Bulgaria is making a comeback! Especially since Plovdiv was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019 (bet you didn’t know that, huh?), all of the history and vibrancy that has simmered beneath the surface is finally coming to light.
We came, we saw, we conquered…that is, “we” being nearly everybody else in the region. Bulgaria has been conquered by the Greeks (so we have amphitheaters), the Romans (we’ve got stadiums), the Ottomans (mosques? check), before existing as a Communist state until the regime’s collapse. Each period of Bulgarian history is unique in its own right with each change of power and names. For example, Plovdiv? Say it to a Greek or Turk, and you might as well be referencing a crater on the moon. Phillipopolis, however? Philibe?
“Ahhhhh, yes, I know it!”
It’s a truly colorful land, patterned with different streaks of history, that has laid dormant for far too long. Let me show you around a little bit!
The park located in the Center is newly renovated, complete with fountains, statues, and little kids running rampant up and down the paths. It was a lively atmosphere where not only would you find the aforementioned kids, but people of all ages out with their friends, whether it be for a stroll, to catch up, or have a smoke.
#plovdiv2019! This is also a new installment, courtesy of the funding the city is receiving having been named the European Cultural Capital. The Center of the city is especially transformed; there are new additions such as this, fountains, the restoration of the park, not to mention the Roman stadium, which you can see below…
It runs for nearly a kilometer UNDERNEATH the city. Plovdiv is built on two ancient cities that came before it; thus, there is nearly constant excavation. Dig a little over here, some over there, oh hey, it looks like someone’s house from a few thousands years ago! It’s truly incredible, and the history of this place has laid beneath the surface not only in spirit, but as literally as possible. The streets are finally coming alive.
There you can see our resident 13th century church and the amphitheater! Both are still completely functional. In the traditional Orthodox way, my mom, sister, and I entered the church to light a candle. This is where you can send up a prayer or make a wish- between the three of us, we aren’t religious, but I believe in the spirituality that accompanies such encounters.
And, though you may not have guessed it, the amphitheater is still in full swing! There are operas and shows held nearly regularly at night, which is especially beautiful due to the fact that it is not only in such a setting, but also that the city can be seen behind it.
Before I knew it, the time had set on my time in Plovdiv…it was terrific being able to see my family after so many years, and for the first time to truly experience my culture with clear eyes and an open heart.
But never fear, the adventures don’t stop here! (Since I know you were positively terrified, of course.) Next the three of us, and my mom’s best friend- one of the most fantastic people I know- hopped on a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. We waved our goodbyes to my grandparents and uncle, watching as their faces became specks the farther we traveled from the bus station.
Now, this building is a five minute walk from the hotel in which we were staying. It was the previous center for information during the Communist era in Bulgaria. My mom used to work here, once she moved from Plovdiv to Sofia to become a student; and in doing so, learned things she didn’t know existed. The existing propaganda had left her blind to what was truly going on: the arrests, beatings, the work camps. She took action; but this is a story for another time, one which I promise to tell.
On a happier note, the Center of Sofia is as beautiful as that in Plovdiv. It’s filled with people walking, riding bikes (you might’ve picked up on that), and is filled with shops, restaurants, and cafes of all kinds. Cafes are an epidemic here- I swear I always had at least five or six in my line of vision. I noticed this in Plovdiv, too: at all hours of the day, you can find people simply sitting in cafes, talking to friends, on their phones, or literally just sitting, I kid you not.
That is the Supreme Court! I loved how many trolleys I saw running up the streets- it maintains Bulgaria’s culture as a fusion of past and present.
The historic theater is right at the edge of a beautiful park, one in which my mom remembers studying as a student at Sofia University. Which leads me to…
We stepped in and took a look around! My mom mentioned she remembered studying linguistics in that building- her dream was to become a diplomat. She was also an activist at the time, participating in strikes and more, some of which took place in the square with the statue that you see above. Like I said, her story is coming!
And finally, the last highlight I have for you is the Russian Orthodox church. It’s truly magnificent and regal; the interior is as grand as the exterior. I wish I could have taken some pictures, but, of course, no photography was allowed.
That sums up my time in Bulgaria! I hope you might’ve learned a thing or two, and that you might even pay us a visit sometime 😉