WHAT WILL PLOVDIV OFFER AS EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2019?

The Bulgarian city which has taken over the European Capital of Culture title from Valletta and Leeuwarden is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. Today it is known for its quirky streets and youthful vibe. The programme highlights for this year include an event for sharing bread and stories, an anime and gaming festival, and a Brexit Blues festival to celebrate British music and its continuous links to Europe despite Brexit. For a more local touch, there will be a festival to celebrate the Cyrillic alphabet – Bulgarians proudly state that this is where it originated.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

The bus ride between Plovdiv and the capital Sofia is officially 1.5 hours – like Valletta to Cirkewwa, except that the bus takes you halfway across the vast territory of Bulgaria. However, locals warn me that heavy traffic may prolong the ride to over two hours – and it does. From the first glance, the city looks green, pedestrian-friendly and cheerful.

Established as a Thracian settlement, Plovdiv changed hands several times, serving as an administrative centre in the Roman and Ottoman empires. Some of its main landmarks are a Roman theatre, accidentally discovered in the 1970s. Some more Roman ruins extend to the local H&M branch.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

The ‘Friday’ mosque is said to be the first Ottoman building in the Balkans. The impressive building is surrounded by a pleasant pedestrian area – a great place to stop for Turkish coffee and banitsa – a local pastry. A 19th century St Constantine and Elena church, tucked behind walls in the place where a wooden 15th century church used to stand, is a reminder that there was a time in history when Christian religious buildings were not allowed to dominate the landscape.

Plovdiv is a cosy and walkable city, with its main road closed to car traffic. However, a tour of Plovdiv is not complete without visiting at least some of its hills, as the city, much like Rome, was founded on multiple hilltops.

Many tourists today gravitate to the Kapana (‘trap’) neighbourhood, which burned down a century ago and was revitalised in preparation for the European Capital of Culture year. It breathes youthful energy and is already home to a number of festivals.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

An ancient Ottoman house (below), converted to an ethnographic museum, is one of the examples of Plovdiv’s urban heritage. After the owners fled following Bulgarian independence, the building served as a school and a factory. Various other houses are witnesses to the eras gone by.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve

And in case you wonder, Plovdiv, too, has experienced some spats over the contents of its programme, and door-slamming exit of some prominent personalities. Milyo (pictured below), the immortalised local character from the 1930s, a reliable listener to the city’s stories, will surely much to hear throughout this year.

Photo credit: Daiva Repečkaitė / Eve