FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Three highlights from Plovdiv

Posted in Bulgaria, Plovdiv by folkestonejack on September 25, 2017

Our final day in Plovdiv gave us the opportunity to explore the many small museums, art galleries and churches to be found on a wander of the cobbled streets of the old quarter and just a little further beyond. It’s a lovely area to walk around with historic features such as the Hisar Kapia, a medieval gate through the old fortress walls, amidst the former houses of the rich merchants’ class. I thought I would take a moment to share our top three sights in case it helps anyone else…

Hisar Kapia

House of Stepan Hindliyan

The symmetrical house of Stepan Hindliyan, built in 1834-35, is absolutely gorgeous with beautifully preserved original wooden ceilings, stunning wall paintings set into the alcoves (alafrangas) and a charming steam room. The owner was one of the four most distinguished Armenian families in the city and a merchant renowned for his trading connections with India. This house was just about the only property we visited where you could imagine the family life that must once have sounded within its walls.

As well as seeing the ornate family rooms we were able to take a look inside the service wing (notable for a mural of the main house above its entrance) to see a display of modern art at the time of our visit (with oddities like fish swimming in pink blancmange in an upturned umbrella and a security camera being attacked by an octopus!).

Hindliyan House

Zlatu Boyadzhiev Gallery

Since 1984 the former home of Dr Stoyan Chomakov in the old town has been home to a gallery of 70+ paintings by Zlatu Boyadzhiev (1903-1976), a Bulgarian artist that I was not at all familiar with but whose work I absolutely loved. Initially his work was neo-classical but a stroke in 1951 that paralysed the right side of his body prompted a change in style, adopting more grotesque imagery. I found much to like from both periods.

It is perhaps no surprise that I loved his painting ‘The Pernik Miners’ (1945) which brings to life a mine in a snow covered landscape, complete with black slag heaps and a mine train disappearing into a tunnel and a steaming loco in the distance ready to take loaded coal wagons away from the scene. It’s absolutely chock full of life from the line of workers climbing a snowy hill with pickaxes over their shoulders to a watchful worker leaning against a wagon. The closest I can get to describing it is a cross between Breugel and Lowry.

Klianti House

The Klianti House is one of the most stunning sights in Plovdiv, but as it only opened to the public at the end of June 2017 it is not yet featured in guide books and is currently languishing in 54th place out of 92 in the rankings of TripAdvisor. I didn’t know anything about it when we arrived in the city but was intrigued by the signs across the old town stating that the Klianti House was not included in the combined ticket. I assumed that meant it was rather special and decided to take a look!

It turns out that this two-storey house has been recognised as a building of national significance since 1949. It is said to be the oldest example of Bulgarian revival architecture in Plovdiv, dating to the mid-eighteenth century, and includes features that are not seen elsewhere. It was in particularly bad shape when the restoration efforts began 10 years ago and the works since then have cost 1.6 million lev. The results are stunning and amply demonstrate why this house is regarded as an architectural gem.

On the first floor of the property there are some incredibly ornate and surprisingly curvaceous decorative wooden ceilings with glass and gold elements. In addition to that, there are some beautiful painted alcoves (alfrangas), decorated wooden recesses (musandras) and two wonderful murals depicting Vienna and Constantinople in 1817. The decoration must surely be unrivaled in the city and it is one sight you do not want to miss…

It is well worth taking a moment to see the audio-visual presentation that shows how much effort went in to the restoration and just what a poor state the building was in, though I would suggest waiting until after you have seen the spectacular first floor rooms to avoid the spoilers. I have to confess that my pet hate is audio-visual presentations at attractions that show you everything before you get the chance to be wowed by seeing it for the first time!

One of Plovdiv’s 10,000 cats!

One other feature of our wander through the old town was the extraordinary number of cats that we encountered. You could barely walk a few paces down any street without coming across a cat tucked up asleep or a trio of playful kittens. It was a delight for us but a problem for the authorities who have 10,000 cats on their hands. One step they have taken is to fine anyone feeding the cats – no laughing matter when you consider that the fine for a second offence can exceed the minimum monthly wage in the country.

It was a pleasure to explore the old town even if the uneven cobbles did get a little more tiresome by the end of a long day of wandering! It often felt as though we were exploring a giant open air museum, particularly as most museums didn’t take that long to walk around.

Exterior decoration at Sveta Marina

I should end by saying that besides the museums, all of the churches in the old town were a delight to step into with their rich decoration. My favourite would have to be the mid-nineteenth church of Sveta Marina with its colourful decoration set against a striking blue backdrop. If you stop by don’t forget to take a look at the wooden bell tower hidden round the back!

Our old town wanderings completed our trip and we ended our day with a taxi-ride to the airport outside town for the late evening flight home to London very satisfied by the eclectic mix of sights that filled our weekend and the marvelous tastes of Bulgarian cooking that we sampled (at the restaurant at the Hotel Odeon and Hemingway respectively). Thank you for your hospitality Plovdiv!

Practicalities

The admission fees for the many museums of the old town are relatively modest, mostly 5 lev each, but the costs can soon rack up if you visit enough of them!

One way to manage the costs is to buy a combined ticket from one of the museums for 15 lev – this allows you to visit your choice of 5 of the eight sights included in this arrangement (Ancient Theatre, House of Luka Balabanov, House of Stepan Hindliyan, House of Nikola Nedkovich, Zlatu Boyadzhiev Gallery, Pharmacy Museum Hippocrates, House of Veren Stambolyan and the Early Christian Basilica). The tickets list all the sights you can choose from and a hole is punched each time you visit one.

The Klianti House is not included in the combined ticket but is well worth the 10 lev admission fee. I would go as far as to say that it is the most stunning of the small houses that you can visit.

Opening days for the buildings were a little different to those shown in our guide book so it’s worth double checking with the free guidebooks and maps on offer from the Tourist Information office in Plovdiv before planning a visit.

Gallery

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