In the rain, our guide maneuvered the car into a maze of alleyways along Plovdiv’s naturally elevated old town. Plovdiv, which goes back 6,000 years ago, is rich in historical treasures, some of which are still being uncovered. We strolled around the city’s old town and indulged in its fascinating history because how often do you get to visit Europe’s oldest inhabited city? Sorry Rome, you’re the baby brother.
Established by the Thracians who turned it into a center of trade, Alexander the Great’s father, Philip 2 of Macedon, conquered and converted it from a Greek to a Macedonian and then into a Roman city. The Thracians recaptured it and then the Romans took over again and developed it into a cultural city with advanced infrastructure. It became the crossroads between East and West during the Roman Empire. Then, it became an important border fortress of the Byzantine Empire and battles followed suit, only this time between the Bulgarians and the Byzantines until the Ottomans arrived. So, as a result, the consequences of events attributed to a bunch of cities underneath its modern structure.
Once upon a time, the city sprawled over seven hills. Now three remain. We wandered around Plovdiv’s old town situated on one of the hills, Trimontzium Hill, where we stayed the night at a family run hotel, Hotel Alafrangite. The old town blends a variety of architectural remnants and handsome homes that transitioned through changing empires. From the main square, we hiked up the hill, alongside the Saints Konstantin and Elena Church situated on what was once the city’s fortress’s walls. Once we reached the top, the ancient Roman amphitheater was unveiled to us. What a marvel! Built in 2nd Century AD and discovered in the 70s after a freak mudslide, we gazed at the theater in awe. It stood over the city of Plovdiv surrounded by Rhodope slopes. A group of musicians contributed to the ambiance and played a piece by Chopin that could be heard through the windows of the Academy of Music next door.
We walked down the hill to Plovdiv’s modern city center and passed by art galleries, cafes and museums that were once old homes, alongside the entire foundation of the Roman Forum and Odeon, now used to host artistic events. We spotted Dzhumaya Mosque, the second oldest “still-working” mosque in Europe and then stumbled upon the observation platform of the Roman Stadium built for sporting events. Unfortunately, if the Bulgarians decide to excavate the entire city, they would have to tear down the entire shopping avenue!
On the way back, we popped by the Archeological Underpass that displayed Roman mosaics while we walked through the impeccable courtyard that was part of a noble man’s house during the Roman empire, House of Irene. There was also a museum that displayed parts of the house. We made it back to the hotel for a little bit of R&R before heading out to dinner on the main shopping strip. Unfortunately, we were too full to eat and settled for Turkish tea at a cafe close by while the streets grew emptier on this cold Spring night.