Stara Zagora is a major Bulgarian city, as it has a significant geographic location and powerful economy despite its small population, due to the industries located in its suburbs. The city proper has a population of about 150,000 and the city cluster comprises about 220,000 people. It is situated in the south of the country and is the administrative capital of the Stara Zagora Province, also named after the city.
Thanks to its geographic location, Stara Zagora enjoys a mild climate, as it is fringed by relatively low mountains and hills to enjoy protection from the northern winds and is close enough to the sea to contribute to a relatively warmer winter compared to other parts of Bulgaria. It is nicknamed “the city of the linden trees”, as it is peppered with these tall deciduous trees, some as tall as 130 feet, which make autumn a feast of colours for the eyes. One needs to drive only for about an hour to get to the Black sea. And about two and a half hours to the south is Thessaloniki, in Greece. Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is about the same distance to the west. The calm river Bedechka runs just outside the city.
The city’s history begins in prehistory, with more than 100 prehistoric sites dating from the 6th to the 3rd millennium BC in the vicinity, some of which are the largest in the country, while another major prehistoric site is right in the city centre, and certain prehistoric dwellings are preserved in the Neolithic Museum. The area was a copper mining site in antiquity, and was called Beroe (meaning dedicated to the god), but also a major area for hunting stag. As the name indicates, the ancient Thracian-Greek inhabitants likely worshipped Dionysus Zagreus, an ancient chthonic deity of hunting connected with orphism.
Later, the Roman emperor Trajan conquered the city and the surrounding area, and made it the second largest city in the Roman province of Thrace after Philipoupolis (present-day Plovdiv), and renamed it Augusta Traiana. Due to this historical period, there are significant archaeological findings in the form of magnificent city fortifications, bronze coins and roman baths. During the Middle Ages, between the 4th and 9th centuries, the region was assimilated into the Byzantine Empire, and it was once again called by its Greek name “Beroe”, and it thrived as a cultural and economic centre. Subsequently, the city shortly became part of the First Bulgarian Empire and was called Vereya or Beroya, before it was recaptured by the Byzantines both of whom alternately vied for the city, until the Ottomans conquered the latter in 1453. During the Byzantine period, the famous Lionness With a Cub bas-relief was created, and became the emblem of Stara Zagora until today. In the mid 14th century, the city was captured by the Ottomans who renamed it to Eski Zagra (old fortress of Zagora). After the Turkish rule, the name was changed to Zheleznik before it became Stara Zagora after the tragic war of liberation when 48,000 Turks massacred and pillaged the city, razing it to the ground. Due to this event, the city was rebuilt anew with its excellent road grid and wide streets and massive public squares and plazas.
Some of the major attractions include the Roman Amphitheater, the Roman Baths, The Arch of Trajan, The Post Office of Stara Zagora and the Zname monument on the hills overlooking the city, besides the numerous prehistoric sites and the Thracian Tomb Mound. It also has numerous churches and a mosque, an Opera house, as well as several museums and art galleries. The city also has a strong football club and the local team “Beroe”, which plays at Beroe Stadium.