A 2019 European City of Culture, Plovdiv is a melting pot of cultures and influences. Expect fascinating history, incredible food and wine, breathtaking monasteries and a host off exciting cultural events
Situated between two vast mountain ranges on a crucial inland route from Western Europe to Asia Minor, Plovdiv was conquered over the centuries by Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Each has left an indelible influence on the city’s architecture as well as its artistic and cultural life.
Plovdiv’s old town is a good place to start. Here you’ll find cobbled streets, elegant revival-era townhouses, as well as the ruined fortress of Nebet Tepe, first built by Thracian tribesmen. For an overview of Plovdiv’s chequered history, visit the ethnographic museum, set in the stunning Kuyumdjiev House.
The most startling reminder of the city’s past is the ancient Roman theatre, rediscovered in the 70s and only partially uncovered. It sits in the middle of the main shopping street and, in the summer, holds regular concerts.
Bulgarian cuisine is hearty and filling and in Plovdiv comes with an exotic twist, thanks to the many conquering nations that have called the city home. A popular snack are the cheese-filled pastries called banitsa, available from hole-in-the-wall bakeries across the city and best washed down with boza, a wheat-based malt drink. Tarator, a cold soup of yoghurt, garlic and dill, is perfect on a sweltering summer's day. The traditional shopska salata, is as tasty as it is good for you.
The good folk of Plovdiv are justifiably proud of their ancient winemaking tradition too, and you would be remiss not to sample a local mavrud from Brestovitsa, a wine region close to the city, and regarded as the best in Bulgaria. There are plenty of tasting bars in the city centre, including Vino Culture, where there is a busy calendar of wine-related events.
Kapana, or the Trap, was once the hub for Plovdiv’s artisans, with the streetnames like Zhelezarska (Iron Street) and Kozhuharska (Leather Street) hinting at the area’s past. It had fallen upon hard times until the local government encouraged (and incentivised) business owner to renovate their decaying buildings and transform the area.
Today Kabana is a sprawling labyrinth of hipster cafes, chilled art galleries and art spaces, workshops, boutiques and lively bars and restaurants. Rickety chairs spill out onto the cobblestone lanes, musicians and artists hang out with students and there is always something going on. It will quickly become your favourite place in Plovdiv.
The influence of Bulgarian Orthodoxy is strong in Plovdiv and the surrounding area. There are 10 active monasteries within easy reach of the city, including Bachkovo, the second largest in Bulgaria. Established in 1083 and boasting a spectacular setting, it is famed for combing three different cultures – Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian. Its most treasured item is miraculous Virgin Mary icon given to the monastery by two Georgian travellers, Atanasii and Okrapir.
A little further away, half way to Sofia, you’ll find Rila Monastery, a breathtaking UNESCO-listed complex that sits in a forested valley and houses an extraordinary collection of religious art. Explore its elegant colonnades, wander through archways striped in black, red and white and admire the Technicolor splendour of its frescoes and icons.
In 2019 Plovdiv is a designated European City of Culture. It is the first city in Bulgaria to have been bestowed the honour and is marking the occasion with an exciting calendar of activities and cultural events. The theme is ‘Together’ and the locals are intent on showing off their city in its best light. Check out the calendar of events and join in.
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