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Travel advice Eastern Europe

© 2013-2019

PLEVEN

First impressions

 

In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to!

In the summer of 2015, I decided to visit Pleven when I had three days off. I just took a train from Sofia and ended up there after a beautiful train ride through the Iskar Gorge. Only the ride itself is worth the time. When I arrived in Pleven, I directly noticed how organized and spacious the city is. I walked into the center over a big boulevard. As in many Bulgarian cities, there's a large pedestrian area so it's pleasant to walk around. The architecture is quite nice, a mix of relatively old buildings mixed with modernist style. I noticed the main square, seen on the picture below, had been completely renovated. The fountain was just beautiful and even more so when I came back at night, see the end of the album. The fountain is nicely illuminated and on a warm day, it's great to take a stroll through the city and the parks.

History and future

Pleven is the seventh city of Bulgaria with close to a hundred thousand inhabitants. Again, as many cities in Bulgaria, we find many traces leading back to Thracian occupation in earlier eras. To be exact, the evidence dates back to five thousand years BC! The cultural wealth of this era was displayed in the findings of archaeologists.  The Vulchitran treasure was found by accident in 1924, when a field was ploughed and at only 40 centimetres deep, this solid gold treasure was located. It is truly stunning. The real treasure is on display at the Architectural Museum in Sofia - a copy is in the Regional Historical Museum in Pleven. The actual treasure moves around sometimes, in March 2017 it was on display in Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum). Interestingly, remains of a basilica from Roman times (4th Century) were found as well. It was the second largest to have existed in Bulgaria after the Tsars basilica in Pliska, at least as far as we know.

 

The city grew a bit and was of significance during the Middle Ages. During the Ottoman era, the city preserved a bit of its layout and appearance. Only during the Bulgarian National Revival, Pleven really developed. Schools were established in town and Vasil Levski, Bulgaria's national hero, used Pleven as an important base for his National Revolutionary Network.

 

Eventually, the Siege of Pleven took place. The battle of the Russo-Turkish war in 1877 was fought between joint forces Russia and Romania against the Ottomans. The first battle took place at Nikopol, on the Danube river bordering Romania. The Russians won that battle. Then, marshal Osman Pasha got from Vidin to Pleven with a 15.000 men army. They prepared themselves near Pleven, back then called Plevna. The Ottomans then built defensive structures whilst the Russians arrived. Other reinforcements resulted in the Ottoman side counting 22.000 men, a huge number. The Russians suffered serious losses during the second battle, even though their troops counted over 26.000 men. Meanwhile, troops sent by Suleiman Pasha from Stara Zagora to Pleven were intercepted by General Gurko's army.

The Russians did not give up and both sides got ready for the third battle. It was at that point that the Romanian troops joined with 35.000, joining forces with the Russians and creating a force of 83.000 men. The Ottomans then numbered only 34.000. The third battle was fought in three separate waves. The first two, the Russians and Romanians were overall unsuccessful. Then, during the third attempt, General Mikhail Skobelev took his chance and they captured two Turkish fortifications. Yet, Skobelev was forced to retreat because he was not allowed reinforcement. The battle came to and end and both sides had suffered terrible losses (Source).

Eventually, the fourth battle was to be decisive. The Shipka Battle was won on September 13th by the Russians and Bulgarians and all eyes were turned again, to Pleven. General Eduard Totleben was then appointed to lead the troops. At first, General Totleben confidently stated there would be no final battle. He locked down the city completely, surrendering and encapturing the Ottoman forces. The Ottomans took food and warm clothes from the people of Pleven and during the three-month period, many thousands died. The night of December 10th, Osman Pasha tries to escape the city and the Ottomans are pushed back (Source). There were sword to sword fights and reportedly, it was one Ottoman against five Russians and Romanians (Source). The Ottoman troops fell into the Vit river as the bridge was crammed. Pasha was hit in the leg by a stray bullet and the Ottomans were forced to retreat back into Pleven. Eventually, he surrenders to the Romanian colonel Mihail Cerchez.

Note that the battles were horrific. Especially the final months, it was bitterly cold and the region was out of resources. There was extreme perseverance on both sides. There were lots of losses as well and the population of Pleven suffered heavily. The place where the fourth battle took place is now called the Skobelev Park, after the battle known as the 'valley of death'. Currently, there's a museum called the Pleven Panorama. It was opened one hundred years after the final battle. It's a circle-shaped building with a panorama painting (115x15 metres) inside. The artwork was created by 13 Russian and Bulgarian artists. It's highly recommended to check out this impressive museum. Apart from the museum, there's nearly 200 monuments by the people of Pleven as a tribute to the Siege.

Kaylaka park

An interesting remain of antique times is the road station Storgosia. It's in the beautiful, 10 square kilometre large Kaylaka park. Storgosia is at about 3,5 kilometres from the center, it's possible to walk. Or, you can easily take a taxi. Just check the meter continuously or ask for an approximate price before getting in. On the way back, you can have a nice lunch at Restaurant Kushtata Pleven. Actually, why not stick around in the park and visit the

Cave Restaurant Peshterata?

What to see and where to stay

Be sure to visit the Svetlin Rusev Donative Exhibition, a permanent exhibition with over 400 famous works of Bulgarian and foreign artists. These include world-famous painters such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, Marc Chagall, Maurice Denis, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Salvador Dalí and Renato Guttuso. Admission is free!

The House-museum Tsar Osvoboditel Aleksandar II is right in the center. Due to its historical relevance the house was turned into a museum. It's this place that the Ottoman marshal Osman Pasha was taken after being captured, to be met by a Russian emperor. The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens with benches so you can come enjoy the sunshine and flowery gardens as well.

Also, check out the ancient site Ulpia Oescus. It's about 5 kilometres south of where the river Iskar (Roman name Oescus) flows into the Danube. The city is said to at one point have had a hundred thousand inhabitants!

I do not have experience with the hotels in Pleven, yet Booking.com shows there are several. Outside town, I see good reviews for Guest Rooms Goranoff and Guest Rooms Simona. A bit more towards Sofia, I can recommend hotel Diplomat Plaza in Lukovit. Lovech is quite close as well, at 37 kilometres. There are many traditional Bulgarian guest houses and the city by itself is lovely to visit! Make sure to visit the Devetashka cave and Prohodna cave as well.

How to get to Pleven

The city is on the railway line from Sofia to Ruse/Bucharest and Varna. This means intercity trains frequently travel through Pleven. Use the Bulgarian State Railways site to plan your trip, it has an English page. If you prefer to travel by bus, I find BGrazpisanie to be a good website to plan my trips. Traveling by car is a breeze as well, you take the Hemus motorway northeast, pass through Lukovit and eventually you'll end up in Pleven. I suggest making a stop near Lukovit, there's several interesting places such as the Geopark Iskar-Panega, a trail through nature which is right on your way. Also, Lovech, Troyan and the Troyan monastery are quite near.

In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to!

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