Saturday, 3 December 2016

Plovdiv - European Capital of Culture 2019 dazzles with its history

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Plovdiv in Central Bulgaria is the European Capital of Culture of 2019 and dazzles with its rich history and architecture.

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Though sun is trying really hard to break through, mist hangs stubbornly over Plovdiv, drizzling everything with air of melancholy.

Still its Old Town is love at first sight and becomes one of my faourite places in Bulgaria. 

Located in Central Bulgaria Plovdid is the second largest city in the country. It's about 150 kilometres from the capital Sofia and roughly 250 kilometres from the tourist resorts of Black Sea. 

For those travelling without car, the quickest way here is taxi. From Sofia it costs €60-80 and from Burgas €110-140.  A train ride from Sofia is, at quickest, about 2,5 hours (return ticket BGN 16,20 = a little less than €8) and from Burgas Burgasista approximately 5 hours (return ticket BGN 24,55 = roughly €12).

For fares and timetables please see Bulgarian railroad company's website.

Plovdiv makes a particularly good base for wine tourists, as the Trachean valley that spreads around it is one of the most interesting wine regions in the country. Within 100-kilometre radius you'll find tens and tens of wineries. More on those in a separate post!

Plovdiv also makes a great destination for history buffs: it is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and one of the oldest in the world at large. It's been inhabited since the Neolithic period 6th millenia BC.

In 4th century BC it was taken over by Philip II of Macedonia, giving the city the name with which it came to be known for large part of its history: Philippopolis. 

In 14th century Plovdid, much like the rest of the country, fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire, which changed the name to Filibe.

With time it became a significant economic and cultural centre, where the rich built their glorious houses; some of which that still remain today.

The population was widely diverse: there were the Turks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Jews, Greek and Roma people. The Ottoman rulers introduced a millet system, through which each religion got to govern themselves more or less according to their own laws. 

Bulgarian Church had been abolished in 1767, but Plovdiv played an important role in its struggle for independence. In 1858 this church, the Church of Virgin Mary, saw the Christmas liturgy being recited in Bulgarian for the first time since the Ottoman occupation had begun. 

In the Battle of Philippopolis of 1878 Russia conquered the city from Ottoman Empire. The treaty of San Stefano, signed later that year, saw Ottoman Empire hand over most of the Bulgarian land they'd occupied more than 400 years earlier.

The joy was short-lived, though: both Austro-Hungary and Great Britain refused to accept the treaty and as a result the country was split into several parts. Plovdid became the capital of an autonomy known as Eastern Rumelia. In 1885 Bulgaria was finally united, the anniversary of which is now celebrated on September 6th.

Time stands still on the beautiful cobble-stoned alleyways of Old Plovdiv and it's easy to lose onelsef for hours discovering new, hidden gems. 

Hey, how about some beer?

And oh, how my photography prop arsenal would love this door! I wonder how difficult it would be to get it out of the country... without the owners noticing, of course...

At times Plovdiv's shabby charm with the run-down facades and wrought iron balconies remind me of Paris, making my thoughts fly to all sorts of romantic, yet so impractical dream scenarios. 

I wonder how much it would cost to buy a place here? Like an apartment with one of those adorable attic windows? I could so see myself sitting there, writing and happily watching the world go by.... Occasionally nipping outside to the nearest bakery to fetch some croissants...

In reality I'd have to settle on some local sausage-filled pasties, of course. And instead of happiness, I'd probably be plagued by bronchitis. And continuous problems with the plumbing. And I can't even speak Bulgarian!

...or do I? I'm pulled back from my thoughts by a familiar language. I'm startled to realize I actually understand the conversation being had behind me. After a few seconds I realize it's not Bulgarian, though - it's Hebrew.

Owing to Bulgaria's unique history among other reasons, the country (unlike so many others in the region) is a popular destination among Israeli tourists, too. 

There is something magical about places like this; places that have seen better days and are quietly crumbling away, clutching onto the shadows of their heyday.

They always have me sighing admiringly, no matter where in the world I am. And no matter what my common sense says about windows needing glass in them. Or that a tree growing inside an apartment is usually a bit more than just a "unique feature" or a "quirky decorative element". 

There's entertainment and eye candy here, for sure, but also education. This magnificent building for instance houses the Etnographic Museum (and a whistling gardener).

For more information, please see their website

Another address that offers an intriguing glimpse into the rich history of the city and the story of its owners, a family which made their fortune in textile business, is the House of Nikola Nedkovich. 

For more information see here.

Another house that dazzles with its full Reneissance glory is Stepan Hindliyan's house. 

For more information please see here.

The streets of Old Town are full of little shops selling local ceramics and handicrafts...

... as well as antique stores that stock Soviet era's oddities, Turkish antiques and beautiful crockery and cutlery for those on a perpetual quest for food photography styling props. 

There aren't many places in Bulgaria, where the incredible history and present day meet quite in the spectacular manner they do in the #1 destination in Plovdiv: its ancient Roman theatre. 

Accidentally discovered only in the 1970's as a result of a landslide it is one of the best preserved theatres of its kind in the whole world. Originally it seated 6000 people and its remaining 20 rows of marble seats offer stunning setting for concerts that are still organized here.

Admission adults BGN 3 (about €1,50) and children BGN 1 (roughly 50 cents). A guided tour for the whole group BGN 15 (about €7).

Picture: Wikipedia

Built on seven hilltops, Plovdiv's hills also offer gorgeous views over the city.

Plovdiv's history has been noted on an international level, too: it has been chosen the European Capital of Culture of 2019. 

So, go now before everybody else will discover this gem, too!

*In collaboration with  Viinitimo and European Trade House Ltd:n *



Sofia synagogue     


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