The Old Town of Plovdiv – history and charm
If you like the phrase ‘Get to know your land to love it‘, we will visit today a very popular Bulgarian town, which at the same time is quite unexplored if you have never thought about its history and today’s aspect. This is Plovdiv. The picturesque Valley of Roses, the spa centers in Hisarya and Narechenski Bani, the Medieval Asen Fortress, the Bachkovo Monastery, the Arapovo Monastery and many more historic sites are situated in the region of Plovdiv. Its favorable climatic conditions and geographical situation have boosted its development during all historic periods. Important international roads cross the town, connecting the East with Europe, the Baltic with the Mediterranean region, Black and Adriatic Sea. Nowadays, Plovdiv is the second largest town in Bulgaria – a significant industrial, trade, scientific, cultural and communications center.
The contemporary town center resembles any other larger Bulgarian town center with its shops, cafes, administrative zones, etc. So we shall skip it and move to the actual part of our walk – The Old Town, where we instantly plunge into the atmosphere of centuries ago.
The thousand year-old history of Plovdiv starts from the northernmost part of the Trimontium (the three hills). Remains of a prehistoric settlement and ruins of Roman and Hellenic fortresses, protecting the town up to the Turkish invasion, coexist in the Nebet Tepe archaeological complex.
If we decide to take the direction to the Old Town from the main street, we will be in two minds what to visit first- the Ritual House, which with its gypsum ceilings, squeaking floor-boards and the genuine smell of wood has preserved the spirit of the Revival Period, or the Sveta Bogoroditza church. This is an imposing basilica with a nave and two isles, without a dome, built following the idea of Chalukovi Brothers. The two-leaved, wrought iron door encircles the church from the west. It was this church in 1859, where Bulgarian language was first used in the liturgy. Old churches form an inseparable part of the Trimontium’s architectural ensemble. Most of them have preserved their appearance from the 19th century. During Ottoman yoke, Bulgarians used to dig their churches into the ground in order to avoid the anger of the Turks.
According to one of the descriptions of the Saint Constantine and Saint Elena old church, it was rotten and ruined, with a small door, through which it was hard even for a short person to enter. Picturesquely located in the Old Town’s center, the same church, in its present appearance dates back from 1832 and is a typical example of the 19th century ecclesiastical architecture. The much older icon of Saint Constantine and Saint Elena, believed to be wonder-working, is stored here.
The other church- Saint Nedelya was built in 1835 and it has also witnessed important historic events. The church possesses a precious iconostas, consisting of 18 parts, placed on a marble basis – great achievement of the master wood-carvers from the School of Debar. In the Saint Ludwig Catholic church, whose enormous cross dominates over the Trimontium’s southern foot, the mother of the last Bulgarian Tzar- Boris the Third, was buried.
Another interesting spot are the authentic houses of the Old Town of Plovdiv. Some of them have been magnificently restored and are kept in good condition.
An important element of the Old Town’s ensemble is the street width. The leading principle at the time of their building-up was that there should be enough space for two horses with their riders on or two mules with load to be able to pass each other.
The houses of the Old-time Plovdiv Reserve take us nearly a century back. They are valuable architectural monuments from the Revival period. Unfortunately, many of them were destroyed during the big fires in 1815, 1846 and 1898. After a large-scale restoration and preservation they were reconstructed and the majority of them became cultural monuments. The house of Plovdiv is presented by two types of construction in its historic development. The first one dates back from the early Turkish feudalism period. It is a two-floor, rarely one-floor asymmetric house, preserving the model of Bulgarian alpine settlements. It stands out with its open verandah, supported by wooden pillars, projecting over the street and more rarely- over the patio. Houses usually have two, three and less frequently- four rooms, occupying one or two floors.
A new residential type of construction appeared at the beginning of 19th century. This is the symmetric house. The construction is reinforced and its architecture and interior decoration are richer and more intricate. For this type of houses, the parlor on the ground floor, the staircase to the upper floor and the spatial guest room are a must. The dormitories are situated around the guest room. These houses are outstanding with their exceptional wood-carving on the ceilings, wall-painting, landscapes, wonderfully painted niches, built-in wardrobes, larders, cupboards and many, many more.
The Hisar Capiya fortified wall is one of the most picturesque and well-preserved, dating back from the time of the emperors Trayan and Mark Aurelius. The remains of the Trimontium’s second fortified wall indicate that it had solid towers and loop-holes, 8 meters high and 2.3 meters thick. It was built of huge stone blocks, horizontally connected with metal fittings. A secret entrance, leading to the fortress, connecting the acropolis with the Maritza river bank, through a tunnel and stairs chiseled out in the Nebet Tepe rocks was discovered.
There is a lot more to see in the Old Town of Plovdiv. So, do not hesitate. Visit it as soon as you can and you will not regret it.