Known as ‘The City of the Seven Hills’, with a history stretching as far back as the 6th millennium BC, magnificent Roman monuments, and a vibrant mix of modern urban and artistic life – that might just sound as Rome, but is, indeed, Plovdiv – the Bulgarian town, that is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city and that will be the twin European Capital of Culture for 2019.
The earliest history of one of the oldest cities still existing in the world could be traced back from the height of one of its seven hills, the Nebet Tepe (from Turkish, ‘The hill of the guards’). From the earliest Thracian fortified settlements dating back to 4000 BC, through their capture by Philip II of Macedon in 342/341 BC, followed by the Roman Empire and the restoration of the city’s fortress by Emperor Justinian the Great, going to the conflict between the Byzantine Empire and the medieval Bulgarian state, followed by the 500 years’ Ottoman rule, and coming to the modern look of the city, 3 decades after the fall of the communism in Bulgaria.
Plovdiv is a crossroad of ancient cultures, and different eras have left their cultural marks and historical monuments throughout the city. Neolithic era necropolises predate the establishment of the Thracian town that was later renamed to Philippopolis, when conquered by Emperor Philip II, who started the initial re-founding of the city, to be later continued during the reign of his son, Alexander the Great, and still recognised in the city’s citadel and gridiron street pattern.
In 45 AD, Philippopolis became a Roman town, to soon expand to cover three hills and be named Trimontium (Latin for ‘The Three Hills’), as recorded in the 1st century by Pliny. The period of the next two centuries was the city’s golden age, when it was the largest city in Thrace, minting its own coins and constructing the still-standing monuments of the Forum area, with a treasury, a library, and even shops; the theatre, built during the reign of Trajan (r.98-117), having a capacity of 6,000 visitors and being one of the world’s best-preserved ancient theatres; and the Roman stadium which with a capacity of 30,000 visitors is among the largest and best preserved Roman buildings in the Balkan peninsula.
As mentioned above, the reign of the Byzantine Empire started with the restoration of Plovdiv’s fortress and the building of the North wall, to later turn into a central military base and be eventually seized by the Bulgarian Khan Krum in 812 and permanently annexed to Bulgaria around 834. The five-centuries-long Bulgarian ruling of the town was followed by a five-century-long Turkish yoke during which the town became an important trade, administrative and military centre of crafts. And visitors today can still admire most of the sights of the town that came to be known as ‘one of the jewels of the Ottoman Empire’ and ‘the most beautiful of all the cities in European Turkey’, such as: the main shopping street Uzun bazaar; one of the oldest clock towers in Eastern Europe; and the functioning Dzhumaya Mosque, built circa 14th century, which with its 9 minarets is among the oldest Ottoman buildings in the Balkan peninsula.
And then, there is the architecture from the Revival period in Bulgaria, when Bulgarian architects, carvers, painters, and builders have combined their skills in the artistic designing of houses belonging to wealthy merchants, most prominently the Balabanov House, the Kuyumdzhioglu House, and the Lamartine/Mavridi House, which nowadays serve as ethnographic museums and host different cultural events.
And last but not least, the versatile mix of Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Turkish and Bulgarian cultural marks is all well ‘concreted’ by the touches of 45 years of communism and Russian influence.
Sights from different eras and cultures decorate the face of the city that will host more than 300 cultural projects and events as the European Capital of Culture 2019 and the organisers aim at creating a bridge between the future and all those eras and cultural and archaeological layers.
In September, this year, EVS Translations will be attending the International Fair Plovdiv (Bulgaria’s largest and oldest international trade fair, established in 1892) to further dig into the city’s layers of culture and update you on the town’s preparations for the 2019 ECOC.