Plovdiv selected for European Capital of Culture 2019
05.09.2014 § 1 Comment
After a five-year, good-natured rivalry with three other cities, my birthplace of Plovdiv has been selected as Bulgaria’s official entrant into the European Capital of Culture program. The other European Capital of Culture for 2019 will be in Italy, where Caglieri, Lecce, Matera, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena are competing in the final round.
Out of 8 original candidates in Bulgaria (Burgas, Gabrovo, Plovdiv, Ruse, Shumen, Sofia, Varna and Veliko Tarnovo), four finalists were selected to submit detailed proposals and to begin implementing strategies and programs towards becoming Capital of Culture. Any one of these cities is well worth a visit.
Continuously inhabited for close to 6000 years, Plovdiv is the third-oldest city in Europe (following Athens and Argos). Throughout its long history it has had multiple stints as an important crossroads city. Notably, as Trimontium to the Romans, Plovdiv was the most important Roman city in the province of Thrace, as it lay on the Via Diagonalis arterial road for the empire. Cobbled Roman streets, theatres, villas, and an entire stadium can be seen there, layered with Ottoman-era and Revival-era homes. The oldest mosque in Europe outside of Moorish Spain, Djumaya mosque, lies at the centre of the city.
Plovdiv’s ECC theme was “Together”, and it was focused on integrating not only the different ethnic groups that call Plovdiv their home (including Turkish, Roma, Armenians and Jews) but also making art and culture accessible across social strata in a lasting way.
Finally, Plovdiv is the perfect size to become Capital of Culture. The program’s mandate deliberately excludes cities that are already capitals, since it is meant to encourage lasting growth and renown for the area. Sofia is the most well-known city in Bulgaria by far, and its airport is the point of entry into the country for 90% of international flights. In contrast, Plovdiv is easily accessible, large enough to handle an influx of tourists, and could also really use the boost in recognition.
The port city of Varna, formerly bustling Greco-Roman Odessos, where some of the oldest gold treasures in the world have been found, is also a significant historical contender, and the third largest city in the country. It has the infrastructure, it is the gateway to the Northern Black Sea coast and it also boasts magnificent Roman and Revival-era areas.
Sofia is a bustling metropolis in which the ancient and the ultra-modern coexist. It is cool, it is artistic, and it is definitely worth a visit. It was an important Roman and Medieval fortress, even though it has no old town to speak of. What it does have is cool cafes, art galleries, hostels, and the most comprehensive museums in the country in archaeology, history, Bulgarian and foreign art. In addition, the Vitosha mountains are a stone’s throw away, offering cool walks in the summer and beautiful ski slopes in the winter.
Bulgaria’s medieval capital was the smallest contender in the competition, at only 120 000 residents, but its well-preserved historical core and Medieval fortresses, churches and palaces overlooking the winding Yantra river make it a picturesque and worthy retreat. Despite concerns over infrastructure and the city’s capacity to serve a large number of visitors, Veliko Tarnovo put forward an exciting and diverse program, and much of the initiatives begun for the ECC bid will continue to beautify the city and add to its allure.