The Old Town of Plovdiv is the main reason I wanted to visit this city. It’s an area full of cobbled streets that go up on a steep hill and we felt like we walked on an open air museum, it’s actually a city within the modern city.
We started from Saborna street and then we got lost on the side streets, we had a small map but we didn’t really needed it, the Old Down isn’t not very big and you can easily walk around everywhere until you reach Nebet Tepe which is the top of the hill with view over the city.
What you can do here is to check the numerous Old Houses, stop for a coffee or just enjoy the view from hill, visit an ancient roman theatre etc.
There are many churches that worth to be visited but also many of the restored old houses have been turned into restaurants, workshops or museums (art galleries, ethnographic museum, renaissance museum of national struggle etc) so if you want to check them all and see also the interior of those that are open to the public must add some extra time.
Most of the old houses were built in Bulgarian Revival style during the 19th century from rich merchants but the expensive restoration left them in decay for many years so it’s no surprise many of them were turned into museums after the 70s. Most of them have colorful facades, stylish patterns, heavy wooden doors, numerous interesting windows that will please every photographer and some of them some lovely small gardens full of flowers. The houses although simple from outside they have luxurious interiors and they are not very big so more or less we spent 30’ in each of those that were open to the public (there is a small entrance fee in each one) but we had 2 full days in Plovdiv, I’m not sure if we would have visit so many if it was just a daytrip from Sofia. They are named after the original owner, usually there is a sign on the front door, the most important houses are pointed on the free map that we got from the Tourist Information.
I got confused with Plovdiv Gallery of Fine Arts as it is housed in 5 different locations!
Most of them are located in Old Town but hopefully the lady at the tourist Information cleared things out for us so I knew where to go. The Gallery houses about 7,000 art items (!), many of them great works of Bulgarian fine arts.
At Saborna street we visited the Permanent collection. It is housed on a beautiful building (pic 1) that worth to be seen anyway. Once inside there are about 200 items, mostly paintings. They are in chronologically order covering 2 floors (while on ground floor there is a weird japanase collection!) but as it’s not very big I just walked around first to have a general view and then returned to check some specific paintings.
There are different stylistic trends with many items from early Revival period.
My favorite painting is “The Old Plovdiv” (pic 4), oil on canvas made in 1934 by Dimiter Kumanov(1903-1981). I got bored with the portraits as usual but the portrait of Sofronii Vrachanski (famous writer from Bulgarian Revial era) has to be mentioned as it is the oldest exhibit in the gallery, it dates from 1812.
It is open Monday to Saturday 9.00-12.30, 13.00-17.30 and the entrance fee is 2leva
It was built in 1860, the owner was Dr.Stoyan Chomakov(1819-1893), he was born in Koprivshitsa and studied medicine in Italy and surgery in Paris and became the first doctor of Plovdiv. What’s more he opened the first Bulgarian pharmacist store in Plovdiv in 1849. But he is known for his fights for Bulgarian church independence. After the liberation he returned back to work as a doctor but now he was also known as the one that run the charity organization St Panteleymon that helped numerous poor people of Plovdiv.
We took some photos of the beautiful building (simple symmetrical facade) and then we walked inside. After the liberation the house was used by Tsar Ferdinand, much later in 1950s was part of the national library and since 1984 it houses a permanent exhibition of Zlatjiu Boyadiev(1903-1976), the famous Bulgarian painter that was born in Plovdiv.
There are 76 paintings covering both periods of Boyadiev (he had a paralysis on his right hand in 1951). The exhibition is all over the two floors but the general decoration of the interior was interesting too with nice stairs, stained glasses etc
Hissar Kapiya was the eastern gate of the town when it was called Philippopolis. It was built many centuries before, probably back in 5th century, demolished and reconstructed many times as latins, bulgarians, byzantines and ottomans passed under the gate. It was restored in the early 20th century.
It was part of the defensive walls, now just a gate that leads into the Old Town, there are some nice buildings next to it in beautiful Revival style.
For some strange reason I can’t find the photo I took from the other side of the gate… please digital god give me back my photo :(
Georgiadi house is one of the most popular houses of National Revival style. It was built in 1848 by Haji George, the most famous architect of that era. Dimiter Georgiadi was the owner, another wealthy merchant as every owner of those impressive mansions.
The building houses the Museum of National Liberation with items from early Ottoman period but mainly about Liberation with many uniforms, maps and documents etc There are also items that belong to famous people of that era but I have to admit that we got bored, come for the building, take your photos but skip the museum.
The museum is open 9.00-12.00, 14.00-17.00 Monday to Saturday and the entrance fee is 2leva.
Next to Georgiadis is another house that makes contrast due to its yellow color (pic 4), it’s the house of Nikola Nedkovich.
We walked a bit further down the road where House Georgidi is and we saw a nice bell tower of a church.
It’s an orthodox church dedicated to Agia Kiriaki (Sveta Nedelya in Bulgarian), a holy martyr, her name means Sunday in English, because she was born on the day of the lord which is Kyriaki in greek, I hope all this doesn’t sound greek to you :) Daughter of a rich greek orthodox couple she refused to get married but when she said no to the son of a judge of Nikomideia her family was accused by him as Christians to emperor Dioklitianos. The good emperor put her parents in heavy torture and they finally dropped dead. Then Kiriaki was sent to Maximianos that put her in torture too but she didn’t refused God. Maximianos sent her to Ilarion that used some weird tortures (hanged her from her hair for hours) but although she suffered she kept her belief. Apollonios that replaced Ilarion decided to decapitated her, she was only 21 years old and as a holy martyr she turned into a saint by the orthodox church.
