Sunday morning is the perfect time to explore any new city. The tranquility makes it easy to see the bones of the place without the people, traffic, and workaday commotion – and there’s no better way to do it than on foot.
Our little apartment was in the trendy, semi-bohemian Kapana District of Plovdiv. This historic area had its start 500 years ago as a tradesmen’s center but as frequently happens, it fell on hard times. Fortunately, thanks to a three-year effort, city government has transformed the once neglected area into a center for local artisans, galleries, cafes and coffee houses.
This rough around the edges neighborhood is still in transition, and this is where the talented street artists stepped in. What were once rusted metal doors, ugly utility boxes, and derelict buildings have become a city-sanctioned outdoor art gallery.
The art in Kapana is incredibly vivid, amazingly creative, whimsical, and playful. The variety and number of paintings is impressive, and while the cognoscenti probably get all the esoteric messages, we just appreciated the color and creativity.
On our way to the high street, the combination of a ratty map and forgotten travel compass resulted in a wrong turn that turned fruitful. On a small side street we stumbled into a large, deep magenta-colored building covered in huge, complex, and richly detailed murals. It was the biggest collection of large scale, high quality street art that either of us have ever seen.
Once again, each complicated mural communicated its own esoteric message, which we guessed at, but despite not totally understanding the meaning, we certainly appreciated the art.
Plovdiv has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2019, which is quite a feather in their cap. Improvement works are going on all around town, and city government is taking this opportunity to put its best foot forward. Each year the city holds a street art festival, and new paintings are added. Before arrival, we hadn’t read anything about the street art so it was a wonderful bonus.
It speaks highly of any community which has such an appreciation for art, and is willing to include all parts of the artistic community in its efforts to make the city a more vibrant place to visit and live. We suspect that this attitude had a good deal to do with why Plovdiv was selected as a cultural capital. With it’s art, history, and architecture, it obviously deserves the honor.
James & Terri
P.S. For some of you, reading this post may have brought to mind the old argument about whether street art and graffiti are art or vandalism. If you’d like to read a thorough and scholarly article that discusses all sides of this issue, the Museum of The City website covers the topic well.