The Unique Architecture in the Historic District of Plovdiv in Bulgaria

It is a full-day trip to visit the historic town of Plovdiv in Bulgaria from the capital city of Sofia, but it is definitely worth the time that it takes. The town, like so much of the region, has a history that goes back to the Trojans, then the Greeks, followed by the Romans, and eventually the Turks, not taking into account the modern occupations including the Soviet Union. That history and amalgamation of cultures is part of what makes a tour of Plovdiv fascinating, but today it is also a vibrant shopping area with lots of shops and restaurants literally built on top of the ruins of an enormous, ancient sports arena. Bring comfortable shoes with you as you will be doing a fair amount of walking up and down the hills on which the city center is built.

View of the Amphitheater
Ornate Window on a Historic House in the Old Town
Walking the Cobblestone Streets
Virgin Mary Church

The first thing that you will notice is the striking architecture of the local homes that line the cobblestone streets. They have a definitive style based on the Bulgarian Renaissance architectural style and often feature vibrant colors and details around the windows that overlook the street. After walking through the ancient streets of the city’s old town, you will reach the large Roman amphitheater, which is remarkably well preserved. It is still used for concerts and events today and the college for the arts is located next to the entrance to the amphitheater.

Another Colorful Home
Model of the Stadium
Column Under the Walking Street
The Stage of the Amphitheater

As you continue to the main street that runs the length of the old town, you will be walking above the ruins of a huge stadium where chariot races were once held. There are various points along the street where you can see and even walk down into the ruins in order to get a closer look. The original stadium actually stretched the entire length of the street with the shops above, which gives you an idea of just how large the stadium was back when it was in use. We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch and enjoyed watching all of the tourists that were walking the street on a very busy day in Plovdiv.

Walking Up the Hill Towards the Heart of Old Town
Statue of Milo the Crazy
Another House
City Hall and Fountain

It takes 8 to 10 hours roundtrip to get to Plovdiv from Sofia since Plovdiv is located in central Bulgaria while Sofia is located in western Bulgaria. As with many places in Europe, Plovdiv is a combination of historic sites and a modern city. If it were possible, we would recommend planning your trip at a time when a concert was taking place in the amphitheater as it would make for a really unique experience. We certainly enjoyed our time walking the streets of the historic old town and seeing all of the interesting sites and buildings that are located there.

Sign Within Plovdiv
Seats for the Stadium that are Exposed Along the Street
Mural on One of the Walls
Such Interesting Architecture

The Fascinating Rila Monastery Near Sofia, Bulgaria

We took a day trip from Sofia to visit the Rila Monastery, which is located about two hours away in the Rila Mountains southwest of the capital of Bulgaria. The monastery was first founded in the 10th century and gets its name, as does the mountainous region, from the hermit Ivan of Rila who founded it. Although the monastery bears some resemblance to the fortified churches that we saw in Romania a few years back, it did not serve the same purpose as the mountains were fortification enough. The Rila Monastery is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, historical and architectural sites and therefore does attract a fair number of visitors every year.

Entrance to the Monastery
Tower in the Courtyard
Domes of the Main Church
Entrance to the Church

The main church of the monastery was built in the middle of the 19th century and is still in use today. The paintings on the exterior walls are quite dramatic and tell a variety of biblical stories. Next to the main church is the clock tower, which is more of a fortress tower than an actual clock tower, but it is quite dramatic to see as it looks over the entire monastery complex. Surrounding the church in the walls are the quarters where the monks of the monastery would live and work when not at the church for prayers. There are only two gated entrances to the Rila Monastery, one near the parking area where visitors arrive and the other that leads to a small village with a restaurant that is on the opposite side of the main entrance.

View of the Quarters and Working Areas of the Rila Monastery
Artwork at the Ceiling of the Church Entrance
Village and Restaurants Outside of the Gate
Details Outside of the Monastery Quarters

When visiting Sofia, taking a day trip to the Rila Monastery is certainly worthwhile and can be combined with a wine tasting in the same region. For those who enjoy hiking, there are also several hiking trails in the area and many local people visit the mountains simply to enjoy the natural surroundings and beautiful scenery. Just like visiting any other religious site, dressing appropriately is always recommended and women should have their knees and shoulders covered. We definitely enjoyed our time at the monastery as well as lunch at a local restaurant on the river in a village along the road to and from the monastery.

Artwork on the Walls of the Church
Outside Walls of the Monastery
Courtyard and Church
Images of Hell
Ladder to an Observation Deck
Stream Running Next to the Monastery
Another Painting on the Church
Fountain as You Exit the Church
The Main Church
Colorful Rila Mountains
Fascinating Architecture

The Beautiful Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey

One of the highlights of visiting Istanbul is taking a tour of Topkapi Palace that sits high on a hill on a peninsula overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. The history of the palace is fascinating, and it is well worth having a guided tour so that you can learn as much as possible during your visit. Because it is so popular, it is also a good idea to purchase your tickets ahead of time, but you will likely still wait in long lines to get into the palace as you have to go through security before getting to the ticket booths. Standing outside of the main gate, you get a sense of how daunting it must have been to visitors back in the days of the sultans that ruled the Ottoman Empire.

Palace Features
Courtyard Garden
Moorish Tile Work

Once you pass through the main gate, you pass through the first of four courtyards. Each courtyard leads to the next courtyard where only the most privileged can get to the fourth and final courtyard. The first courtyard was where the imperial parades would have taken place and would have been the site of pomp and circumstance. The courtyards feature gardens and fountains and are quite beautiful and provide a sense of calm, which was the desired effect.

View of the Bosphorus Strait
Sultan’s Throne
The Initial Gate

The third courtyard is the location where the sultan would hold private audiences, but only to the most distinguished dignitaries. It is also the location of the library where the boys would be taught all that was necessary to become future leaders. It was also the location of the harem and the sultan’s concubines. The fourth courtyard was the private residences of the sultan their immediate family members. The entire palace is built in the Moorish architecture. It is quite stunning and at times overwhelming.

Building in the Fourth Courtyard
Fountain in the Courtyard
Ceilings in One of the Gate

You can spend hours walking the grounds of the palace and seeing all of the various buildings. There are also depictions of what life was like for the powerful sultans back in height of the Ottoman Empire. There are plenty of sites to see when visiting Istanbul, but the Topkapi Palace is certainly one of most important to put on your itinerary along with the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Display in the Palace
Gate to the First Courtyard
Lantern in a Palace Building
Crowds Waiting to Enter
View from the Fourth Courtyard
Palace Exterior Wall
More Details Inside of the Palace
Inside of the Fortress Walls
Another Building
Large Fountain