Reading Plovdiv’s history, I imagine a regal figure enduring a continual costume change, its integrity as eternal as its ancient walls. Little old Plovdiv, Bulgaria, is the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. It’s so old it fell to Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, who gave it one of its ancient names: Philippopolis.
Some sources say it’s 6000 years old, some say 8,000. A city on a plain, at the Maritza River, with seven rocky tower-like hills. Nobody knows the name of the original Neolithic settlement. The Thracians called the city Eumolpias, after the son of Poseidon, and then Pulpedeva. Later, under Roman rule, it was a major crossroads and cultural center, called Trimontium, after the three largest hills.
Plovdiv’s Roman ruins are plentiful and immaculate, like this well-preserved stadium under a shopping center. The most famous is the Roman theater, still open for business, clinging to a rocky cliffside.
In the Middle Ages the city was Byzantine, once again called Philippopolis, as the residents sang songs of Alexander’s heroics 1300 years before. After the Byzantines, Slavs called it Peldin, Plepdiv, Ploudin. Ottomans seized the city in the fourteenth century, re-naming it Filibe, from “Philip.”
Here’s a Byzantine arch attached to a Roman wall, and below it, the layout for a drawing of the gate.
WARRIOR RELICS Next to it, a tall gabled house boasts an enormous door. I banged on it one icy day and met Krasi, who was ensconced with colleagues in a toasty back room of what turned out to be a museum: The House of Dimitar Georgiadi.
Upstairs in the museum are glass cases with all manner of things. I gathered that the people who wore this clothing, shot these guns, were fighting Ottoman forces. I imagine the fierce young men in the mountains, nothing to do but decorate those guns and fire them.
That first day, I gratefully accepted tea and a spot on the couch. “Oh, you live in Istanbul,” they said, “Here’s a book by your countryman.” They handed me a book in English by an American in the 1800s. A sentence leaped out: “…there were still traces of chemises on the small skeletons scattered through the rocks and trees…” It was an account of the conflict leading to the Battle of Philippopolis, which expelled the Ottomans in 1898. The city has been “Plovdiv” ever since.
SNOW CAFE: Plovdiv in Winter NEXT: THE ICE PALACE