Plovdiv lives at two speeds. And it would even seem that there are parts of the city that are moving frantically in opposite directions. The Kapana neighborhood (which the tourist authorities have baptized as the Creative District) is furiously launched towards the most absolute modernity. Its traditional shops have been converted into art galleries. The usual taverns are now gastrobars at the forefront of globalized food. Dying artisans are replaced by ingenious craftsmen hand-painting T-shirts or custom-made shoes. The streets are full of murals that occupy the abandoned facades. 

It is a fun and entertaining area of ​​the second most populous city in Bulgaria, in which to spend a few hours. It’s worth it. But like her there are dozens throughout Europe, and if you didn’t look at the Cyrillic alphabet on the signs, you wouldn’t even know how to distinguish her from many others.Cobblestone streets and colorful houses in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

On the contrary, when the traveler crosses Boris III Avenue and begins to climb unevenly cobbled sloping streets, he stumbles upon a villa like no other. Old Plovdiv has been frozen in the 19th century, when its merchants were prosperous and built houses that gave them the flashiest comforts of the day to silently proclaim that they had amassed small – or large – fortunes.

To the old town of Plovdiv you go to admire the set of intact houses called National Revival style, for lack of a better definition. This is when Bulgaria shook off the long Ottoman rule and began to strike out on its own. It is a group of houses that have been preserved and restored with care. They have common features. They are accessed through a secluded but perfect garden of rose bushes in which a fountain dominates. The buildings are on two floors, raised almost exclusively in wood. The fronts show off vegetable inlays and borders and are painted in pastel colours. They are all different, and classes can also be seen within their pompousness: the silk dealers had amassed more money than the string dealers, for example.Old town of Plovdiv .

Class question

The ‘National Revival’ style houses, with two floors and rose gardens, reflect the power of the merchants of the time

The interior of the houses, with venerable creaking wooden floors, give way to two types of rooms. The large rooms in which the merchant struck deals and tried to impress his clients are the ones containing a gazebo overlooking the garden. They are decorated alafranga, that is, imitating the French Versailles style. The other rooms are in the Alaturca style, a name that leaves no room for doubt, with an orientalist tendency and a clear influence from the Ottoman Empire.

In the merely functional rooms, it can be seen in the details that the owners had adopted all the state-of-the-art comforts of the time: bathrooms with toilet, telephone, internal communication to call the servants, irons (carbon, still), gas lamps.

Depending on the merchant’s activity, the houses have now enabled small museum spaces related to it: there are exhibitions on the manufacture of wool and silk, pharmacies with all their bottles and potions, useful for collecting honey.


Merchants of old Plovdiv used their houses to impress clients and finalize negotiations

The political moment – ​​the end of Ottoman rule and the struggle for independence – is also reflected in some rooms, where clandestine meetings were held and there were small doors through which to flee in case the Turkish police showed up. These devices tend to draw a lot of attention from visitors, as they are well hidden behind fireplaces or cupboards.

There are dozens of houses like these. If you have to choose only a handful, the essential ones would be Balabanov, Antoniadi, Klianti, Boyadzhiev and Hindliyan. In the tourist office located at the entrance to the old town, they sell a joint pass for all of them, which is more economically advantageous than paying each ticket.

Overview of the old town of Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

The wonders of Plovidv do not end in the Casco Viejo. Paradoxically, you have to move to the new city to stumble upon the oldest monuments. Between commercial avenues are the Roman ruins of the stadium, the forum and the odeon, where musical performances and theatrical performances take place in summer. And also, the beautiful Dzhumaya mosque, one of the oldest in the Balkans, built in the fifteenth century. It is a place of peace and freshness that is appreciated on long walks through Plovdiv, because to complete the visit you still have to climb one of the seven hills that it brings together –better if it is Nebet Tepe, which is the one that offers the panoramic view. More complete-. And to appreciate as a whole the city that unabashedly competes with Sofia for being the most beautiful in Bulgaria.

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