The church was originally built in 1578 but we see today is the renovated church that was built in 1832 by Petko Petkov.
The three naive pseydo basilica has a 9meter dome that is supported by 12 columns (like the 12 apostles) and it is famous for the wooden iconostasis made by Yani Spirov using walnut tree. Unfortunately it was closed during our visit so we just took some pictures of the exterior.
This building is part of the Plovdiv Gallery of Fine Arts, actually it’s the less interesting of the 5 different locations.
Icon Gallery is focusing on Bulgarian religious icons of course, there are some old ones (starting from 15th century) but we were so tired that we just had a look and left to find a place to eat something.
Ok, I know people that are interested on icons will find it more interesting but still I wonder why not to spend more time inside the numerous churches around. The interesting thing about the gallery is that its collection houses icons from the general area of Plovdiv that were gathered from people that wanted to save from the authorities during the communist era.
The Gallery is open Monday to Saturday 9.00-12.00, 14.00-17.30
The entrance fee is 2leva
According to some books Sveta Konstantin I Sveta Elena (Saint Constantine and Helena) church this is the oldest church in Plovdiv. It was first built in 337 (!) over a fortified wall that was part of the acropolis of the Old Town.
It was dedicated to Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Helen. Constantine was the first roman emperor that convert from roman pagan gods into Christianity, he is known for some great victories over Franks, Visigoths and Sarmatians but most of all of creating New Rome in the small greek city Byzantium that since then was called Constantinopolis (Constantine’s city in greek) until Ottomans turned it into Istanbul. Constantine and his mother must have been great people to became saints by orthodox church no matter the fact that he executed his own son Crispus and his wife Fausta (after his mother demand)! :)
Anyway enough said about the man that I was named after :) The church passed through many waves of demolition and reconstructions as romans, Greeks, ottomans and Bulgarians were passing by…
The building we see today was built in 1832. The interior is nice, with some interesting murals and paintings by Zahari Zograph and other local artists. There is also an old gold plated iconostasis. Photography isn’t allowed inside but there are some nice frescoes on the outer wall too.
Kuyumdzioglu House is one of the most beautiful examples of the numerous Revival Houses in the Old Town of Plovdiv.
It was built in beautiful baroque style by Hadzhi Georgi in 1847 as it is clearly seen above the gate (pic 2), the owner Argir Hristov Kuyumdzioglu was a rich merchant as most of the owners of these houses. He left Plovdiv after Bulgarian Liberation in 1878 and the then house was used as girls’ boarding house, as millinery factory, as flour warehouse and as vineral factory. Since 1938 the building houses the Ethnographic Museum of Plovdiv.
We walk a bit in the front yard where is a small garden and we admired the beautiful symmetric façade.
Once inside there are 12 rooms and some -lets call them- salons in between, we enjoyed the building and the wooden ceiling more than museum’s collection, there are some nice floral patterns to see…
As for the collection there are many items but not much information as I wanted but you can see lots of furniture, traditional costumes, uniforms and general clothing, textiles, religious related items, crafts, instruments, old carpets etc
It is open 9.00-17.00
The entrance fee is 5 leva, you can take pics if you pay 5 leva more!
This beautiful church is located right in the Old Town. The first church on these grounds was already built in the 4th century and dedicated to the Byzantine Emperor Konstantin and his mother Helena. Over the years there's been a lot of destruction and reconstruction, the last reconstruction being in 1832.
Inside you'll find a beautiful iconostasis and lots of colourful murals.
We stopped by the tourist information center and asked for a map, on the map we got there was a Plovdiv city tour showing the highlights of the old town and the path to incorporate all of them into your visit. We arrived in Ploviv at 12:30pm and it was probably around 1pm when we got started and I think we caught the 5pm bus back so you can easily visit Plovdiv in a day trip.
The same brochure listed a free walking tour on Wednesday at 9:30 in English that leaves from the tourist information center in the main square, if you come in for just the day, you can't make it even if you catch the 1st bus but if you stay overnight, it might be a good option for a couple of hours.
The old town of Plovdiv has several beautiful old houses, several peaceful and attractive churches and lots of very laid-back, relaxing cafes. A lot of the old houses are symmetrical in design. The ethnographic museum is housed in a beautiful old building and worth a look.
If you don't go see the old town of Plovdiv, you have not seen Plovdiv.
This is a very well preserved slice of how towns looked and felt in times gone by.
There is so much to see here (see some of my tips).
It's all walkable with good footwear.
Plovdiv's Old Town is a city within a city and is effectively an open-air museum of Bulgaria's Renaissance Period. Most of the buildings date from the mid to late 19th century and many have been painstakingly restored to their former glory using traditional techniques and materials relying on the works of the local Architect and Historian Hristo D Peev as guides.
Several of the buildings are "House Museums" whose interiors have been recreated to illustrate the lifestyles of the time. This makes for an interesting wander and even without visiting the museums themselves there are plenty of informative plaques around giving the history and details of individual residences.
Also within the Old Town are the four main sites of the City Gallery of Fine Arts, the Ethnographic Museum (itself a museum piece and former residence of the local notable Argir Kuyumdzhiouglu), several restaurants (including the well-known Hemus) as well as cafes, hotels and souvenir shops.
Many old homes in the Old Town have been turned into museums.
One of them that I most enjoyed, as a teacher, was the home of Hristo G. Danov.
He was the father of publishing in Bulgaria that also ran a school from his home.
An interesting visit that doesn't take much time but is enlightening as to a way of life.