The hour-long extravaganza of music, light and dance was dubbed "We Are All Colors" and was presented – as will be the whole year – under the motto "Together", with the word shown on the stage in multiple languages, including the Hungarian "Együtt".

A concluding fireworks display was set off from inside the Ancient Theatre of Philipoppol, built in the 1st century AD and one of the best preserved such theatres in the world. Apart from dramatic performances, the hillside venue was used for gladiatorial and hunting games, and it was a seat of the General Assembly of the Roman province of Thrace. The amphitheatre is the jewel in the crown of Plovdiv, and the magical venue will host a number of special events and concerts throughout the year of culture.

The Plovdiv 2019 Foundation said the opening ceremony was performed on a unique stage designed and built specifically for the event, which had attracted the attention of millions of viewers online all over the world. "More than 50,000 people gathered in the city centre to watch the ‘We Are All Colors’ multi-cultural opening ceremony. Tens of thousands tuned in to watch the event," the foundation said.

Plovdiv is the first Bulgarian city to become a European culture capital since the country joined the European Union in 2007. As always, two European cities share the honour each year, and in 2019 the other host is the southern Italian city of Matera. Hundreds of projects and events are programmed in Plovdiv, including an open-air exhibition featuring painted fragments of the Berlin Wall to mark 30 years since its fall. Artistically painted Trabants stand in the street nearby.

This exhibition is on the almost two kilometres long, pedestrianised main street, aka Glavnata, which stretches all the way from the Trimontium Hotel and Tsar Simeon Garden at the central square in the south, via the remains of a Roman stadium (as distinct from the Roman theatre) and across the Maritsa River inside a covered pedestrian bridge lined with shops.

Glavnata is said to be the longest pedestrianised street in Europe – or the longest is in Moscow, depending on whether you count Moscow as part of Europe or not.

Another major exhibition is called "Smoke. Tobacco Stories", which tells a story of Bulgaria seen through the history of the tobacco industry. The exhibition is in SKLAD, appropriately a former tobacco warehouse, in Ekzarh Yosif street. It opened on January 11 and will run until March 20.

The displays encompass the past 150 years starting with the traces of nicotine in the Ottoman Empire, via the First Plovdiv Trade Fair, the modernisation of society, the wars and the ensuing waves of refugees, workers’ riots, the dictatorships of the 20th century, Bulgarian foreign policy and all the economic advances and crashes.

Plovdiv is one of the oldest cities in the world with more than 6000 years of history and it claims to be the oldest continually inhabited European city. Situated some 120 kilometres from the capital Sofia, it straddles the Maritsa, which is the longest river in the country, and stands between the Balkan and the Rhodope Mountains.

Plovdiv has survived for thousands of years on the crossroads between Western Europe and the Middle East. Evidence of this is provided by the many architectural landmarks dating back to Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.

The city hopes its year in the cultural spotlight will attract more than 2 million visitors in 2019, double the number for 2018. Travel gurus consider Plovdiv and its special Old Town to be a relatively undiscovered gem, and advise going now before the masses tumble to the fact.

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