PLOVDIV, Bulgaria's second– largest city (with a population of 360,000), is one of its most attractive and vibrant centres, with arguably more to recommend it than Sofia, a city that the proud locals of Plovdiv tend to regard with some disdain. Certainly there's plenty to see: the old town embodies Plovdiv's long and varied history. Thracian fortifications subsequently used by Macedonian masons, overlaid with Byzantine walls, and by great timber-framed mansions erected during the Bulgarian renaissance, look down on the Ottoman mosques and artisans' dwellings of the town that Lucian the Greek once called "the biggest and most beautiful of all" in Thrace. But Plovdiv isn't merely a parade of antiquities: the city's arts festivals and trade fairs rival Sofia's in number, and its restaurants and promenade compare very favourably with those of the capital.
Though most of Plovdiv's sights are near enough to be explored on foot, the city is divided into two distinct parts, quite different from each other in atmosphere: the nineteenth-century Stariyat grad or Old Town, covering the easternmost of Plovdiv's three hills; and the Lower Town – predominantly modern with a scattering of Turkish and Roman relics – which spreads across the plain below.