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As the sixth oldest city in the world, Plovdiv, Bulgaria can trace its history back to 5,000 B.C. Visitors exploring Plovdiv Old Town (Stari Grad) will be able to experience some of that history for themselves, from the remains of the 2nd century Roman stadium that sit underneath the pedestrian mall in the town center to the 14th century Dzhumaya Mosque, the second oldest in Europe, to the rows of Bulgarian Revival houses that line the cobblestone streets of the Old Town.
The highlight for many will be the 2nd century Plovdiv Roman Theater that sits on a hill on the edge of the Old Town and is still used for concerts and other performances. Other noteworthy sites include the Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa, the Church of St. Constantine and Elena, the State Gallery of Fine Arts, the Zlatyu Boyadjiev House, the Icon Gallery and the Ethnographical Museum, with more than 40,000 displays about life and culture in Plovdiv.
Founded in 1083, Bachkovo Monastery is one of the largest and most important pilgrimage sites in Bulgaria, and is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed monument. The historic monastery also boasts a magnificent setting, perched in the hills around Asenovgrad and overlooking the Chepelare River.
The rolling hills and scenic landscapes of Koprivshtitsa attract plenty of travelers looking to explore Bulgaria beyond Sofia. Deep historical roots and a thriving population of merchants and artisans have made this town popular among tourists who find the town’s impressive collection of architectural, historical and artistic landmarks (388 in total!) worth a visit.
Travelers can experience the lifestyle of Koprivshtitsa’s early elite at the Oslekov House. Built in 1856, this popular museum showcases not only the rich interiors of a highbrow family, but some of its clothing and heirlooms as well. The unique rosewater fountain at The Lyutova House Museum, where authentic Koprivshtitsa wool, hand-painted murals and ornate woodcarvings are all on display, offers visitors a look at some of the region’s most impressive arts and crafts. Those who want to learn more about the area’s colorful history shouldn’t miss the birthplace of Gavril Gruyev Haltev, who played an influential role in the famous April Uprising. Travelers can explore collections of memorabilia, family photographs and historical documents that help frame how this single event dramatically shaped the nation’s past and future.
Called Petrich by some, Asen’s Fortress (Asenova Krepost) is a medieval fortress in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains. Sitting high on a rocky ridge on the left bank of the Asenitsa River, the fortress was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great in the 6th century and grew to prominence during the Middle Ages. It fell into ruins after the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century, with only the Church of the Holy Mother of God surviving. One of the oldest remaining Eastern Orthodox churches, the two-story building features a large rectangular tower and mural paintings that date back to the 14th century. Renovated in 1991, it is used today by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
The fortress is also a stop on a hiking trail that takes hikers on to several chapels and, eventually, Bachkovski Monastery.
Plovdiv Roman Theater (Ancient Theater of Philippopolis) is one of the world’s best preserved ancient theaters, originally built during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan. Incredibly, the theater lay undiscovered for centuries and was only found in the 1970s after a landslide revealed its remains. Its restoration is considered one of the greatest achievements in conservation in Bulgaria.
Sitting between two hills in Plovdiv Old Town, the Roman Theater combines stylistic features of Hellenistic and Roman theaters and has several walls and steles inscribed with Byzantine Greek. The benches are made of marble and many are engraved with the names of municipal districts, indicating where patrons should sit. Facing south toward the Rhodope Mountains, the theater is still in use today, hosting both theatrical plays and musical shows during the summer months. Possibly the most recognizable landmark in Plovdiv, the theater also offers excellent acoustics and splendid views of the city and nearby mountains.