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The old town of Plovdiv

“This is the largest and the most beautiful of all cities. Its beauty shines from afar…” Thus Lucian, the second-century Greek writer, described Plovdiv in the age of the Thracians.

Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities of Europe, more ancient than Rome and Athens, coeval with Troy and Mycenae. In prehistoric times it was known as Eumolpia. After Philip of Macedon’s conquest it got the name that is still remembered today, Philippopolis. The Romans called it Trimontium (“The City on Three Hills”) for its picturesque location on the mounds now named Nebettepe, Taksimtepe and Djambaztepe. They turned it into the administrative centre of Thrace, a province of the empire, constituted in 46 AD. The Roman period (second to fourth century) became something of a golden age in the history of the city. The remains of its glorious past testify to that: a spacious forum, an impressive stadium, a splendid amphitheatre, imposing fortress walls, pagan temples, thermae, aqueducts, aristocratic mansions, etc. On the territory of the three hills, the monuments of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance rub shoulders together in an inimitable cultural ensemble.

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One of these magnificent early-nineteenth-century edifices, Balabanov’s House, was built in the style of the Istanbul residences on the Bosphorus by the renowned Bulgarian merchant Hadji Panayot Lampsha. A century later it passed into the hands of another substantial merchant, Luka Balabanov, who became its last owner and attached his name to the place for the years to come. When the house was razed to the ground in the 1930s, its destruction appeared tragically final, but after decades of intense study and planning, in 1971 architect Hristo Peev raised it from the ashes and brought it back into shape with a team of the country’s most prominent restoration specialists: architects, builders, artists and woodcutters. The resurrected house opened its doors as a museum of the one-time city interior marked with European aesthetics and refined taste, ready to welcome any imaginative and exciting cultural initiative.

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In our own times, in 1956 Plovdiv’s Ancient Town was given the status of a historic architectural reserve, and in 1979 it received the gold European medal for preservation of monuments of the past.

From the end of the eighteenth century and through the nineteenth, wealthy merchant families, represented by their offices in Vienna, Istanbul, Odessa and other cities abroad, strove to build ambitious dwelling places behooving their soaring economic circumstances and social position. In a few decades only, tapping the talents and skills of experienced builders, masons, designers, carpenters, wood-carvers and painters, they managed to create architectural artifacts of timeless beauty. The Three-Hill City became indeed a feast for the eyes. And the homes of its enterprising notables were destined to bear their names to the future: Danov’s House, Kuyumdjiev’s House, Dr. Stoyan Chomakov’s House, Dr. Sotir Antoniyadi’s House, Georgiadi’s House, Nedkovich’s House, Hindliyan’s House. Not only did the owners of these places, as the names suggest, come from different ethnic components of this extraordinarily cosmopolitan city, but in some cases the houses became the dwellings of famous travellers from abroad, such as the celebrated French poet Alphonse de Lamartine (Lamartine’s House). Now the villas have all been turned into museums and attractive tourist sites.

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