Plovdiv is a multicultural city. Even centuries ago here one could find Christians (orthodox, catholic, protestant), Muslims, Jewish community, Armenian population. As a result, different temples of numerous religions and from separate periods are present today.
Nowadays, most of the population of the city (and the country) is Orthodox. Because of that fact in Plovdiv, there are many Orthodox churches. In this article, we suggest 5 of them to visit and explore while you are in Plovdiv
“St. St. Constantine and Helena” is considered one of the oldest among the Orthodox churches in the city of Plovdiv. It is in the center of the Old Town. The church was named after Emperor Constantine the Great and his mother Elena.
According to the research of archaeologists and historians, a temple was built in the 4th century on the territory where the the current temple is. It was mentioned again in 1578 by the German theologian Stephan Gerlach. During this period, the temple was demolished several times and then built up again.
It is reported that at the beginning of the 19th century, the prominent weaver from Koprivshtitza Todor Moravenov became a trustee. He and the Plovdiv enlightener Valko Chalakov managed to erect the ruined building once again. In 1832 the construction was ready.
This church impresses with rich decoration. Furthermore, it is one of the temples in Plovdiv, whose original frescoes are fully preserved. Its iconostasis was made entirely in the Baroque style. The first row of the icons were painted by the famous Bulgarian painter, Zahari Zograf.
The Church of the Holy Mother of God, full name Cathedral Church of the Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, is situated in the Old town of Plovdiv. It is the main orthodox temple of the city.
A small church existed on the site as early as the 9th century. The church was renovated in 1186 by the bishop of Plovdiv Constantine Pantehi and it became part of a monastery. Both the church and the monastery were destroyed when the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1371 in the course of the Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars.
The current temple was constructed in 1844 as s large three-nave pseudo-basilica. Its iconostasis was made by carvers from the Bulgarian School of Debar.
During the Ottoman rule, masses in the Bulgarian temples were held in Greek language. On 25 December 1859 and again on 10 January 1860 the bishop of Plovdiv Paisius held a service in Bulgarian language. Furthermore, he publicly announced that his congregation denounced the Greek Patriarch of Istanbul. Of course, that was considered a big scandal. In the next years Plovdiv became the most radical center for the struggle of the autonomy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
In 1881, three years after the Liberation of Bulgaria, the architect Josef Schnitter constructed the bell tower near the western entrance.
Saint Marina is the metropolitan cathedral of the Plovdiv Diocese of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. On its territory used to stand an episcopal basilica and a residence of the spiritual head of the diocese in the 4th century. That temple existed until the end of the VI century when it was destroyed in the Slavic invasions.
According to Stefan Gerlach, who visited Plovdiv in 1578, there were eight churches in the city, the main one being Saint Marina. Divine service was regularly held in it. Also, the seat of the metropolitan was also located there.
An inscription erased in 1906 indicated that the church was fundamentally renovated in 1561, but later burned down in a fire. The collection of funds for a new building began in 1721. In the middle of the XVIII century, the church was burned down again. Locals gathered funds for the reconstruction of the temple. It was finally completed in 1783.
Today’s church was built in 1851. Since at that time the Ottoman authorities no longer restricted the construction of churches, the new building exceeded the size of the old one and was crowned with a dome. It is a basilica, consisting of three naves separated from each other by two rows of columns. In the western part of the temple, there is an open colonnade inscribed with biblical scenes. The total number of scenes is 29, 24 of which are from the Old Testament.
When the construction of the new, bigger temple started, the earlier carved iconostasis was removed. After the church was completed, it was placed again. Two old places for church singers are preserved in the temple today. They have an octagonal shape and are decorated with encrusted bones and wooden plates.
In the northern part of the yard stands a six-story wooden belfry. Made of solid oak, it is a one-of-a-kind work of church construction from the 19th century. It has 8 bells. The largest one of them weighs 180 kg, and the smallest – only 5 kg. Saint Marina is the temple with the largest number of bells among Orthodox churches in Plovdiv.
“St. St. Cyril and Methodius and St. Alexander Nevsky” is the first temple-monument dedicated to the Russo-Turkish War and the Liberation of Bulgaria.
After the war, a large part of the Turkish population emigrated from Plovdiv. A new Bulgarian neighborhood was established near the river where many Turks used to live. Those Christians initially visited the Cathedral Church of the Holy Mother of God. But it was unable to accommodate its many new parishioners. Thus, among the residents of the new Bulgarian neighborhood, the idea of building their own temple was born.
On May 11 1881, the day of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, prominent Plovdiv citizens and residents of the neighborhood gathered and founded a committee to build a new church. It would be dedicated to the Bulgarian equal apostles Cyril and Methodius and the Russian saint Prince Alexander Nevsky. Nevsky was considered the heavenly patron of the late Emperor Alexander II – liberator of Bulgaria.
A year later, on the same holy day, May 11, the foundation stone was laid. Also, the collection of funds began. In 1882 construction started.
In 1884, on the eve of August 25 – the summer church holiday of St. Alexander Nevsky, the temple monument of the Liberation was consecrated with a solemn bishop’s holy liturgy. It was built in the style of Russian classicism – very modern for its time. The temple reminds with its towering domes of the great St. Isaac’s Cathedral in the then-Russian capital of St. Petersburg.
In 1846 citizens of the Marasha district decided that it was time to build an Orthodox temple in the region. A significant amount of money was needed. People from all over the country helped when they found out about the cause of the citizens of Plovdiv. Hundreds of poor people set aside a part of their scarce finances in order to show their support.
Saint George’s Temple was built in 1848 together with a Bulgarian school. Unfortunately, they existed for only 30 years until 1878 because a Russian cannon accidentally destroyed them during the Liberation War.
After the Liberation the citizens of Plovdiv once again collected money to renovate the destroyed building. Their initiative exceeded the borders of Bulgaria and donations were received from neighboring counties. In 1881 experts arrived at the location of the ruins of Saint George’s Temple to find out how the temple could be restored. A new church had to be built on the old foundations. Residents of the neighborhood themselves divided into groups and started to clean the place and remove the remains of the destroyed building. They were very inspired by the fact that this would be the first church built in Plovdiv after the Liberation. Fortunately, the altar of the old church was preserved. Even today one can see the old iconostasis inside the temple. The new Saint George’s church was finished in 1882.
The temple is a ternary pseudo basilica. Also, it has a dome with a hemispherical coating and ten windows shaped with semicircular arches on it. In 1903 a bell tower was built by the West entrance.
As stated at the beginning of the article, in Plovdiv you can find many Orthodox churches. The 5 mentioned here are probably the most popular and famous ones in the city. If you are interested in Christian temples and like visiting Orthodox churches don’t hesitate to spend some time exploring the hidden and not-so-well-known temples in the town.
Pictures: plovdivskamitropolia.bg and Dimitra Lefterova
Author: Free Plovdiv Tour Guide – Adelina Kalapchieva