Plovdiv, Bulgaria was first founded around 6000 BC and is said to be the oldest city in Europe. First settled on one of the hill tops named Nebet Tepe, the city grew from there. Exploring the remains of the fortress at Nebet Tepe was one of the first things we did in the city. Although up a steep hill, it was an easy walk from our Airbnb. On the way, we passed through the medieval village referred to simply as, Old Town, still inhabited today with homes set atop and within the city walls. We passed museums, cafes, and came out in a large area freely open to the public. There are amazing views from the fortress ruins and although there is some graffiti, it was mostly on the new concrete fortifications, not the ancient walls or tower.
While Plovdiv is a very cute European city, the most notable thing while walking around Old Town or the trendy Kapana district, is the amount of Roman ruins. One minute you’re walking down a sidewalk and the next your following a Roman road through what was once an amazing ancient city. It was in 100 AD that the Romans conquered Bulgaria, and Plovdiv, then called Trimontium, must have been a fantastic place to live.
There are two open air stadiums. One, the Ancient Theater of Philippopolis, wasn’t fully uncovered until the early 1970s. A reconstruction effort was made and the theater still holds concerts and events today. The smaller Roman Forum that lies in the heart of the city was most likely used for political rather that entertainment purposes.
Also in the city center is the Roman Stadium. This is an enormous arena where they used to race chariots. It’s estimated it could hold 30,000 spectators. Only the north curved end of the stadium has been partially restored. It’s quite impressive and we walk by it almost every time we are out exploring. Other Roman Ruins here include the East Gate, Aqueduct, Roman Baths, etc. There are even some ruins we found overgrown with trees and brush. Too many to keep up with I guess.
Another really interesting find we made was the Cultural Center Trakart. In the 1990s they were building a pedestrian underpass in town. As they dug down they found yet another Roman road. Adjacent to the road they found a home with magnificent mosaic floors. This is now a small museum with the entrance leading off the underpass. The home also had a large storage area and attached slave quarters. These sections have been incorporated into two of the shops that line the underpass. Amphorae of wine were discovered in the home’s storage area so it’s quite fitting that it is now a wine shop. The slave quarters are a book shop and of course the Roman road is the walkway. I suppose anywhere in the city if you dig down, you will find Roman ruins.
It’s been interesting comparing Plovdiv to Sofia, where we were this time last year. Most of the people we’ve met here have said Plovdiv is better than Sofia. Each city has their own unique collection of shops, bars and fantastic restaurants. Sofia is more of a regular city though, while Plovdiv seems to have a lot more tourism things to do and the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Town are really cute. I don’t feel we’ve spent enough time in either city to really make a choice just yet, if ever. We have a lot more exploring to do in the rest of Bulgaria too. It’s a beautiful country and I’m saying that after only spending time here in the winter. We have to come back when the weather is warmer and there are leaves on the trees.
Another note about Plovdiv, we found the public transportation system to be easy to use and convenient. They have buses of all sizes from full size city buses, to short buses, to basically a mini van. They all have their routes clearly marked on the windshield and with all the varieties of transport, there is a constant flow coming and going from the stops. Google maps has all the routes marked so it’s been no problem getting to the far sides of the city. The city is not that big though, about the size of Seattle with out the metro area, and walking is usually how we get around.
Once again we celebrated the New Year in Bulgaria. Just a tip, almost all the restaurants and bars in Plovdiv close early on New Years eve, either to give the staff the night off, or to host a private party. We were not prepared for this and spent the evening dashing around looking for a place that was open so we could eat. We picked up some groceries just before the market closed and of course right after that we found an Irish bar that was open as usual and serving their regular menu.
Most of our time here has unfortunately been behind a computer screen in our apartment, trying to catch up on work. Even over the holidays, it was work, work, work. When we did take a break, it was so great to be able to take a stroll through the city and enjoy a nice meal and drinks, all for a fraction of the price we would pay at home.
Usually I have a crazy story or two to tell about our travels, but everything has been pretty normal here. Europe, especially Bulgaria, is starting to feel like home and we plan on spending much more time here. So, we are trying to speak the language. We don’t need to learn Bulgarian to get by. In fact I met a Bulgarian guy who’s wife is from the UK. They have lived here for 4 years, she still doesn’t speak the language and gets by just fine. I’m not like that though. I want to at least try. We’ve met some great people here in Plovdiv who have helped us with a few phrases and pronunciation. It’s been great fun hanging out with some locals too. Next time we’re here I hope we can stay long enough to take a language class and spend more time with friends. Until then, dovizhdane!