5 Ancient Sites to Visit in Europe's Oldest City
While it is difficult to say exactly which city in Europe is truly the oldest (thanks to centuries of wars and arguing historians), the consensus seems to be that the winner is Plovdiv. This Bulgarian city has been around for more than 6,000 years and was long sought-after (and conquered) by such empires as the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Turks, which means it is chock full of incredible ancient sites to visit. Here is a list of some of the best.
Stadium of Philippopolis
Although Plovdiv was originally a Thracian settlement, it flourished as a Roman city later on. Many remnants of its Roman period remain standing, such as the Stadium of Philippopilis, one of the most intact Roman stadiums left in the world. Commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in the second century, this stadium was 240 meters long and 50 meters wide, with room for 30,000 visitors to sit on its marble seats. Today, a large chunk of the 14 original rows of seating still remain, as does a breathtaking panoramic view and a replica of the original stadium.
If this list is beginning to look more like a list of sights to see in Rome than in Bulgaria, this is because the Roman Empire was such a huge influence on Plovdiv. It had many similar structures to those in Rome, including a Roman-style Forum. Parts of this Forum still remain standing even though it was first built between 69 and 79 A.D. The area, crafted from sandstone, was a meeting place for merchants, and the general public, who entered through three enormous, elaborate gateways, pieces of which you can still see there today.
The next Roman-built structure on our list is the Roman Odeon, also known as the Odeon of Philippopolis. Located in the northeast corner of the Forum, the Odeon was once a meeting place for city officials. Construction for this building was ongoing between the first and fourth centuries, with it eventually coming to be used as a theater building complete with skene (Greek-inspired changing rooms behind the stage area), cavea (seating area) and orchestra.
This spectacular, castle-like fortress sits among the hills on a cliff that rises three kilometers above the city. Much of what you can see now of Asen's Fortress was reconstructed in the 12th century, but this structure has actually been around since the Thracians settled the area in the fifth century B.C. Its location was perfect for guarding the city against outside attacks thanks to its panoramic view of the surrounding area. It is also said to be impregnable on three sides, with sheer, unclimbable, drop-offs that plop would-be invaders right into the river below.
Nebet Tepe is perhaps the oldest section in the entirety of Plovdiv, which is why it takes the number-one spot on our list. This is the hill where people originally settled in Plovdiv, making it basically the birthplace of the city itself. The first settlers here date back to prehistoric times, and it was here that Plovdiv began to grow and spread for more than 6,000 years. Today, it is an archaeological complex, where artifacts of the city's original structures, tools and inhabitants are being unearthed all the time.