Plovdiv is the country’s second-largest city, after the capital Sofia, with a city population of 345,213 as of 2017 and 675,000 in the greater metropolitan area. It has a picturesque cobblestoned Old Town, impressive ancient ruins and what is said to be a lively drinking and dining scene. It is a safe bet that its historic centre and cafe-lined neighbourhoods have never put on a better showing as the locals gear up for their imminent year-long tenure hosting the prestigious event.

Hungary’s southern city of Pecs was a host in 2010, and the country’s next turn will be in 2023, with Vesprem having been selected. The other European Capital of Culture in 2019 will be Matera, in southern Italy. The contest to be the 2019 hosts was one of the toughest ever, with 21 initial contenders, a number that shows the tremendous popularity of the event.

In 2018 the hosts have been Valletta in Malta and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Among Hungary’s neighbours, Rijeka in Croatia will feature in 2020 and Timisoara in Romania in 2021. As can be seen, it is an honour that is usually shared around among the provinces rather than automatically going to the largest centres.

Nonetheless, Plovdiv is noted as an important economic, transport, cultural and educational centre, with evidence of habitation dating to the 6th millennium Before the Common Era (BCA, the secular way of referring to "Before Christ"), when the first Neolithic settlements were established; it is thus said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities with a rich history: originally a Thracian settlement, later a Roman city, then Byzantine, before becoming part of the Ottoman empire, to finally become part of Bulgaria.

The city is in south-central Bulgaria, some 130 kilometres from Sofia, and sits on the two banks of the Maritsa River. Plovdiv is often referred to in Bulgaria as "The City of the Seven Hills", courtesy the prominent local geographic feature, and it has many preserved ruins from antiquity such as the 2nd-century Roman amphitheatre; the sparse ruins of Eumolpias, a Thracian settlement in 5000 BCA; Dzhumaya Mosque, Bulgaria's first working mosque; a Roman odeon, constructed at the end of the 1st century AD; a Roman aqueduct; Roman Forum; "Alyosha", the monument to the Unknown Soviet Soldier; the archaeological complex Eirene, and others.

In fact, the city has more than 200 archaeological sites, 30 of which are of national importance. Plovdiv is among the few cities with two ancient theatres; remains of the medieval walls and towers; Ottoman baths and mosques; and a well-preserved old quarter dating back to the National Revival period, when Bulgarian architecture and literature flourished.

The city is seen as one of the most beautiful in Eastern Europe, and the.Old Town’s cobbled streets weave between charming and colourfully painted houses, their wooden eaves and overhanging upper floors framing the narrow lanes and giving a mysterious, warren-like ambience. There are numerous museums, art, galleries and cultural institutions. Even before 2019, Plovdiv hosted numerous musical, theatrical and film events.

The cultural program for 2019 is structured in four thematic platforms, linked to the typical features of the city, its cultural heritage, history, the rhythm of life, as well as to the problems and stereotypes Plovdiv would like to overcome. The organisers say the basic meaning and key for understanding the whole programme, the ideas of the different platforms and their inner logic is the motto "Together". This clear and universal motto is intended to summarise in one word both the pride and the greatest challenges of the 2019 project.

The opening of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019 will feature what is described as the most attractive and momentous highlight in its programme – the "We are all Colors" show. Over the course of an extended weekend, a series of events will take place at various in- and outdoor spaces across the city, culminating on Saturday, 12 January. The very heart of Plovdiv will welcome the ceremony, which will combine music, light and dance, and give the key to the whole year ahead and to the basic concept of the European Capital of Culture project, in which the citizens themselves are not only audiences and actors, but also creators of events.

More than 1500 participants from Bulgaria and abroad will recreate on the open stage a large and colourful metaphor of all the main themes of the programme "Plovdiv 2019" and their relationships under the "Together" rallying call.

For the full 2019 programme, see

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