The stunning Roman Theatre in Plovdiv is 1,900 years old – yet remarkably it still hosts concerts. It is regarded as one of the worlds best preserved ancient theatres and can accommodate up to 7,000 spectators. Amazingly, the theatre was only rediscovered in the 1970’s after a massive landslide.
Couldn’t get enough of…. Bulgarians nodding for “No” and shaking for “Yes”… see below
The perfectly preserved Roman ruins around the city
The gorgeous Bulgarian Revival that dominate the old town
Splashing the cash…
500ml Bottle of Kamenitza Beer: 1.50Lev (€0.80)
Local meal for two with drinks: 30Lev (€15)
Private 2 bed Hostel Room: 40Lev (€20)
Slice of fast food pizza: 1Lev (€0.50)
Plovdiv (Пловдив) is reckoned to be one of the oldest settlements in the world – take note pub quizzers. Reputedly spanning back to 4000BC, it’s older than the Greek city of Troy, Egypt’s Pyramids, Ireland’s Newgrange and even New York’s Empire State Building (wowwww I hear you say). We finally reached Plovdiv after a very long and confusing journey from Turkey….the border can be crazy. After a quick power nap we were ready to explore this beautifully compact city.
The walk from the Bike Hostel, where we were staying, to the city centre was lovely. The quiet streets of Plovdiv are lined with large chestnut trees. For us, it was a big change from the baking, sandy streets of Turkey.
The Ancient Stadium of Plovdiv lies just underneath the main shopping precinct. Just like the Roman theatre, and despite lying just inches below the street surface, the stadium wasn’t discovered until the 1970’s during road works.
The northern section of the Roman stadium has been excavated and is on display at Dzhumaya Square, the hub of Plovdiv’s shopping district. It is free to access and you can go down and explore part of the stadium.
The length of the stadium is one “stadion”, which is 625 Roman steps – so roughly 180 metres. It is believed that the stadium held up to 30,000 spectators. As Roman law dictated that a stadium must hold half the population of a city, it is therefore conceived that the population of Plovdiv was close to 60,000 in the 2nd century
Further on, the remainder of the stadium lies underneath some buildings and other streets. It is hoped that an underground excavation will be carried out, allowing tourists to explore the stadium without having to disturb businesses above ground.
The setting of the northern part of the stadium at Dzhumayata Square is exceptional and it’s amazing that it lay right here under the square, unknown for centuries.
After the much needed pizza stop and after exploring the modern part of Plovdiv, we made our way up towards the old town. This was the heart of ancient Plovdiv, and has survived millennia of conflict and strife. The old town was once surrounded by a thick fortress wall. Today only part of the wall is visible, however the remaining old town is incredibly peaceful as it is closed off to traffic. Coupled with low tourist numbers, it is a great place to explore for an afternoon.
The steep old town of Plovdiv is home to the some of the finest examples of architecture from the Bulgarian Revival Period (18th -19th centuries). These were the residences of rich merchants who plied their trade across Europe and the Middle East. They brought back new ideas and influenced the burgeoning nationalist pride sweeping the country.
Many of the fine houses in the Plovdiv were a clash of architectural styles and the focus was on splendour and comfort. Many contained Turkish baths as well as ornate carved wooden furniture from Germany and northern Europe.
The Hisar Kapiya gate is just one part of the thick fortress wall that once surrounded Plovdiv. There has been a gate situated here since Roman times in the 2nd century.
The current Hisar Gate was built in the 11th century and is the eastern entrance to the old city. It was one of three entrances to the city, along with a northern and southern entrance.
The narrow cobbled streets of Plovdiv are a delight to explore. There are few tourists, and there are hidden cafes and restaurants to be found in the nooks and crannies of the old city.
We stayed at the delightful Bike Hostel, which is a small converted apartment within walking distance of the old city centre and main train / bus stations. When we arrived, the delightful owner Constaine, directed us to a local restaurant (see below) that we definitely would not have found on our own. Beds from €7 – see Hostelworld.
