One of my highlights while visiting the beautiful hilly town of Veliko Tarnova in Bulgaria, was visiting the mighty Tsarevets Fortress. It sat high on the hills overlooking the town, and was surrounded on three sides by the river Yantra. The views from the fortress were amazing, as well as strolling through this medieval town complex.
Tsarevets Fortress history has centuries of significance, with the earliest human evidence on the hill from the 2nd millennium BC. During the 4th century it was settled as a Byzantine city, then constructed as a Bulgarian stronghold in the 12th century. The fortress was one of the most important in Bulgaria, considering Veliko Tarnova became the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Then in 1393, Tsarevets Fortress was surrounded by Ottoman forces for three months. It was eventually conquered, and burned to the ground on July 17, which had marked the fall of the Bulgarian Empire. Restoration of the fortress began many centuries later in 1930, and was completed in 1981.
Tsarevets Fortress was not an enclosed stronghold, although it is surrounded by walls. This was a true medieval town with a palace, church, and multiple buildings of both residential and commercial. There was also a water reservoir and battle towers. Along Tsarevets hill, archaeologists had discovered over 22 churches, 4 monasteries, and about 400 residential buildings all differentiated in quarters.
Patriarchal Church – The distinguished Patriarchal Church of the Ascension, which had been restored both on the exterior and interior, mixes both old world and modern world. While we were climbing the hill to the church, my personal guide/ driver forewarned me of its unusual interior. Although the church dates back centuries, it was restored in 1981 with a modern feel, which was not everyone’s liking. There are intense murals throughout in burgundy and black that were painted by Teofan Sokervek in 1985.
While we were viewing the dramatic murals, which depict this history of Bulgaria from 1185- after the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, my guide mentioned that it was not to his taste. He also added that many people shared his thoughts.
As for my opinion, I was quite neutral as I did not have the same expectations of the church renovations as the Bulgarian locals. I will admit that seeing the bold dark murals was an overpowering feeling while inside, so I do understand their point. Now I did appreciate the story telling of Bulgarian history through Teofan Sokervek’s modern work, even though it was dramatic and a little gruesome.
If in Northern Bulgaria, a short trip to Veliko Tarnova is worth the venture, along with a visit to Tsarevets Fortress. For visiting information, please visit:
Once a year, so someplace you’ve never been before…– Dalai Lama
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