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The oldest city in Europe (5 fun facts)

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Welcome to Plovdiv, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe! Located in Bulgaria, this ancient metropolis has a history that dates back 8,000 years. It offers visitors a unique insight into its culture and heritage. Plovdiv is truly an amazing place to explore, from its world famous ruins to its vibrant nightlife. Read on for five fun facts about Europe’s oldest city to find out why a visit to Plovdiv is a must for any traveler.

Plovdiv is famous for being the second largest city in Bulgaria. It lies in the region of Thrace, which was the location of some of the earliest European settlements. Evidence of Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures still exist throughout the region, making Plovdiv one of the many historic sites and towns in this region.

1. Modern Plovdiv had many original names

town of plovdiv
The city of Plovdiv has received many names in the past.

©iStock.com/hale irwin

Plovdiv is not the first name given to the oldest city in Europe. First named Kendros and Emolpias by the Thracians, the name of this town has changed several times throughout its history. Here is a list of the historical names of Plovdiv, although there are probably at least a few more:

  • Kendros
  • eumolpies
  • Philippopolis
  • Pulpudeva
  • Thrimonzium
  • Ulpiah
  • Flava Julia
  • Pladiv
  • pulden
  • Populdin
  • bloody
  • Philip

Over time, Philipopolis changed hands a lot before becoming the modern Plovdiv of today. Here is a list of some of the civilizations that fought, won and lost control of this city throughout its dramatic history:

  • Persians
  • thracians
  • Macedonians
  • Romans
  • Byzantines
  • Goths
  • Huns
  • crusaders
  • Ottoman Turks

The name Plovdiv originated and remained during the Ottoman Empire, although the Turks first named it Filibe. Plovdiv became an important economic center and an important trading center during this period and for years to come.

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Plovdiv is built at the foot of the seven syenite hills and is nicknamed The City in the Hills. Syenite is a common course rock type in this region, although only six hills of syenite remain in modern times.

2. Plovdiv has an ancient Roman stadium big enough for 30,000 people

The old stadium of Philippopolis is one of the most impressive sights in Plovdiv. Built around the beginning of the 2nd century AD, this stadium could accommodate up to 30,000 people. It was first used for various events, such as athletic games, gladiator fights and chariot races.

Part of the stadium is remarkably well preserved, giving visitors a glimpse of the grandeur of ancient Plovdiv. Its original size was around 240 meters (790 ft) long and 50 meters (164 ft) wide, although most of it has deteriorated over time. Today, only about a third of the original stadium remains intact.

Visitors to the Philippopolis Stadium can also explore the nearby Odeon and the Ancient Theater of Philippopolis. Both are additional historical sites worth visiting!

3. Plovdiv’s well-preserved ancient Roman theater still hosts performances

The theater is built in a semicircle and is the second largest ancient theater in Bulgaria.


The ancient theater of Philippolis was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and could seat up to 7,000 people. This well-preserved theater stands between two of the syenite hills and has a lovely backdrop of the city below. Visitors can explore its 28 rows of marble seats and even catch the occasional performance!

The theater is built in a semicircle and is the second largest ancient theater in Bulgaria. It was used for performances, such as plays and concerts, in Roman times and later served as a fortress in times of war. Today, this magnificent structure is open to visitors who wish to learn more about its history.

The ancient theater now hosts many outdoor events, such as the Opera Open music festival and a rock festival called Sounds of the Ages.

4. The oldest city in Europe has the longest pedestrian street

Plovdiv is also home to the longest pedestrian street in Europe, famous for its lively nightlife and unique shops. Called the Kapana district, this neighborhood is widely considered the cultural quarter of Plovdiv. It contains a mix of old-world charm and modern architecture, making it a great place to explore. And its cobbled streets, specialty shops, galleries, and plentiful restaurants make this area a magnet for tourists and locals alike.

The Kapana district was once home to many craftsmen and craftsmen. Today, you can find some of the city’s most unique restaurants and bars in this part of town. From traditional Bulgarian taverns to small cafes, this area is perfect for a night out or a leisurely stroll.

