The Old Plovdiv

Evmolpia, Philippopolis, Trimontium, Old Plovdiv

Old Plovdiv is a city in the city of Plovdiv, the second biggest city in Bulgaria. It is situated on three hills rising in the Thracian plain and washed by the quietly flowing waters of the Maritsa River.

An ancient crossroads between East and West and Bulgaria's second largest city today, Plovdiv has preserved unique treasures from its 24 centuries long history. From the city's ancient buildings - the city forum, the stadium, the amphitheatre of Philip II of Macedon, basilicas, thermae, houses and administrative buildings, mostly fragments remain today: columns, capitals, friezes, mosaics, bas-reliefs and street pavements. The 2nd century Antique Theatre, seating 3000 has been completely restored and performances are again presented here.

Landmarks remaining from the time of Ottoman rule include the Imaret Mosque (1444-1445), now a branch of the Archaeological Museum; Djumaya Mosque dating from the same period, and the bell tower, one of Europe's oldest ones and mentioned in a 1633 travelogue.

Socio-political life during the National Revival period reflected on the nature of construction. The Bulgarian church went beyond its prime objective of opposing Mohammedanism and became a part of the nationwide movement for political and cultural liberation.

The erecting of churches in prominent places in towns and villages became a matter of national prestige. The Three-nave basilicas churches St. Nedelya and St. Dimiter (both built in 1831) are guided by the same interior composition principles whereby the pithy structure is blended with National Revival architecture and sculpture. The altar walls are in themselves major artistic achievements. The gilded Baroque iconostasis in the St. Constantine and Helena Church (1832) were carved by Ivan Pashkoula. The 1836 icons were painted by Zahari Zograph - the foremost master of church and monastery painting during the National Revival period. The St. Marina main metropolitan church (1853-1854) represents a threenave basilica with massive stonewalls and vaults. Its six-level, step-like wooden belfry is exquisite. Unknown masters of the Debur school carved pulpit and bishop’s throne the altar. The icons were painted by Stanislav Dospevski (1823-1878) - the first trained Bulgarian artist.

Old Plovdiv on Trimontium is the centre of Bulgarian National Revival architecture at its height. Developing in a natural way, the Bulgarian building traditions form the core around which the new styles of the time evolved; the most attractive of these being Baroque with its dynamics, passion and revolving of forms around an idea. So when specialists write about "Bulgarian Baroque" they have in mind these essential principles, rather than the formal aspects of the style - even more so since neither construction materials nor technologies were borrowed. Plovdiv's houses represent different versions of a symmetrical plan dominated by a centrally situated square or oval salon (in the home of the well known Bulgarian merchant Argir Koyumdjioglou it is 133 sq. m. large). On both sides the remaining rooms of the house - bedrooms, drawing rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, flank the salon while the cellar held the household premises. The pediments and facades were brightly painted, featuring medallions, landscapes, ribbons and garlands. The walls of the salons and rooms depicted painted friezes, vases with flowers, exotic or architectural landscapes, birds, tulips, bunches of grapes and vines. Decorative carved ceilings topped the lot.

Just take a look at the Georgiadi House (1846-1848) built by Master Hadji Georgi, now the Museum of the National Revival and the National Liberation Struggles, the Koyumdjioglou House (1846-1848), today's Ethnographic Museum, the houses on 15, Kiril Nektariev Street, on 32, Petko R. Slaveikov Street, and on 4, A. Gidikov Street, the Hindlyanova House, the Balabanov House and the Alphonse de Lamartine museum-house (1830) where the French poet lived for a few months. Space and brokenness, abundant decoration and lavish furnishings, softly coloured silhouettes and carved ceilings - not for nothing were these houses called "sultan yapia", the houses of sultans or lords. Plovdiv's two-and three-storey houses with their multi-coloured facades, yoke-shaped bay windows and slender pediments are as eye-catching as ever, fairly resembling minor palaces.

There are many more things to see in Plovdiv: the permanent exhibition of Zlatyu Boyadjiev (1903-1976) one of Bulgaria's great artists who loved and painted Plovdiv, the workshops of the traditional masters of old Bulgarian arts and crafts on Strumna Street - coppersmiths, furriers, potters.

Evmolpia - the city of the ancient Thracians, Philippopolis (372 b.c.) - the city of Philip II of Macedon, the Roman Trimontium - the city on three hills and Old Plovdiv - a picturesque architectural National Revival period ensemble fashioned by the generous talent, heart and mind of the Bulgarian masters.