Historical Landmarks Middle Ages
The stronghold standing on the top of Tsarevets Hill in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian State (1185-1393), used to be the most important political and spiritual centre in medieval Bulgaria. It spread over the astounding 100 000 sq m and included a Royal Palace, a big religious complex, where in the late 14th century Bulgarian Patriarch Evtimiy (1375-1393) established the famous Tarnovo Literary School, and thousands of residential and administrative buildings. In 1393 it was captured and demolished by the Ottoman invaders only to be restored again in 1981. Today the Patriarch’s Church, the central Christian temple within the walls of the fortress, and Baldwin’s Tower, named after the first emperor of the Latin Empire of Constantinople, who died as a prisoner there, are Tsarevets’ two main attractions. Oh, let’s not forget the unique Sound and Light audiovisual show. It is a modern ride through Bulgaria’s 13 centuries of history and is a real treat to the senses. The show can be watched on national holidays, but it is possible to make group requests as well.
Baba Vida Fortress:
The only fully preserved medieval fortress in Bulgaria lies on the very bank of the Danube River in the northern end of the beautiful town of Vidin, 190 km north of Sofia. According to some historians it was built on the ruins of an old Roman stronghold in the 10th century. In the second half of the 14th century it became capital of the Vidin Kingdom and also the most important castle in the northwestern part of the country. During this time it was greatly expanded and modernised by Tsar Ivan Sratsimir who ruled the Vidin Kingdom in the period 1356-1396. When the Ottomans took control over the country, Baba Vida was redesigned and became a defence facility with military barracks and a deep moat. Nowadays the fortress has become the symbol of Vidin and attracts hundreds of tourists every year. The admirers of nature should also go and see the famous Belogradchik Rocks and Magura Cave, which are both located no more than an hour away from the town.
Asen’s Fortress is situated on a precipitous rock in the Rhodope Mountains, near the town of Asenovgrad, 15 km south of Plovdiv. Before Bulgarians conquered it in the 9th century AD, the stronghold had been used by Thracians, Romans and Byzantines, respectively. It is named after Tsar Ivan Asen II, arguably the most ingenious medieval Bulgarian ruler, who expanded it and transformed it into a political, cultural and religious centre in the 13th century. The Church of the Holy Mother of God, set up during his reign, remains one of the best preserved buildings inside the castle. Asen’s Fortress lies on the road to Pamporovo mountain resort and the village of Shiroka Laka and is open for visitors all year round
The Madara Horseman:
No, this isn’t another fortress. It is just the most important rock relief ever discovered on the territory of Bulgaria. It depicts a symbolic scene in which a brave rider has just killed a lion with his spear. He is followed by his dog and there is also an eagle flying in front of him, probably leading the way to victory and glory. The relief stands 23 metres above the ground and was carved in the 8th century AD. Although no one can be absolutely positive about the identity of the horseman, most experts claim that the person portrayed is in fact Khan Tervel, the Bulgarian ruler who reigned during the time the relief was made. Many inscriptions in Medieval Greek were also discovered around the relief. They provide information about the major Bulgarian rulers of that period and also about the most important events that took place then.The Madara Horseman lies 15 km east of the town of Shumen and approximately 110 km away from Veliko Tarnovo. It was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.
Pliska was the first capital of Bulgaria and served as such from 681 AD to 893 AD. Historical evidence was discovered which supported the theory that it was founded by Khan Asparuh, the first Bulgarian ruler, right after the establishment of the First Bulgarian State. It took up an area of 23 sq km and had three sets of defence facilities: and outer moat, fortification walls and watchtowers, and solid gates. The citadel complex inside the town comprised a big palace which was used for administrative purposes and a royal residence where the khan lived together with his family. The Great Basilica built in the outer part of the town in the 9th century by Tsar Boris I, the Bulgarian ruler who was responsible for the Christianisation of the Bulgarian people, was considered to be the biggest on the Balkans. Pliska historical complex attracts many tourists every year. It is located in the northeastern part of the country, 70km away from Varna and 30 km northeast of Preslav, the second capital of the First Bulgarian State.
Veliki Preslav (Great Preslav):
After Bulgarians converted to Christianity in 865 the country needed to shake off its pagan past and change its ways dramatically. And the decision of Tsar Simeon the Great (893-927) to move the capital from Pliska to Preslav in 893 turned out to be just the most important step in this direction. The town immediately became Bulgaria’s biggest cultural and religious centre where hundreds of books were translated and many churches were built. Its heyday coincided with the Golden Age of Bulgaria during which the country expanded its territory immensely and established itself as one of the most powerful kingdoms on the continent. Today Veliki Preslav Museum Complex preserves the remains of several medieval buildings, including the royal palace, one basilica, a couple of churches, a monastery and part of the town’s fortification wall. It also flaunts a rich set of artifacts such as the Preslav Gold Treasure and the biggest collection of lead seals in the world. Veliki Preslav lies 90 km west of Varna.
Cherven Fortress (Red Fortress):
Cherven Fortress is located 30 km away from the city of Ruse and is among the best preserved medieval strongholds in the region. The Byzantines built it in the 6th century but soon afterwards it changed hands and was transformed into a sophisticated defence facility by the Bulgarians. It rose in prominence during the period 12th – 14th centuries (Second Bulgarian State) when it became one of the main military centres in the country. Lots of people go to see this historical landmark these days. The area around the fortress abounds in tourist attractions so you will never get bored or disappointed: the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Monastery of St. Dimitar Basarabovski are both in the vicinity of the castle and Ruse, the biggest Bulgarian city on the Danube River, is also there, of course.
Photos by D.Alexov, G.Dakovski