Ресторант Южен полъх – No idea how the heck to pronounce this, the Bike Hostel owner sent us here, and we feasted like royality for less than €15. To top it off, they put all our leftovers in a doggy bag. Another fantastic thing is the menu has loads of pictures, so no real trouble ordering. A couple of the friendly staff speak a bit of English, so they can recommend the best local food – tip, the wings are outrageously amazing. And even I can admit the salads were pretty dam good.
They have a website featuring the menu – all in Bulgarian but it has pictures! Roughly €3 for main meal.
For daytime snacks, there are pizza slice vendors all over the town as well, slices cost less than 50 cents – boom! Beers round town cost between €0.70 and €1.
The Georgiadi House, next to the Hissar gate is a stunning Bulgarian Revival mansion. The house has been restored to its former glory and is now a museum dedicated to the architecture of the National Revival period.
Plovdiv has gained a reputation as the capital of Bulgarian arts and culture – it’s currently on the shortlist for European Capital of Culture 2019. Funky graffiti and murals can be found throughout the city.
The mural of Hristo G. Danov. A key figure in the Bulgarian National Revival period of the 19th century. He founded the first Bulgarian publishing house and was the key backer of Bulgarian authors and publications. With the help of Danov, the National Revival period resulted in the uprising and eventual liberation of Bulgaria in 1878.
Lamartine house is at the highest point of the old town and is one of the finest example of Bulgarian Revival architecture. This is reflected in the symmetrical shape the house, with equal sized rooms on each floor. This beatiful house was owned by local merchant Georgi Mavridi and it was named after the outspoken French poet, Lamartine who stayed here in the 1830’s after becoming ill on a journey from Istanbul.
“ARGH!! Dammit! I nodded and confused the heck out of the bus driver again.”
So Bulgaria has one little quirk that drove us crazy. Normally, when travelling in places with a massive language barrier, a curt nod of the head would usually indicate “Yes”. And of course a shake of the head would indicate a firm “No”.
HA! Not in Bulgaria my friend. It’s completely opposite, so nodding your head actually means “No” and shaking means “Yes” – I know, WTF!! On arrival to Bulgaria we hadn’t a clue about this, so caused major confusion with our bus driver from the Turkish border to Plovdiv….and this was just he beginning! Each conversation over the next few days were basically this…
Bus Driver: “Hey get off!! You just nodded and yet you are getting on my bus! Why are you getting on if you said no?!”
Me: “Argh fuck…..I meant Yes!!!”
Me: “Excuse me I ordered a beer, where’s my beer?” Waiter: “Um, no Sir, I asked but you said you didn’t want a beer” Me: “But….I nodded yes”….Argh dammit I did it again!
The city originated on seven hills, much like Rome. However many of these hills were quarried for their rock and no longer remain. Beyond Plovdiv, the mountains provide excellent skiing and snowboarding the winter.
After leaving Plovdiv, we made our way to Romania. We came across this fine gentleman at a bus station in the middle of Bulgaria. Just him, oh….and his bottle of water full of fish???? Eastern Europe, you’re awesome.
We stayed at The Bike Hostel, a lovely quaint hostel located on a lovely tree lined street south of the city centre.
Bulgarian restaurants are absolutely fantastic, and if you want to pile on some pounds, then this is the place to go. The food is rich and hearty, and the portions are massive. Luckily, just like the USA, many places give you doggy bags if you can’t finish your meal.
Get to Plovdiv
There are regular trains between Plovdiv Station and the capital city, Sofia (€4 one way – see www.bdz.bg). Currently there are no trains to Turkey due to construction.
For bus travel, which is usually quicker than the train, the excellent bgrazpisanie.com website has full listings of buses from Plovdiv to destinations across Bulgaria and other countries. The main bus station is the South Bus Station, located beside the train station. There is a MetroTurizm booth at the bus station for services to Istanbul – there are 5 services daily. Cost is €20. Plovdiv airport is connected to London, Frankfurt (Ryanair), Moscow (S7) and Amsterdam (Corendon).