Plovdiv feels like a small city or even just a big town but in fact with a population of nearly 350,000 people, it is Bulgaria’s second largest city. We were here once before, in 2010 when we came to Bulgaria for a wedding. It was a brief, one-night stop and I didn’t really remember anything except that I liked it. Mark remembered a great areas of loungy, outdoor restaurants and cafés that we couldn’t find, if it in fact ever existed. What we found here, though, we loved.
There were two distinct parts of Plovdiv we liked, some interesting Roman ruins and beautiful modern parks. That, a wonderful, airy, and inexpensive hotel room, and some great meals is pretty much all you need for a great stop.
First, the modern city. Just a couple blocks from our hotel was a big, beautiful modern park with seemingly dozens of fountains and hundreds of nice benches in the shade. I’m always amused when I get to these cities that are measurably poorer than, say, Boston, that are able to maintain these beautiful parks and fountains. In Boston, for most of the 15 years we lived there they couldn’t keep the main fountain in the Commons working. In Plovdiv the fountains were almost limitless. Along with nice maintenance and more benches than they could ever need, it was pretty nice.
As for the old part of the city, this is a place that was conquered by Philip of Macedon in the 4th century BC – after which it was known for many centuries as Philippopolis – so it has a long history. (Now, to be honest, there is evidence of human settlements dating back to the 6th millennium BC, so it is in fact really old. It thus claims to be one of the oldest settlements in Europe but it seems to me that I’ve seen that claim too many places to give it that much credence.) And then for several centuries in the comparatively more recent past it was under the control of the Ottomans who also left there marks here.
The main ruins in town are a big old Roman theater and, not that far away in today’s modern city, another, seemingly smaller Roman stadium. Not many cities claim two ancient Roman theaters. The oldest, the Ancient Theater, was built in the first century AD and is probably the most famous ancient site in all of Bulgaria. We’ve seen a lot of old Roman theaters and are probably a bit jaded, but this one was in pretty good shape. The Roman Stadium dates from the second century AD and while today’s ruins are smaller, the stadium was once huge, supposedly holding up to 30,000 spectators.
We would have stayed longer – it really is a lovely town that deserved more than two nights – but something must have been going on because the third night everything was just booked. So we headed on west to the Black Sea.