Plovdiv: What a gem!
We got totally ruined in Plovdiv today. Not the kind of “ruined” that involves anything getting spoilt or broken, nor the kind of “ruined” that required copious amounts of alcohol. We got this kind of ruined…
Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria (population around 350,000) and one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the world. There have been people living along the banks of the Maritsa River for more than 6,000 years, which makes Plovdiv older than Athens and Constantinople. The sense of history is everywhere here, with ancient ruins dotted throughout the city and a museum around every corner. In juxtaposition to this the city had a relatively young population made up mainly of artists, academics and students (the city boasts a number of universities), with heaps of cool cafes and bars everywhere. It’s a great city and we’re really excited about being here for our last couple of days in Bulgaria.
Plovdiv has a complex history, with many civlisations leaving their marks on the city and its landscape. The oldest ruins in town date from around 500BC, when the Thracians lived here and had a fortress atop Mt Nebet Tepe – one of Plovdiv’s many hills. The Thracians called their town Eumolpias; in 340BC it was renamed Philippopolis when the Greeks invaded this area, and then Trimontium by the Romans when they took control of Thracia in 46AD.
The Romans made Plovdiv the capital of Thracia and made it into a vibrant, thriving city with numerous public buildings, temples, baths and theatres. The city had an amphitheatre, an aquaduct and a stadium, remnants of which are still visible today.
Trimontium (i.e. Plovidv) was at an important crossroad during the Roman era: the Via Diagonalis (the most important Roman military road in the Balkans) passed through the city. In later years the city was also one of the stops along the famous Orient Express train route.
In the Middle Ages, it retained its strategic regional importance, changing hands between the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires. It then came under Ottoman rule in the 14th century and was renamed Filibe. It wasn’t until Bulgaria was liberated from the Turks in 1878 that Plovdiv got its current name and began to develop into the lovely city it is today.
During the years of the Bulgarian Renaissance (1878-1918), Plovdiv’s old town grew and many new churches, public buildings and townhouses were built. A number of these buildings have been restored today, making the old town a beautiful place to go wandering – as we discovered this afternoon.
For dinner tonight we found a great traditional Bulgarian restaurant where the waiter recommended we try their new “mixed lamb special”. Now, in a country that frequently has brains, kidneys, liver, tongue, tripe and other unmentionables on the menu, ordering a “mixed lamb special” may sound fool-hardy. But hey, we’re adventorous right?! So we went ahead and ordered it…. and it was AMAZING! The “mixed lamb special” turned out to be a sizzling stew of oh-so-tender lamb, eggplants, capsicum, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots in a thick, spicy gravy that was just divine. It smelt delicious and tasted even better. When we complemented him on his recommendation, our waiter, Dmitri, proudly informed us that the stew was a secret recipe of his grandmother’s. All we can say is: WOW – Dmitri’s grandmother’s mixed lamb special was seriously awesome. Second best lamb meal of the whole trip so far, hands down (for BEST lamb meal of the trip, refer to our Iceland entries). We’re just sad we only have one more day in Bulgaria…