Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Marks 35 Years since Restoration, Formal Reopening of Ancient Roman Theater

A photo taken during the archaeological excavations of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria's Plovdiv back in the 1960s-1970s. Photo: RealSteel007, Wikipedia

A photo taken during the archaeological excavations of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv back in the 1960s-1970s. Compare it with the modern-day photo below. Photo: RealSteel007, Wikipedia

The southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, which is the successor of ancient Philipopolis and considered Europe’s oldest city, has marked the 35th anniversary since the archaeological restoration and formal reopening of its most famous cultural and historical landmark – the Antiquity Theater (also known as “the Antiquity Amphitheater”).

As indicated by an Ancient Roman inscription, Plovdiv’s Antiquity Theater was built between 108 and 114 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117 AD).

It was destroyed by an earthquake and/or a fire in the 4th century AD but its ruins remained well preserved.

The Roman theater was exposed during archaeological excavations between 1968 and 1979 by the researchers from the Plovdiv Museum of Archaeology, reminds local news site Plovdiv24.

Subsequently, it was restored in what has been celebrated as one of the most successful archaeological restoration projects in Bulgaria.

This is large due to the conservative restoration, and the employment of anastylosis, a reconstruction technique using as much of the original materials as possible.

The restored Antiquity Theater in Plovdiv was formally inaugurated on October 18, 1981, 35 years ago, has been one of the city’s primary performance venues ever since hosting various kinds of concerts and other events.

The Ancient Roman theater has the shape of a semi-circle with a diameter of 82 meters, while the horseshoe-type stage has a diameter of 26.6 meters. With its 28 concentric rows of marble seats, the venue can fit about 3,500 spectators (or about 1% of Plovdiv’s official population of 350,000 inhabitants (even though their real number is probably much higher)).

A modern-day view of the marble seats and the stage of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: VisitPlovdiv, Plovdiv Municipality

A modern-day view of the marble seats and the stage of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: VisitPlovdiv, Plovdiv Municipality

The theater of ancient Philipopolis, today’s Plovdiv, which, according to certain data, may have been built in the spot of an Ancient Thracian temple of goddess Bendis, is one of the best preserved Antiquity theaters in the world.

In 2011, the Bulgarian government granted Plovdiv Municipality 10-year management rights over the Antiquity Theater, which is part of the Plovdiv Old Town Architectural Preserve.

However, in early October 2016, the Municipality asked the Bulgarian Cabinet to be allowed to manage the venue permanently, and insisted on an expansion of its recognized area to include a newly constructed information center (the formal area of the landmark is 6,435 square meters, and Plovdiv Municipality demands that it be expanded to 6,656 square meters.

In a recent public opinion survey, more than 50% of the polled Plovdiv residents voted for the Antiquity Theater, whose stage is presently being rebuilt by Plovdiv Municipality in an archaeological restoration project, as the city‘s top cultural landmark.

The Ancient Roman Stadium is ranked as Plovdiv’s second most important landmark, while the third are the seven historic hills (not unlike Rome’s seven historic hills), the “tepeta”, on which the city was built and developed over the ages, and which are still known today by their Turkish names from the Ottoman period (“tepe” is the Turkishword for “hill”).

Plovdiv’s other cultural landmarks mentioned by the respondents include the Rowing Canal, the Tsar Simeon’s Garden park, Hisar Kapiya, the Antiquity Odeon, the Roman Forum, the Nebet Tepe Fortress, the Ethnographic Museum in Plovdiv’s Old Town, the Kapana Architectural Complex, the Clock Tower on Sahat Tepe, the buildings of the Plovdiv International Fair, and the Monument of Soviet Soldier Alyosha.

Plovdiv is also considered the world’s six oldest city (according to a Daily Telegraph ranking). It was recently featured in an article of “The Guardian” as one of ten “Great European City Breaks You’ve Probably Never Thought Of”.

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A modern-day view of the marble seats and the stage of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: VisitPlovdiv, Plovdiv Municipality

A modern-day view of the marble seats and the stage of the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: VisitPlovdiv, Plovdiv Municipality

A modern-day concert in the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria's Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv24

A modern-day concert in the Antiquity Theater in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv. Photo: Plovdiv24

Also check out our other recent stories about the archaeological heritage and discoveries in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv:

Archaeologists Discover Necropolis, Tower in Ancient, Medieval Fortress Nebet Tepe in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Bulgaria’s Plovdiv Featured in ‘Guardian’ Article of 10 “Great European City Breaks You’ve Probably Never Thought Of”

Archaeologists Discover 9 Large Marble Columns at 5th Century Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Unseen Prehistoric Arms, Ancient & Medieval Swords Made Public for the First Time in Special Exhibit in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv

Stolen Thracian-Roman Silver Mask Helmet Restored, Showcased in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv 21 Years after Theft

Excavation, Restoration of 5th Century Great Basilica in Bulgaria’s Plovdiv to Be Completed by 2018 End

Background Infonotes:

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 the prehistoric, 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 powerfulAncient 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 makingPhilippopolis 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 underKhan (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 tunnelwhich, 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.

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