Lucina the Greek called Plovdiv "the biggest and most beautiful of all
Thrace. With a population of 400.000 it is Bulgaria's second largest city. The old town embodies Plovdiv's long and varied history - The Thracian fortifications used by Macedonian masons and overlaid with Byzantine walls and great timber-framed mansions erected during the Bulgarian Renaissance look down on the Ottoman mosques and artisan's homes of the lower town.
There are still remains to be seen today of Plovdiv's historical position as a crossroads between East and West, among them the city Forum, the amphitheatre of Philip II of Macedonia, basilicas, thermae, merchants' houses and administrative buildings. With the restoration of the 2nd century theatre, performances are again given in this 3.000 seater monument of history.
Plovdiv's showcases are the dozens of National Revival style houses, which are an excellent example of this style at the time at its height. They were built on an incline, expanding storey by storey using timber-framed oriels, thus cleverly solving the problem of available ground and the merchants' demand for roomy interiors in the 19th century.
The Bulgarian people have always been proud that Old Plovdiv was restored and preserved as a large open museum in order to stay for future generations. Today Old Plovdiv is an autonomous area within the modern town with a municipality of its own. It is declared an architectural museum reserve with over 150 monuments of culture - houses from the National Revival period. Its magnificent houses are turned into museums, galleries, workshops, restaurants, and pubs, such as "Puldin", "Trakijski Stan" , "Alafrangite", "The House of Ritora", "The Old House". There are also parlours and studios of painters and wood-carvers. Families from Plovdiv own many of those houses.
The most distinguished examples of the Baroque of Plovdiv are the house of Koiumjioglu (now an ethnographical museum), the house of Georgiadi (now the Rennaissance museum of the national struggle), the house of Nedkovich (the municipality), the house of Chomaka (the gallery of the renowned Bulgarian painter Zlatyo Boyajiev), the house of Balabanov (now a gallery of modern painting, as well as a concert hall), the house of Lamartin (the house of writers) where the French poet Alfonse de Lamartin stayed during his diplomatic mission in Turkey... The famous painting "Old Plovdiv" by Tzanko Lavrenov is probably the deepest revelation of the spirit, the excitement and the atmosphere of that fateful Bulgarian Rennaissance.
Festivals and Fairs
The Great Koprivshtitza Folklore Festival
The Great Koprivshtitza Folklore Festival is Bulgaria's largest gathering of traditional musicians and singers and is a cross between a pop festival and a medieval fair. It is a sight that knows no equal: thousands of musicians and singers making the hillside above the picturesque village of Koprivshtitza their home for a few days. Coupled with this you have the colourful stalls of the traders and the thousands of visitors who come for the festival.
This is Bulgarian music as it was always played, played by the ancestors of those who first played it. But perhaps it is what happens on the periphery that is the most authentic. Strolling players or soloists, simply playing for the sheer enjoyment. forming new bonds with other musicians or just letting their music ring out over the hillside.
The Bourgas International Folk Festival
The Bourgas International Folk Festival, held annually, attracts a host of Bulgarian and international artists and is held in the second half of August.
The Kazanluk Festival
The Kazanluk Festival of the Roses is held annually in early June, and has grown from a local to an international event. Not only are the roses, Kazanluk's main industry, in full flower. but the town itself blossoms while visitors enjoy the "Rose Picnic" and all the fun of a folklore festival, with its costumes, songs and dance. Should you still have the energy left, you can always visit the old factories where the rose oil is extracted.
St. Trifon's Day
In the agricultural calendar, St. Trifon's Day celebrates the pruning of the vines, and is held on February 14.
On the first Sunday before Lent, Kukerov Den celebrates the start of the agricultural year, and all over Bulgaria you can witness processions led by the dancing. leaping Kukeri dressed in colourful masks and costumes.
Baba Marta is celebrated on March 1 when peasant house-holds brush out the winter cobwebs with a traditional spring clean. and people offer each other tokens of good luck called martenitsas.
Like western countries. the Bulgarian calendar is dotted with important feast days and festivals. The festival of the Kukeri re-enacts ancient surovaki rites to ward off evil spirits and Kukeri fertility rites. Although only held once every five years, it brings together dancers from all over Bulgaria in a rainbow of colours and styles.
St. Lazarus Day
Lazaruvane is also celebrated in spring on St. Lazarus Day, and here village girls considered fit for marriage perform ritual songs and dances.
St. Konstantin and St. Elena Day
The coming of summer is traditionally celebrated on St. Konstantin and St. Elena Day on May 21, and in some of the remoter villages in the Stranzha hills fire dancing, dancing on heated coals, is still practised in celebration of summer's arrival. Ethnologists have suggested that this practice is directly descended from Dionysina rites of the ancient Thracian.