The Kapana district has quite a tight competition for the longest pedestrian street in Europe. Some say Rue Sainte-Catherine in Bordeaux, France is the winner of this title, and they might be right. But our research puts Plovdiv’s pedestrian street at 1.8 km long and Bordeaux’s at 1.2 km long, so Plovdiv gets the medal. However, they are both winners in our minds, and both are wonderful places to visit in Europe!

5. Plovdiv is known for its wine

Plovdiv is also an important center of wine production in Bulgaria. Although the city does not have a long winemaking tradition, its terroir has become increasingly popular in recent years.

The surrounding hills are dotted with hundreds of vineyards, covering over 40 hectares (100 acres) of land and producing some of the best wines in the region. Plovdiv wine is known for its distinct flavors and aromas, with an emphasis on reds and whites made from local varieties.

Here is a list of some of the famous wines of Plovdiv and surroundings:

  • Mavroud
  • Gameza
  • Insist on
  • Dimiat
  • Red Melnik
  • Kadarka
  • Muscat Ottonel.

Plovdiv also hosts wine festivals every summer, including the Wine and Gastronomy Festival in the Old Town, organized by the Tourist Board. Wine connoisseurs from all over the world come to sample the city’s best wines and food vendors for a weekend in mid-May.

Bonus fact: Plovdiv won the annual title of European Capital of Culture in 2019

In 2019, Plovdiv became European Capital of Culture and has since benefited from this prestigious distinction. This European Union award lasts for one calendar year. As part of the selection process, Plovdiv had to submit a bid that showcased its cultural heritage, civic engagement and creative industry.

The official European Capital of Culture program highlights the diversity of European cultures and promotes cultural exchanges between different countries. With the selection of Plovdiv, Bulgaria is now proudly presented as one of the most dynamic destinations on the continent. As a result, Plovdiv has become even more of a tourist hotspot in the region.

This oldest city in Europe now hosts many events celebrating this recognition, ranging from art exhibitions and concerts to festivals and workshops. And this honor brings a lot of attention to Plovdiv, with tourists flocking to the city to experience its cultural wonders firsthand.

The title of European Capital of Culture 2019 belongs to both Plovdiv, Bulgaria and Matera, Italy.

Europe’s oldest city has a rich history and exciting modern attractions

Plovdiv is one of Europe’s most exciting cities, with a rich history dating back 8,000 years. So whether you want to explore its ancient ruins or enjoy its lively festivals, Plovdiv has something for everyone.

Want even more reasons to visit Plovdiv? Here are some additional events and attractions in Plovdiv to add to your must-see list:

  • Night of Plovdiv Museums and Galleries – Free access to a long night of fun museums and art galleries! This event takes place in September. Enjoy the ethnographic museum and its period costumes and jewelry!
  • This city has beautiful historic churches and cathedrals to visit, including the Chiesa SS. Constantine e Elena and Sveta Marina Church.
  • Easy day adventures from Plovdiv include exploring the subterranean beauty of Shezhanka Cave, approximately 41 kilometers (25 miles) from the city.

Plovdiv also offers plenty of outdoor entertainment, such as cycling along the Maritsa River. Or take a walk up the hill of Nebet Tepe for stunning views of the city. The rich history and culture of this city and its surroundings is legendary and loved by visitors from all over the world.

5 oldest cities in Europe

Besides Plovdiv, there are many other old European cities to explore. Here is a list of five more of Europe’s oldest cities with exciting historical relevance:

  • Argos, Greece Founded in 5000 BCE, Argos is famous for its Roman baths and ancient Greek sculptures.
  • Nitra, Slovakia Founded in 5000 BCE, Nitra is known for its magnificent castle, many beautiful cathedrals and tasty wine.
  • Bratislava, Slovakia Founded in 5000 BCE, Bratislava sits near the Danube and has some beautiful old architecture, including Bratislava Castle.
  • Varna, Bulgaria Founded in 4600 BCE, Varna is a coastal city next to the Black Sea. It is the maritime capital of Bulgaria and is home to one of the oldest gold treasures ever discovered.


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