCE, and the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and various Bulgarian rulers left their mark on the city. Many visitors to Bulgaria are surprised to discover the wealth of its antiquities, like this Roman amphitheater, skilfully restored where necessary and still in use some 1,800 years after its construction. On summer evenings, the people of Plovdiv can relax on the ancient benches and watch plays or listen to concerts with the backdrop of the cityscape and the mass of the Rhodopi Mountains, home to the mythical Orpheus, in the distance.

The hilltop neighborhood around the amphitheater also contains numerous fine National Revival houses, Ottoman mosques, and Bulgarian Orthodox churches, all connected by picturesque, winding cobblestone streets. You can get a taste of it through these photos.

Stari Grad, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
The Monkey explores Plovdiv’s hilltop Stari Grad, or Old City. Like Koprivshtitsa, Plovdiv was the locus of a major boom in National Revival architecture, and the city has done a good job of preserving dozens of outstanding examples of the Plovdiv School. The ochre house seen here was built from 1846 to 1848 for the wealthy Plovdiv merchant Dimitur Georgiadi, and designed by master Georgi, an architect originally from Istanbul who also built the blue house immediately to the left of the ochre one, the front of which you can see in the next photo below.

National Revival house, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Now an Ethnographic Museum, this wonderful 1847 house in Plovdiv’s Stari Grad highlights many of the elements of Bulgarian National Revival architecture. The curved facade, the overhanging second storey, the slightly scalloped windows, and the ornamental painting of the exterior are all clearly evident in this landmark building. The house was originally built for Argir Koyumdzhioglou, an important Plovdiv trader.

After taking in the building’s beauty, the Monkey relaxed in its peaceful courtyard garden (another shot below).

Sveti Constantine i Helena, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
This shot from the grounds of the Koyumdzhioglou House/Ethnographic Museum (above) shows the original walls of the home, as well as the bell tower of Plovdiv’s oldest church, the beautiful Sveti Constantine i Helena. The church is built atop a stretch of the Stari Grad’s fortifications, which date from the period of Philip II, when Plovdiv was known as Philippopolis. Inside, the church features a wealth of beautiful icons, some of them by the 19th Century master Zachary Zograph.

Hippodrome and mosque, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Resting on a railing,the Monkey inspects the ruins of Plovdiv’s ancient Roman hippodrome (below street level and almost out of sight. You can see a bit of its marble stands just behind Maimunka). The stone building further behind him is the late 14th Century Dzhumaiya Mosque, a relic of the early Ottoman period in Bulgaria, and one of 53 mosques built in Plovdiv during the Ottoman era. You can see its minaret above the roof.

Old Car in Old City, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
On Ulitsa Tsanko Lavrenov in Plovdiv’s Stari Grad, Maimunka spotted this sleek old roadster. The first two characters of the license plate are the Bulgarian abbreviation for Plovdiv.

Amphitheater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
The Monkey gets another view over Plovdiv’s Roman amphitheater, construction on which began during Emperor Trajan’s reign (1st and 2nd Century CE). The notorious Atilla once ransacked the amphitheater while besieging Trimontium, the Roman name for Plovdiv, in the 5th Century CE.

Stari Grad, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Maimunka contemplates more of the National Revival architecture in Plovdiv’s Stari Grad.

This Monkey adventure has been viewed 1310 times since the 2010 website relaunch.



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7,262,675 (2008)

Land area:

110,550 sq. km.


Sofia (pop. 1,113,674; 2005)


In 2006, Bulgaria ranked 55th in the UNDP Human Development Index and 66th in total GDP, with a per capita GDP of $4,089.22. Public debt accounts for 10.5 percent of total GDP, while 14.1 percent of Bulgarians are beneath the poverty line.

Main language(s):


Monkey's name:

Maimunka (my-moon-ka)

Fun fact:

Bulgarians nod their heads up and down to say “no,” while they shake their heads from side to side to signify “yes.” That is, unless they adjust their head movements to accommodate for visitors accustomed to the more conventional non-verbal cues. Either way, head symbols can be a confusing affair in Bulgaria.

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Recommended reading

A Concise History of Bulgaria
R.J. Crampton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
This short book has become the go-to summation of this Balkan country’s long and complex history. A perfect introduction to the country.

Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission, Bulgaria 1944
E.P. Thompson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997)
A fascinating exploration of a British mission to rendez-vous with Bulgarian Partisans and raise a force against the Nazi-allied royalist dictatorship during World War II. Reads like a spy novel at times, but also a memorial to the author’s brother, who was killed in the effort.

Communism and the Remorse of an Innocent Victimizer
Zlatko Anguelov (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2002)
Part personal memoir, part exploration of the all-encompassing nature of Bulgaria’s Communist government, this book poses uncomfortable questions about the banal, everyday forms of repression and victimization that take root under coercive governments. Anguelov’s observations resonate far beyond Bulgaria’s borders…

The Balkans: A Short History
Mark Mazower (New York: Modern Library Paperback, 2002)
As the title says, a short history of the Balkan region. A helpful intro to this corner of Europe.

The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-1999
Misha Glenny (New York: Penguin, 2001)
A rather epic undertaking by a former BBC correspondent for Central Europe, this book traces the tumultuous two centuries of the Balkan states’ struggles for independence from the Ottoman Empire, the emergence of pan-Slavic tendencies and their tribulations, and the reign of various regimes of the right and left during the 20th Century. A worthwhile read—don’t let its dimensions frighten you…

Description of a Struggle: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Eastern European Writing
Editor: Michael March (New York: Vintage Books, 1994: Out of print)
A great anthology of short stories from the former Eastern Bloc, providing an evocative snap shot of the early post-Cold War era. Stories are organized by state, with the Bulgarian Victor Paskov’s tale of “Romanian” exiles in the Paris Metro a particular highlight.

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