Ancient and eternal

Plovdiv, European capital of culture in 2019, is a city 8,000 years old

Photo: The antique theatre - the emblem of Plovdiv.

In 2019, two emblematic cities - Bulgaria's Plovdiv and Italy's Matera - will become European capitals of culture. Selected several years ago as the Bulgarian candidate for such a capital, Plovdiv is among the few European cities which can boast both long and continuous history.

The city is located amidst several hills on the banks of the Maritsa River, 15km to the north of the Rhodope Mountains. Plovdiv has been existing continuously from the 6th millennium BC and had different names throughout the centuries. In antiquity it was called Eumolpia, Pulpudeva, Philippopolis and Trimoncium, in the Middle Ages its name was Puldin, during the Ottoman rule it was Philibe, finally becoming Plovdiv at end of the 19th century.

Life in Plovdiv has never ceased for almost eight millennia, which makes its history exceptionally rich and interesting. The city was a contemporary of ancient Troy and much older than Rome, Athens, Carthage and Constantinople. The modern city is built on the remnants of many previous settlements, as at some places the cultural layers beneath the city are as thick as 12 meters, which makes them difficult for research. The most ancient traces of habitation date back to the Neolith while the remains of a settlement found near Nebet Tepe are dated to the Stone and Copper Ages (4th-3rd millennium BC). The region has been continually inhabited up to present days. During the Iron Age it was a fortified settlement of the Thracian tribe of Bessi and in the 5th century BC became part of the Kingdom of the Odrissi.

In the middle of the 4th century BC, the city was conquered by Philipp II of Macedon who gave it the name of Philippopolis. For a long time it was within the boundaries of the Roman Empire when the province of Thrace emerged in 46 AD and the city rapidly became the basic settlement on the Via Militaris connecting Europe with Asia Minor. Some of the most emblematic archaeological monuments in the present-day city also date back to the Roman times - the antique theatre, forum, stadium, many old temples.

After the division of the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century, Philippopolis became a perpetual apple of discord between Bulgaria and Byzantium and the city very often changes hands. It was ceased by a Bulgarian army for the first time in the middle of the 9th century.

Philippopolis fell under Ottoman rule in 1371 and for the subsequent five centuries was among the most important urban centres within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans. In the 19th century, the city was among the leading economic and cultural centres of the Bulgarian Revival which laid the basis of the struggle for independent church and civil education. After the Liberation in 1878, the city remained within the boundaries of Eastern Rumelia as its capital, and after the Reunion of Principality of Bulgaria with Eastern Rumelia in 1885 it is the second in importance Bulgarian city after the capital Sofia.

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