Between Taksim and Nebet hills, northeast from Dzhumaya square lays a real pearl of Plovdiv – Kapana district. In Bulgarian its name translates to “The Trap”, which is exactly what you will experience. Not only because of small winding streets, starting and ending in unexpected places, crossing and interconnecting in a true labyrinth of cobblestone. It is more about the atmosphere of this place filled with craft shops, art galleries, bars, restaurants and street art popping up on every step. True magnetism draws you inside and after it catches your first attention with flags hanging down between the houses, a random painting on a wall or a coffee place with pillows laid out on window frames outside, it won’t let you go out that easily… At least not before the evening falls over the district, turning it into a maze of lights, shadows and sounds of nightlife.
But don’t take just my word (and pictures) for it. Here is what Gina Kafedjian, project manager in municipal foundation Plovdiv 2019, told me about this artistic pearl of Plovdiv:
Different people find themselves pleasantly “trapped” inside Kapana for different reasons. What would you say is so special about Kapana?
Gina Kafedjian: What is unique and special about this place are its “human” size and dimensions. Being part of the heart of Plovdiv, it is easy to find and it is close to all other fascinating landmarks; it could not leave you apathetic—it will always enchant you with its charming shops, boutiques and exhibition spaces; it will feed you well, offering traditional Bulgarian cuisine, as well as various specialties from Spain, Italy, Turkey, etc. It will welcome you as a guest and offer you multiple types of accommodation. It will remember and consider you as a friend because, even if it is your first time here, you will find yourself in a friendly and warm atmosphere.
Kapana for long centuries has been an actual centre of Plovdiv with a central market where caravanas were setting from and coming to, merchants selling their goods from afar and craftsmen offering their local products. Nowadays the district is more on the side from the main walking paths across Plovdiv, but you just need to make a turn at the right place to soak into the most creative and inspiring part of the city. Merchants have been traded for artists and stalls for various galleries and exhibition venues.
The revival of this district can be felt especially since Plovdiv started its preparations for becoming European Capital of Culture in 2019, and it has been one of major points of focus in its candidature.
Every time I visit Kapana it looks different, I keep finding new places and new street art. But the revival had to start somewhere. When has Kapana become the artistic andcultural place on the map of Plovdiv? How did it look before?
Gina Kafedjian: Since 1984 there have been various plans for making Kapana a more special, unique and lively place. The first ideas were to turn it into an artistic center for the city. Ten years later, in cooperation with the French Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a newfangled project, aiming to create a new “scenography” for urban areas, was executed. In recent years and especially from 2014 on, Kapana has been recognized as an actual cultural area and is being developed as a true phenomenological factor. With the will and support of the local government and the perspectives that Municipal Foundation “Plovdiv 2019” found in the place, its focus has turned more to the human experience and the emotion that it brings. And that is what Kapana is today—specific, unique and presenting the characteristics of Plovdiv. Ever since it was founded, it has been the liveliest part of town, the “Charshia” (old Turkish word for shopping street/center). Most of the bigger cities in the Ottoman Empire during the Middle Ages had trade and craft areas, but the one found in Plovdiv is characterized as the biggest and most preserved one nowadays. The maze of narrow tangled streets in which trade and services are still practiced, could easily enchant the carelessly wandering visitor, so that he willingly gets “trapped” in Kapana. The human presence and hustle has always been a basic characteristic for this charming place. For more than 500 years in Plovdiv there has not been another area with such concentration of vital public activities and tangible feeling of urban space and atmosphere.
In 2014 MF “Plovdiv 2019” has commenced a project in order to assist various cultural entrepreneurs with feeling the place as their own and thus help them begin and develop their creative activities precisely here. That is why the concentration of galleries, workshops, ateliers, pedestrian zones, bars and restaurants here is so unique. Kapana, as a “creative district,” lives as a real body with “new blood,” a life-saving surgery that gives vivacity and culture back to the people.
I try not to use too many comparisons, but here it is hard to avoid. For me personally Plovdiv for Bulgaria is something that Cracow is for Poland – a city of artistsic bohema, creative atmosphere and positive vibe. And “The Trap” is the heart of it, pumping fresh warm blood into veins of the city.
Gina Kafedjian: Every traveller and explorer has their own ways of familiarizing with a place and making it “their own.” A tour of Kapana could be done in an hour but the place is worth dedicating at least one day and one night. The day is for seeing the exhibitions and galleries—there are photo galleries, ones for fine and craft arts. There are workshops, which you could leave not only with a souvenir and a smile, but also with a new skill and an unforgettable experience. Some façades are worth at least a few shots, some buildings are inspiration for stories. Wonderful and cozy thematic restaurants and bars offer not only local food but also a great variety of drinks, friendly service and warm attitude. A night in Kapana could give you the opportunity to visit several clubs with diverse music—from acoustic performances, through pop and electro, metal, to folk and punk outdoors. Then you could rest in a hotel, hostel or a rented room, as they are all to be found here. You do not even have to go farther out into the city, as Kapana would always give you the contentment of a personalized welcoming, the perspective of a European cultural hub and the freedom to get “lost” almost like Alice in Wonderland.
Now it is your choice if you would have this dream only once, or decide to fantasize about it more, but we would be happy if we inspire you so that you would try to often make your dreams a reality.