Bulgaria: ARIT Tour Day 1, Plovdiv


The pretty pedestrian walkway in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
We left Istanbul on a gloriously sunny day for the drive to Edirne, where we crossed the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. Our tour, organised by ARIT (American Research Institute in Turkey), to South Central Bulgaria, was a continuation of previous tours, following in the footsteps of the early Ottomans as they spread their empire.

Leaving behind Istanbul's interminable queues of traffic, we drove through vast areas of agricultural land, burgeoning with crops as far as the eye could see. On the Bulgarian side, the terrain was little changed, except now we drove by field after field of sunflowers. Gradually the land became hillier, as we crossed the foothills of the Rodolphe mountains and arrived at our first stop, Plovdiv.

This is a statue of Milo, a resident of Plovdiv, who liked to 
listen to other people's conversations

Plovdiv is an ancient city, older than Rome,  Athens, Carthage or Constantinople. Named and renamed throughout its 6000 to 8000 years of existence, there is documentary evidence that the name Plovdiv has existed since the 5th century AD. Accompanied by our guide, Emin Saatci, a native of the area, and an experienced guide, our group set off on foot to explore the old town.

The Dzumaya Mosque

Our first remnant of the Ottoman era was the Dzumaya Mosque, originally built in the second half of the 14th century. Unfortunately, it burned down soon after, but was rebuilt by Murad II in 1435. It underwent a further reconstruction in 1784, under the reign of Abdul Hamid, when it took the form we see today.

I noticed this perpendicular sundial on the wall of the mosque.
The Turkish architect, Sinan, is credited with designing this type of sundial.

We continued to walk through the quaint old town of Plovdiv, past historic buildings, to the house of Nikola Nedkovich. This old Ottoman house is now a museum. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos there...

...but the caretaker did allow us to take a photo of the original key to the house.

Hisar Kapiya, in Plovdiv Old Town; a gate in the ancient
wall of the fortress, possibly dating from the 2nd century AD

Walking past Balabanov House, Plovdiv's historic museum
Another beautiful, old wooden house we visited, was built for Stepan Hindlyan, a wealthy merchant. This house was constructed between 1835 and 1840, and is richly decorated both inside and out.

By the time we reached our last stop, the Bachkovo Monastery, it was closed. But, thanks to Hayri, our Mr Fixit in Bulgaria, they opened up especially for us.

The Bachkovo Monastery
Here, we were allowed to take photos, only if there was a person in the frame too. The monastery was established in 1083 by Grigorii Bakurian, and the architecture combines Byzantine, Georgian and Bulgarian cultures, as it came under different rulers through the ages.

The beautiful courtyard of the Bachkovo Monastery
The richly decorated walls of the monastery.
We finally reached Smolyan, and our hotel, where we enjoyed a welcome dinner, before I fell exhausted into bed for a dreamless sleep, to prepare for the next days offerings.

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