Dzhambaz tepe is а hill that in history has been a place of worship, education and a seat of mighty rulers. It is one of the three hills that nowadays form the “Old Town” of Plovdiv. It is looking over the Rhodope mountains, to the southernmost part of the area. Currently a favorite place for a walk among the locals and guests of Plovdiv, it offers wonderful museums, galleries, vistas and beautiful houses.
Although we do not have enough evidence to know if the prehistoric people settled on this hill, we do have an idea of what was going on here in Ancient times. In 342 BCE, the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon conquered our town. Alongside all the construction he initiated in ancient Plovdiv, he also shaped Dzhambaz hill to be the so-called acropolis of the city. This was the upper part of a Greco-Roman settlement, where the aristocracy lived. Indeed, even nowadays when you walk around the old XIX-century houses, you still feel a sense of nobility permeating around them. Apart from the royal palace, some of the main temples were also located up there. One was dedicated to Apollo, and the other one to Artemis – the goddess of hunting.
Since ancient times the vertical rocks of this hill were used by acrobats to entertain the population of the city. That’s where the truth to its name lies. The word “dzhambaz” comes from Turkish, literally meaning “tightrope walker”. And since the local acrobats did all sorts of tricks using ropes all the way to the Ottoman period, the name stuck, and it’s still used nowadays.
Although this is the name that we use nowadays, during Ottoman times, the hill was briefly called by the locals “Saray Tepe”. That name comes from the Turkish “Saray”, which meant a palace. Not only because the memory of the ancient royal palace remained, but also because the XIX century Revival houses that still remain there were big and spacious like palaces.
During the XVIII-XIX centuries many of the local merchants, mainly the Greek ones, started building their spacious mansions on Dzhambaz hill, thus shaping it up as we see it nowadays. Stambolyan, Klianti, Mavridi and Antov were a few of the many wealthy families that became the new settlers of the hill. A traveler once said that all their houses looked much like palaces with hanging gardens when seen from a distance. It was also on this hill where the French writer and candidate for president Alphonse de Lamartine stayed for three days. He was a guest of the merchant Georgi Mavridi, and stayed in one of the houses, close to the top of the hill.
The hill was also home to two of the oldest schools in Plovdiv, namely the Greek school, which nowadays still towers above “King Boris III” blvd, and the Yellow school, which is the second oldest Bulgarian school of Plovdiv. Although neither of them still functions as school, both are preserved and are an integral part of our Old Town.
During your stay in Plovdiv, be sure to climb all the way to the top of Dzhambaz hill, and marvel at the beauty of the Rhodope mountains, just as Alphonse de Lamartine did almost two centuries ago.
Photos: Dimitra Lefterova
Author: Free Plovdiv Tour Guide – Iliya Iliev