The dome of the now demolished Ottoman Turkish bath as viewed from the inside in the winter of 2017 – 2018. Photo: Pod Tepeto
The partly surviving ruins of an Ottoman Turkish bath likely dating to the beginning of the 17th century have been demolished in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, the successor of ancient Philipopolis.
The ruins in Plovdiv’s Karshiyaka Quarter have been leveled off using heavy machines to make way for the construction of a residential building, reports local news site Pod Tepeto.
Unfortunately, the Ottoman Era building had not been granted any kind of monument of culture status that would have protected it from destruction.
Bulgaria became part of the Ottoman Empire after the Ottoman Turks conquered the remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century.
Thousands of Ottoman Era monuments in Bulgaria enjoy the status of monuments of culture of national or local importance, and are thus protected from demolition and maintained.
Ottoman Era cultural monuments thus face the same problems as that of any other era, namely, administrative neglect and bureaucracy often resulting in prolonged failure to grant the respective status, and ensuing damages to the respective monument.
Some of the most blatant recent cases of seemingly deliberate destruction of cultural heritage monuments in Bulgaria to make room for property developments have been the arson of the early 20th century tobacco storehouses in Plovdiv in 2016, and the arson of the former early 20th century stables of the Bulgarian Tsars in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia in 2018.
The demolished Ottoman Era Turkish bath in Plovdiv was located on private property, and while the owner was initially reported to intend to preserve it, he has changed his mind.
The private property site where the demolished 17th century Ottoman Turkish bath used to stand until recently. Photo: Pod Tepeto
There have been no conclusive historical data about the Ottoman bathhouse – known in Bulgarian with the Arabic term “hamam", as the now destroyed Turkish bath was never properly researched by archaeologists.
However, it is believed to have been built in the early 17th century by Celebi Qadi, Plovdiv’s qadi (kadi), an Ottoman judge.
Nine months ago, local news site Pod Tepeto quoted the owner of the Turkish bath’s plot, Malin Marchev, as saying that he intended to build there a detached house and keep the Ottoman Era building because of its architecture and decorative murals.
Before its demolition, the supposedly 17th century building had four preserved walls with colorful decorations on the inside and what is described as an impressive dome.
The Ottoman Turkish bath in Plovdiv is also said to have been valuable because of its location north of the Maritsa River as it testified to the fact that during the Ottoman period, when Philipopolis / Plovdiv was called Filibe (which remains its name in modern-day Turkish), the city “was alive" on both banks of the river.
Thus, the demolished Turkish bath is believed to have been one of the oldest archaeological and architectural structures north of the Maritsa River, in the Karshiyaka Quarter which is otherwise known for its early Modern Era architecture.
The 17th century Ottoman Turkish bath in Plovdiv used to be rather well preserved, as visible from these photos from the winter of 2017 – 2018, but had not been granted any protective status. Photos: Pod Tepeto
The survival of the Ottoman Turkish bath was left to the whim of the private property’s owner as the bathhouse had been left without a monument of culture status.
“Plovdiv has lost one of the few surviving valuable monuments from the city’s Ottoman period," the report concludes.
According to the pre-1980 excavations, 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 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.