Just as Autumn hit Bulgaria we travelled from the east (Varna) across to the west (Sofia), stopping in Veliko Tarnovo for two nights. We spent a few hours exploring the fortress in the drizzle!
The hill around Veliko Tarnovo Fortress, also know as Tsarevets, dates from the 2nd millennium BC. It was settled in the 4th century and a Byzantine city was constructed near the end of the 5th century. The construction of the Fortress also began in the 5th century.
The fortress became the most important one in Bulgaria and is often compared with Rome and Constantinople in magnificence. The former seat of the medieval tsars, it boasts the remains of more than 400 houses, 18 churches, the royal palace and an execution rock.
Although the Thracians and Romans used the hill as a defensive position it was the Byzantines who built the first significant fortress here between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The fortress was rebuilt and fortified by the Slavs and Bulgars between the 8th and 10th centuries and again by the Byzantines in the early 12th century.
When Târnovgrad became the Second Bulgarian Empire’s capital, the fortress was truly magnificent however with the Turkish invasion in 1393, it was ransacked and destroyed. The Ottoman army invaded and besieged the fortress for three days. They were eventually successful in breaching the fortress and they burned it to the ground.
Below the Patriarch’s Complex are the foundations of the Royal Palace, from where 22 successive kings ruled Bulgaria.
Once covering 4500 sq/m, the palace included an enormous throne (measuring about 30m x 10m) and Roman columns, probably transferred from nearby Nikopolis-ad-Istrum.
The fortress walls
The fortress walls were once 12m high and 10m thick. Further along the walls are the unrecognisable remains of a 12th-century monastery, various dwellings and workshops and two churches. To the north lie remains of a 13th-century monastery,
The Baldwin Tower
Returning towards the main entrance, veer left along the path hugging the southern wall. At its end is the restored Baldwin Tower, where Baldwin I of Flanders – the perfidious Crusader who led the sacking of Christian Byzantium in 1204 – got his just deserts bein imprisoned and executed after his defeat by the Bulgarians a year later.
There are great views from the top.
Church of the Blessed Saviour
From the palace, head west to the main path and up the steps to the Patriarch’s Complex, also called the Church of the Blessed Saviour. Once about 3000 sq metres in size, it was probably built around 1235 and has been extensively restored. The city views from the front steps are more impressive than the modern murals inside, depicting 14th- and 15th-century Bulgarian history
Execution Rock, from which traitors were pushed into the Yantra River. Alleged traitor Patriarch Joachim III was the most famous figure to take the plunge, in 1300.
In the northernmost part of Tsarevets there is an outcropping over the Yantra River known as Execution Rock. From the 11th to the 14th century traitors of the state were thrown from it into the river, and in the 16th century a monastery was built there.
The restoration of Tsarevets began in the 1930s by Communists and was completed in 1981 on the occasion of the 1300th anniversary of the foundation of the Bulgarian State.
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