There are Christian churches all over Plovdiv, preserved behind the Iron Curtain, and now flourishing. These old churches are dark and beautiful with the glint of gold and crystal, Orthodox Christian churches with icons that help me to imagine how the Byzantine churches were here in Istanbul, before they became mosques.
These old churches appear to have simply been locked up, rather than stripped, and generations later re-opened. I wander through them in pleasant melancholy, lighting candles to my mother and aunts, to departed friends and lovers. I wasn’t raised with such traditions but find them comforting and appropriate.
SAVED JEWS Plovdiv also hosts mosques, pagan temples, and synagogues, although most of its Jews departed for the new state of Israel. They were able to because 20th-century Plovdiv saved its Jewish population: in 1943 Cyril, Archbishop of Plovdiv and future Bulgarian Patriarch, intervened to prevent 1500 deportations to the camps.
ESCALATOR SAINTS Decades after the god-proscribing Soviet rule, the tone of Bulgaria is Christian. Saints decorate money and civic buildings. On a recent side trip to Sofia, I found a spectacular subway saint, and a tomb worth sharing.
SNOW CAFE: Plovdiv in Winter NEXT: GOODNIGHT SWEET PRINCE