Bulgaria’s Plovdiv to Restore Marble Seats during Reconstruction of Antiquity Odeon

The Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria's Plovdiv has been fenced off for its restoration. Photo: Top Novini Plovdiv

The Antiquity Odeon in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv has been fenced off for its restoration. Photo: Top Novini Plovdiv

The city of Plovdiv in Southern Bulgaria has started the long-overdue restoration of its Antiquity Odeon, an Ancient Greek and Roman public space for musical and theatrical performances and competitions.

The reconstruction has started with the all-out demolition of the wooden seats and other modern-day wooden structures installed at the Odeon in the past few decades.

In their stead, the restoration plan provides for the installment of marble seats, just like the original seats that the Odeon of ancient Philipopolis (today’s Plovdiv) had when it was built in the Antiquity period, reports local news site Top Novini Plovdiv.

This part of the reconstruction of the Odeon of ancient Philipopolis (Plovdiv) providing for marble seats has been modeled after the Odeon in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Plovdiv Municipality announced back in April 2015 that it was starting the restoration of the Antiquity Odeon, and was expecting to complete it by the fall of 2015.

However, it lacked a permit from Bulgaria’s Institute for Cultural Heritage Properties, an institution of the Ministry of Culture, which was issued only at the end of February 2016.

All wooden seats have been removed from the seating area of the Antiquity Odeon in Plovdiv in order to be replaced with marble seats similar to the original ones from the Antiquity period. Photo: Top Novini Plovdiv

All wooden seats have been removed from the seating area of the Antiquity Odeon in Plovdiv in order to be replaced with marble seats similar to the original ones from the Antiquity period. Photo: Top Novini Plovdiv

The reconstruction of the Odeon has a budget of BGN 270,000 (app. EUR 135,000). The restoration effort will also provide for partial archaeological excavations funded with BGN 5,000 (app. EUR 2,500) on a plot where a public toilet will be constructed.

In addition to becoming an open-air museum not unlike the other Antiquity monuments in Plovdiv, the Odeon will also be used as a performance space with 350 seats. The damaged ancient stage will also be repaired.

The project provides further for the rehabilitation of the underground area of the Plovdiv Odeon, including facilities for people with disabilities, and a noise blocking wall.

The present project is actually the second stage of the reconstruction of the ancient Odeon; the first stage took place in 2002 and was funded by the Leventis Foundation.

The authorities in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv would like to build upon the recent archaeological discoveries in the downtown made in excavations since 2012. Thus, their plan provides for linking the Odeon with the central square, the Antiquity Forum.

The ancient Odeon of Plovdiv will be made into a top attraction, not unlike the restored Ancient Theater and Ancient Roman Stadium (which was restored between 2009 and 2012).

Background Infonotes:

Odeon is the name for a public Ancient Greek or Roman building built for musical and poetry shows and competitions. The word comes from Ancient Greek, and means “singing place” or “building for musical competitions”. The first Odeon was built in Ancient Sparta around 600 BC. Three Ancient (Roman) Odeons have been discovered in Bulgaria so far – in Philipopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Nicopolis ad Istrum in Northern Bulgaria. It is believed that the Plovdiv Odeon was first used as a bouleuterion, a building for the council of citizens (boule) in ancient city-states (poleis) but was later used as a space for theatrical performances.

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The history of the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv – often dubbed the oldest city in Europe – began with the human settlement on the ancient hill of Nebet Tepe (“tepe” is the Turkish word for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.

The hills, or “tepeta”, are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period. Out of all of them, Nebet Tepe has the earliest traces of civilized life dating back to the 6th millennium BC, which makes Plovdiv 8,000 years old, and allegedly the oldest city in Europe. Around 1200 BC, the prehistoric settlement on Nebet Tepe was transformed into the Ancient Thracian city of Eumolpia, also known as Pulpudeva, inhabited by the powerful Ancient Thracian tribe Bessi.

During the Early Antiquity period Eumolpia / Pulpudeva grew to encompass the two nearby hills (Dzhambaz Tepe and Taxim Tepe known together with Nebet Tepe as “The Three Hills”) as well, with the oldest settlement on Nebet Tepe becoming the citadel of the city acropolis.

In 342 BC, the Thracian city of Eumolpia / Pulpudeva was conquered by King Philip II of Macedon renaming the city to Philippopolis. Philippopolis developed further as a major urban center during the Hellenistic period after the collapse of Alexander the Great’s Empire.

In the 1st century AD, more precisely in 46 AD, Ancient Thrace was annexed by the Roman Empire making Philippopolis the major city in the Ancient Roman province of Thrace. This is the period when the city expanded further into the plain around The Three Hills which is why it was also known as Trimontium (“the three hills”).

Because of the large scale public construction works during the period of Ancient Rome’s Flavian Dynasty (69-96 AD, including Emperor Vespasian (r. 69-79 AD), Emperor Titus (r. 79-81 AD), Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 AD)), Plovdiv was also known as Flavia Philippopolis.

Later emerging as a major Early Byzantine city, Plovdiv was conquered for the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018 AD) by Khan (or Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) in 812 AD but was permanently incorporated into Bulgaria under Khan (or Kanas) Malamir (r. 831-836 AD) in 834 AD.

In Old Bulgarian (also known today as Church Slavonic), the city’s name was recorded as Papaldin, Paldin, and Pladin, and later Plavdiv from which today’s name Plovdiv originated. The Nebet Tepe fortress continued to be an important part of the city’s fortifications until the 14th century when the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. During the period the Ottoman yoke (1396-1878/1912) when Bulgaria was part of the Ottoman Empire, Plovdiv was called Filibe in Turkish.

Today the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement on Nebet Tepe has been recognized as the Nebet Tepe Archaeological Preserve. Some of the unique archaeological finds from Nebet Tepe include an ancient secret tunnel which, according to legends, was used by Apostle Paul (even though it has been dated to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD)) and large scale water storage reservoirs used during sieges, one of them with an impressive volume of 300,000 liters. Still preserved today are parts of the western fortress wall with a rectangular tower from the Antiquity period.