TO THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING ear, Plovdiv doesn’t sound like the most elegant of destinations. Don’t judge a place by its name, though. Next year, Bulgaria’s second city becomes one of the two European Capitals of Culture. And rightly so, since here, especially in the old town, you’ll find a glorious mix of churches, mosques, Roman ruins (including a lovely amphitheatre) and beautifully restored 19th-century mansions.
Bulgarians often refer to Plovdiv as “The City of the Seven Hills”, which is a bit of a misnomer since one of the hills – Markovo Tepe – no longer exists, its syenite rock plundered to pave the city’s streets. At one time people used to joke that Markovo Tepe was so called because its syenite had been flogged to the Germans for the price of one Deutschmark per paving stone.
Plovdiv wasn’t always toponymically challenged. For most of its history it was known in the West as Philippopolis, after Philip
II of Macedon, which trips far more gracefully off the tongue.