Plovdiv (Bulgarian: Пловдив) is the second largest city in Bulgaria, with a population of 376,918. It is the administrative centre of Plovdiv Province in southern Bulgaria, as well as the largest and most important city of the historical region of Thrace, famous for its ancient and diverse culture and millenary history.
The city is located on both banks of the Maritsa in the central part of the Upper Thracian Lowlands. The country is mostly plain, but Plovdiv is particularly known, like Rome, for its seven hills, one of which was destroyed in the beginning of the 20th century.
A couple of key thoroughfares cross the city, including the one connecting Sofia with Istanbul through Edirne, as well as the one between Sofia and Burgas through Stara Zagora. Plovdiv is regarded as the gate to the Rhodopes, as most people who head for the mountains choose it as their starting point. The city has three railway stations (and an additional railway stop) and three bus stations.
Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities of Europe, being older than Rome, Athens, and Constantinople. The first traces of civilization at the place date from the Mycenaean period.
Known at the time as a Thracian fortified settlement named Eumolpia, in 342 BC it was conquered by Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who renamed it Philippoupolis (rendered in Latin as Philippopolis) in his own honour. It was later independent under the Greeks, until it was incorporated into the Roman Empire, under which it was also called Trimontium (City of Three Hills) and served as capital of the province of Thrace. Thrimontium was an important crossroad for the Roman Empire. Via Militaris, the most important military road in the Balkans, passed through. It was one of the most glorious moments in the history of the city. It spread beyond the three hills, and numerous public buildings, shrines, baths, and theatres. Many ruins from Roman times can still be seen in the city.
Although Slavs probably settled in the area around the middle of the 6th century, it became part of the Bulgarian state for the first time in about 815. The city remained in Bulgarian hands until it was conquered by the Byzantine Empire in 970 or 971. Byzantine rule was succeeded by that of the Latin Empire in 1204, although the city was twice occuppied by Kaloyan of Bulgaria before his death in 1207. Under Latin rule, Plovdiv was the capital of the Duchy of Philippopolis governed first by Renier de Trit, and then by Gerard de Strem. In unclear circumstances the city fell under Bulgarian rule during the reign of Ivan Asen II between 1225 and 1229. In 1263 Plovdiv was conquered by the restored Byzantine Empire and remained in Byzantine hands until it was taken by George Terter II of Bulgaria in 1322. Byzantine rule was restored in 1323, but in 1344 the city was surrendered to Bulgaria by the regency for John V Palaiologos as the price for Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria's support in the Byzantine civil war. Plovdiv remained Bulgarian until conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1369. The name Plovdiv first appears in the fifteenth century and is derived from the city's Thracian name Pulpudeva, which was rendered by the Slavs first as Păldin (Пълдин) or Plăvdin.
Under Ottoman rule, Plovdiv (then known as Filibe) was a center of the Bulgarian national movement in Eastern Rumelia. While the city was liberated from the Ottomans during the Battle of Plovdiv in 1878, it was not originally part of the newly established Principality of Bulgaria. Instead it was the capital of the semi-independent Region of Eastern Rumelia, when it had a population of about 33,500, of which 45% were Bulgarians, 25% Greeks, 21% Turks, 6% Jews and 3% Armenians, a state that changed rapidly in the following decades. Eastern Rumelia finally joined Bulgaria in 1885 after the Unification of Bulgaria.
Under Communist rule since the end of World War II, Plovdiv was one of the centres of that country's democracy movement, which finally overthrew the pro-Soviet regime in 1989.
Plovdiv hosted specialized exhibitions of the World's Fair three times (1981, 1985, and 1991).
Plovdiv has more than 200 known archeological sites, 30 of which are of national importance. Some of the world-famous sites include the Ancient Theatre (2nd century BC), the Roman Stadium (also 2nd century BC), the magnificent colour mosaics of the villas, the ones of the episcopal temple, the Nebet Tepe archaeological complex and the noted samples of Bulgarian National Revival architecture, such as the Balabanov House, the Kuyumdzhiev House, and the houses of Georgiadi, Nedkovich, Hindian.
As for the remaining mobile monuments of culture, kept in the five Plovdiv museums—the Archaeological Museum, the Ethnographic Museum, the Historical Museum, the Natureal Museum and the City Art Gallery—there are more than 30,000 pieces. The Panagyurishte Golden Treasure from the end of 6th century BC consists of six uniquely decorated golden utensils together weighing more than 6,000 kg.
The old town part of Plovdiv was made a reservation because of the characteristic features of the National Revival architecture houses, concentrated on the Three Hills (Трихълмие, Trihalmie)—Nebet Tepe, Dzhambaz Tepe and Teksim Tepe. With their impressive appearance, magnificent internal decoration, coziness and family spirit, they are embodiment of the spirit of their time.
The old Eastern Orthodox churches are an integral part of the Three Hills architectural ensemble. Most of them have the same appearance as they had at the middle of the 19th century. Those are SS Constantine and Helena, St Marina, St Nedelya, St Petka and the Holy Mother of God Cathedral. There is a Roman Catholic Church in Plovdiv called St Ludovic. There are Protestant and Armenian Apostolic churches as well. Two mosques remain in Plovdiv from the time of the Ottoman rule.
The spirit of Plovdiv bears the creative power of its artists, writers and musicians. Notable events include the Chambre Music International Festival, which takes place in the old town since the 1970s; the Golden Chest International TV Film Festival, organized jointly with the Bulgarian National Television since the 1980s; the Golden Rhyton International Festival of Documentary Films, which is a joint initiative with the National Film Centre, which dates back to 1980s; the Verdi Festival, the venue of which is one of the most attractive places in the city — the Ancient Theatre; Easter and Christmas music festivals; the International Folklore Festival that is one of the most exotic events at the end of the summer. Of particular interests are some recent initiatives — the Stage on a Crossroad International Theatre Festival, the Week of Modern Art that takes place in the Ancient Public Bath, the Impresiya Art Fair.
In 1999 Plovdiv was the host of the European Cultural Month. On the traditional stages in the city and on alternative culture spaces, the program carried out the biggest culture forum in Bulgaria at the turn of the century. Raina Kabaivanska, Ghena Dimitrova, Lyudmil Anguelov, the Bamberg Symphonic Orchestra, Michael Nyman, Hanna Schygulla, Goran Bregović and his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra, Metallica, Apocalyptica, Grand Funk, Ritchie Blackmore and many others took part in it.