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