Plovdiv​—A Modern City With Ancient Roots

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN BULGARIA

PLOVDIV is older than Rome, Carthage, or Constantinople. Some 350,000 people live in this city, which sprawls over seven hills in south-central Bulgaria.

Walk down the city’s ancient streets, and you will see abundant evidence of its glorious, tumultuous past. Edifices built by the Thracians, a feared race that lived hundreds of years before the Common Era, can be seen, as well as Greek pillars, Roman theaters, and Turkish minarets.

The “Loveliest of All Cities”

Archaeological discoveries in and around the city reveal that it was inhabited well before the first millennium B.C.E. Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that before the fourth century B.C.E., a Thracian fortified settlement named Eumolpias existed at the site of present-day Plovdiv. In 342 B.C.E., Eumolpias was conquered by Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. Philip changed the city’s name to Philippopolis.

When the Romans gained control of the city in 46 C.E., they called the city Trimontium and made it the capital of Thrace. The Romans were eager to hold this city because it straddled the Via Diagonalis, an important crossroad of the Balkan region. The Romans  added a stadium, an amphitheater (seen above), numerous baths, and many other typically Roman buildings.

Lucian of Samosata described the natural beauty of this city, which was set among three hills at the base of the Rhodope Mountains. (See the box  “The City of Seven Hills,” on page 18.) It lay near the Maritsa River, with the fertile Thracian plain spreading out before it. Lucian wrote that Trimontium was “the greatest and loveliest of all cities!”

After the decline of Rome in what came to be called the Dark Ages, Slavic peoples settled the area. Over the next few centuries, crusaders looted the town on four separate occasions. Then, in the 14th century, a political change took place when the city fell to the Turks. They renamed the city Philibé and remained the city’s masters until 1878. The Jumaia Mosque with its minaret and sundial still stands as a reminder of that time.

When Russia defeated Turkey in 1878, the city’s name was changed from Philibé to Plovdiv. The city was given an economic boost in 1892 when it hosted a trade fair. From then on, Plovdiv became the main trading center of Bulgaria. During the second world war, the Nazis briefly controlled the city but were ousted by the Soviets in 1944. Then, in 1989, Plovdiv slipped from the grip  of yet another mighty empire when the Soviet Union collapsed. Some of Plovdiv’s past masters may have been sincere; still, they were hampered by the imperfections that characterize human rule.

The Good News Comes to Plovdiv

As early as 1938, a local corporation with the name Nabludatelna Kula (Watch Tower) was formed and registered. It printed and distributed Bibles and Bible literature in Bulgaria. Despite efforts by the Communist government to oppress them, Jehovah’s Witnesses kept on sharing the good news of a coming perfect heavenly government with the residents of Plovdiv. (Matthew 24:14) A few began to respond to the message. Now, there are over 200 in Plovdiv who have taken an active stand for Jehovah, and they are organized into two congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The majority of these Witnesses are Bulgarians. But, true to the multinational history of this city, among them are also people from many other nations. There are Americans, British, Canadians, Italians, Moldovans, and Poles. Together, these tell their neighbors about the prospect of being ruled by a perfect administration. At that time, not only the inhabitants of Plovdiv but people of the whole world will enjoy security, “each one under his vine and under his fig tree, and there will be no one making them tremble.”​—Micah 4:4.

[Box/​Picture on page 18]

“THE CITY OF SEVEN HILLS”

  A modern visitor to Plovdiv may find it hard to locate the city’s famed seven hills, or tepes, as they are called. A hundred years ago, one of the hills, Markovo Tepe, was demolished as the city expanded. Six hills remain as silent witnesses of Plovdiv’s ancient past.

Three are obvious to the visitor: Bunardjik Tepe, Djendem Tepe, and Sahat Tepe, called such by the Turks because of the clock tower built on this hill. Trimontium, as the Romans called Plovdiv, comprises the three remaining hills: Djambaz Tepe, the largest and highest hill; Taksim Tepe; and Nebet Tepe, which in Turkish means “Guard Hill.”

A stroll through the area of Trimontium takes one into the heart of Plovdiv’s past, from the ancient ruins and walls of Philippopolis to the still-functioning Roman theater. Of interest too are the well-preserved houses of the Bulgarian National Revivalist era that line the narrow cobbled streets.

[Credit Line]

© Caro/​Andreas Bastian

[Map on page 16]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

BULGARIA

SOFIA

Plovdiv

[Picture Credit Lines on page 17]

Top: © Wojtek Buss/​age fotostock; bottom: David Ewing/​Insadco Photography/​age fotostock