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Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019. The designation of Capital of Culture, alongside Matera, Italy, is a remarkable achievement for a city that has gone through a major transformation in the past decades. The city has also been successful in branding itself as an alternative to the capital Sofia for tourism, business, work, and play. The designation might even put Plovdiv on the map as a main travel destination in Europe.

Plovdiv is built on seven hills —called “tepeta” (from Turkish)— and is among the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. The hills offer spectacular views of Plovdiv — its old mosques, basilicas and monasteries, bell towers, and historic and modern neighborhoods. Currently home to 341,000, Plovdiv became Bulgaria’s economic powerhouse after World War II and is now part of the Thracian Economic Zone where some 100 new manufacturing plants were opened in the decades following Communism’s collapse.

Historically, the city was home to Thracian princes, ancient Greek leaders, Roman emperors, Ottoman Sultans, and Bulgarian kings, all of whom left their imprint on the city’s architecture and cultural institutions. The heart of the city, for example, is dominated by the Ancient Theatre and the Ancient Stadium of Philippolopis, which are covered by a vaulted passage-street — both well preserved and major tourist attractions. The stadium is bordered by the fully restored Dzhumaya Mosque, built in 1363–1364 on the site of the Sveta Petka Tarnovska Cathedral after the conquest of Plovdiv by the Ottoman army.

Townhouse in Bulgarian National Revival style in Plovdiv's Old Town. Photo: Frank Elbers.

Townhouse in Bulgarian National Revival style in Plovdiv’s Old Town. Photo: Frank Elbers.

Plovdiv’s Old Town cobbled streets are lined by townhouses in the Bulgarian National Revival style. The steps in front of the Holy Assumption Cathedral connect the Old Town with the Kapana artistic district. Originally built in the Byzantine style in the 9th and 10th centuries, the church’s iconostasis is made of gold-plated wood-carvings and carries original icons from 19th century, also in the Bulgarian National Revival style. The first liturgy in the Bulgarian language was conducted in this church in 1859.

Pedestrians on Rayko Daskalov in the Kapana creative district of Plovdiv. Photo: Frank Elbers.

Pedestrians on Rayko Daskalov in the Kapana artisan district of Plovdiv. Photo: Frank Elbers.

The Kapana (“the Trap”) creative district is home to dozens of galleries, restaurants, and little shops flanked by terraces of cafés. It is the trendy heart of Plovdiv. It is also in the process of becoming a popular and dynamic home to contemporary creators and entrepreneurs in southern Bulgaria.

More than 300 cultural events and projects will take place in Plovdiv in 2019, which the municipality hopes will attract 2 million visitors, both from Bulgaria and abroad.

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