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Plovdiv: Baba Marta, Roman amphitheatre and icons

Plovdiv


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I woke up in the middle of the night to an absolutely stiflingly hot dorm room. I walked over to the portable heater which was on full blast and after fiddling fruitlessly with controls I couldn't see properly in the dark, ended up just pulling the plug out of the socket in the wall. The other three people were fast asleep so I hoped they wouldn't mind.

I didn't get back to sleep for another couple of hours and when I did, I woke up again at 7.30 and then for good at 9.30.

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Breakfast was decent and quite quick and then I was out of the door for an exciting day of exploration! The first place I went to was an icon gallery round the corner from my hostel; not as big as the gallery in the crypt of Aleksander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia, it was nonetheless very good.

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From there I moved on to the Roman amphitheatre. It was discovered by accident in 1972 after it was uncovered by a landslide; it's since been restored and is a pretty impressive sight, especially when the white marble seats gleam in the sun. It was built in Philippopolis (the Roman city where Plovdiv is now) between 114-117 AD during the reign of Emperor Trajan, could seat 6000 spectators and was used for gladiator fights and poetry and music competitions as well as theatrical performances. It was also used as the seat of the Thracian Provincial Assembly.

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It was 5 leva to get in. As I wandered round I heard bells clanging and the voice of a cantor singing and chanting from a church nearby. I sat on a seat and looked down at the very low, wooden stage below - it is used for plays and musical performances nowadays. For a minute I imagined myself at a Roman performance...

After I left the amphitheatre I passed by the church of Sveti Dimitar and on an impulse, went in. Before I actually entered the church, though, a man claiming to connected to the church showed me the English language information about the church at the entrance and took me behind the church to see a memorial to someone. Then he gave me a begging letter written in English and Bulgarian - apparently he used to be a skilled builder but had a bad accident and couldn't work any more or pay hospital bills. He showed me some major scars on one hand and arm; I thought that even if he was exaggerating or making up his story, he probably needed money more than I did anyway, so I gave him a 5 leva note and went inside.

I bought and lit a candle before I looked round. The church had a white marble iconostasis - the only marble iconostasis in the world, apparently; the marble was quarried from the nearby Rhodope mountains. I was disappointed to find out that the old icons had been replaced in 2007 (I prefer the older ones).

After that I carried on down the road a little bit until I reached the Church of the Mother of God (also known as the Assumption Cathedral). This was more atmospheric and colourful than the church of St Dimitar. Included in the painted, wooden iconostasis was a big icon of the Virgin & Child framed with two rows of apples, one row green and the other red. By a pillar there was another big icon of the same subject; this one was framed with white flowers and had red and green apples only at the top.

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The last thing I did before heading back to the hostel was walk on to the Dzhumaya Mosque. It was closed, scuppering my intention to go inside, so I walked round the surrounding area instead. It was next to the remains of a Roman stadium I'd seen briefly the day before. Set up in the street were lots of stalls selling red and white martenitsas. These are traditionally exchanged by Bulgarians on 1st March, which is called Baba Marta Day; the mythical figure of Baba Marta ('Granny March') brings with her the end of the cold of winter and the beginning of spring. You can read more about martenitsas here.

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Back at the hostel I had a lovely video chat with family, arranged a trip to Bachkovo Monastery & Asenovgrad Fortress for the next day and had a kashkavalka for lunch. When I went out again I went into the Church of St Konstantin & Elena - the oldest church in Plovdiv. The iconostasis was even more magnificent than the one in the Assumption cathedral.

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I went back online at the hostel at 5 in order to follow the 6 Nations match between England and Ireland (England lost, unfortunately). For dinner I ate out at the restaurant attached to the Philippopolis Museum & Art Gallery; I had grilled halloumi and mushrooms for my main and creme brulee for pudding - at least it claimed it was creme brulee, but had syrup on the top instead of crystallized sugar. Still delicious though!

Posted by 3Traveller 03:30 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged art mosque cathedral hostel bulgaria icons plovdiv explorations orthodox_church roman_remains baba_marta traditional_customs Comments (0)

Signs of Spring

Veliko Tarnovo


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A beautiful sunny day today, so I took advantage of the day off work and walked to the market in town.

On the main road leading into Mother Bulgaria Square I saw lots of stalls selling martenitsas; these are red and white tassels, bracelets woven from intertwined red and white threads and little wooden doll figures called Pizho and Penda. These are exchanged by Bulgarians on 1st March to mark Baba Marta Day, the day which traditionally marks the end of the cold of winter and the beginning of spring. You aren't supposed to buy martenitsas for yourself; you should only wear ones given to you, and you're supposed to wear them until you either see a stork or a blossoming tree. Once you do see a blossoming tree, you should tie the martenitsa to it or hang it from a branch.

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I noticed other signs of spring once I got to the market. Old women were sitting on stools, selling bunches of snowdrops and white plastic cups of colourful flowers (possibly primroses). There were fewer winter vegetables such as swedes, turnips, cabbages, pumpkins and nuts; salad vegetables were starting to appear - spring onions, lettuces, peppers and a huge amount of tiny onions! I had never seen such small onions before.

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Another interesting thing I saw was massive chunks of 'byala halva' (white halva) with walnuts - it looked like nougat. I found out later that this type of halva is traditionally eaten on the last Sunday before Lent; given that this was nearly two weeks ago, I guess there must still be a bit of a backlog to use up...I also saw some massive knotted sugary buns which I had not seen before, so I assume they must have some connection to spring or to Lent. I bought one and it was fantastic!

Posted by 3Traveller 16:20 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market bulgaria veliko_tarnovo bulgarian_cuisine mother_bulgaria_square baba_marta traditional_customs Comments (0)

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