A view of the Antiquity Amphitheater in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv (also known as “Ancient Theater” or “Antiquity Theater”). Photo: VisitPlovdiv, Plovdiv Municipality
The southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv has been featured as one of ten “Great European City Breaks You’ve Probably Never Thought Of" in an article of “The Guardian".
Author Kevin Rushby appears enchanted by Plovdiv thanks to its archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage and the modern-day atmosphere of the city’s Old Town.
He fails to mention, however, that Plovdiv is also considered “Europe’s oldest city" and the world’s six oldest city (according to a Daily Telegraph ranking). Another important omission is the failure to even mention the extensive heritage of Ancient Thrace, and the Bulgarian Revival period architecture which is typical for the Old Town.
Yet, the author does note “the assumption that all Bulgarian cities must be decrepit Soviet-era concrete monsters“, and that Plovdiv is largely unknown internationally as a tourist destination, a seemingly outrageous fact as far as he is concerned:
“It has to be said that on lists of European destination gems, the non-appearance of this central-southern Bulgarian city must rank as the most egregious. It should be a top-ranking, must-go, bucket-list stalwart. And what is more, almost every empire in history thought so, too.
Plovdiv has been Greek, Goth, Hun, Viking, crusader and Ottoman, among others. It was 4,000 years old when the Romans got here, slapping a gorgeous amphitheatre in a prime location, plus an aqueduct, an odeon and a stadium which now, by dint of some remarkable engineering, does a semi-subterranean cameo appearance in the city’s main shopping thoroughfare.
More recently the voluptuous 19th-century merchant’s houses have made fine museums (check out the Ethnographicand the Regional History museums).
But the real joy is the easygoing charm of the place and the idiosyncracies: street art, curious cats, laughter from high windows and snatches of music….
The temptation to stay and dawdle around the twisting narrow streets will be enormous, but the Rhodope mountains within easy reach for day hikes and monastery visits."
In addition to Bulgaria’s Plovdiv, The Guardian article on the best lesser known European city breaks also features nine other destinations, which are “full of local colour but also served by budget airlines. Perfect for a weekend break": Kotor, Montenegro; Pula, Croatia; Palanga, Lithuania; Ohrid, Macedonia; Alesund, Norway; Chania, Crete, Greece; Pristina, Kosovo; Tirana, Albania; Olbia, Sardinia, Italy.
Yet, Plovdiv is the one destination attributed the largest amount of space in the article, with a photograph of the Antiquity Amphitheater, with the Rhodope Mountains in the background.
“The food is sublime, the wine irresistible. I am, I freely admit, a total Plovdiv,“ concludes the author in a word play with a David Jason quote, adding that Ryanair flies to Plovdiv fromLondon StanstedAirport.
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 Turkishword for “hill”), one of the seven historic hills where Plovdiv was founded and developed in prehistoric and ancient times.
Thanks to theprehistoric, ancient, and medieval settlement and fortress of Nebet Tepe, Plovdiv hold the title of “Europe’s oldest city” (and that of the world’s six oldest city, according to a Daily Telegraph ranking).
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 periodEumolpia / 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.