It is green, its streets are packed with relaxed and young people, it has some of the most interesting museums and landmarks in Bulgaria and there is a spa resort with hot mineral water nearby: Stara Zagora is a city which easily fits the category of the places which you shouldn't miss.
You see that Stara Zagora is a city like no other in Bulgaria straight after you enter it. The streets run straight, intersecting at right angles, under a canopy of lindens. This architectural design is the result of the biggest tragedy in the city's recent history. Stara Zagora was burnt to the ground in one of the most fierce battles of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878. In the devastation were lost almost all of its buildings, and many human lives, but only a few months later, Stara Zagora resurrected from the ashes. An ambitious restoration programme led by Austrian-Hungarian architect Lubor Bayer started and when it finished, Stara Zagora had gotten its beautiful urban plan.
Situated in a fertile plain, near mineral springs and major roads, Stara Zagora was a coveted place for living since the Neolithic times. In the 1st Millennium BC, the Thracians founded a settlement here, Beroe. In the beginning of the 2nd Century AD, the Roman emperor Trajan visited the place, and evaluated its importance. He promoted it into a city, and gave it his name, Augusta Traiana.
The city prospered under the Romans, occasionally suffering from the attacks of the Barbarians. It survived the arrival of the Middle Ages and, after it returned to its older name Beroe, continued to be one of the important cities in the Thracian Plain and a coveted stronghold of the Bulgarian Kingdom. The city's current name, Stara, or Old, Zagora, appeared after the Ottoman conquest of the late 14th Century.
The rich history of Stara Zagora is beautifully exhibited in some of the best museums Bulgaria has. Two well preserved houses from the Neolithic period, with all their pots and pans, are now exhibited in situ in a special museum. The 15th Century Old Mosque is now the Museum of Religions, preserving the remains of an older Thracian sanctuary and Christian necropolis. The nearby Regional Museum of History has a bold new architecture and is the home of astonishing Roman artefacts and mosaics. A part of a street from Augusta Traiana is now on display in its basement. More beautiful ancient mosaics are to be seen in the Post Office and the Opera House.
Parts of the forum of Augusta Traiana can also be visited. If you happen to be in Stara Zagora in the theatre season, don't miss the regular opera and theatre shows there - the city has one of the best theatres and opera companies in Bulgaria.
But Stara Zagora is much more than its history. The city's parks are a true pleasure, with Ayazmoto being the most famed of all. Situated on an area of 320 ha, it is a heaven of the strong locals oaks and a number of rare plants.
Outside Stara Zagora, don't miss the village of Starozagorski Bani. A spa and balneological resort since the Roman times, it is a great place for a bit of relaxation.