Krakra Fortress Pernik

The medieval stronghold Pernik (Adeva) is located in the South-western part of the town of Pernik, named after Perun – the Slavic God of thunder, on the right bank of the Struma river at a rocky plateau of not very large dimensions, some 30 km southwest of the Bulgarian capital or Sofia, between mountains of Vitosha, Lyuin and Golo Brdo. Due to its major strategic significance, the place of the present Krakra stronghold in Pernik was around the 5th – 6th century BC populated by the ancient Slavs. In the 3rd century BC it was demolished, but later on it was restored by its ancient inhabitants as a stronghold and fortified settlement.

The Krakra Fortress in today’s western Bulgarian city of Pernik is a medieval fortress of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD). It is named after the duke Krakra of Pernik, also known as Krakra Voevoda, a Bulgarian boyar and the feudal lord ruling over 36 fortresses in Southwest Bulgaria at the beginning of 11th century. Krakra is known for his resistance against the invading Byzantine forces stopping twice the advance of Byzantine Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer (r. 976-1025 AD) on Sofia (Serdica, Sredets). Krakra of Pernik ruled during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Samuil (997-1014 AD) but often acted against Byzantium with his own forces.

It is believed that the current Krakra stronghold was built during the ruling of khan Omurtag when the settlement was included in the limits of the Bulgarian state and became border stronghold. Over the ruins of the old stronghold, double walls were erected as they were strengthened with three rectangular towers. The Krakra fortress of Pernik was founded after 809 AD when Khan (Kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) conquered Serdica (today’s Sofia) for Bulgaria, probably during the reign of his son, Khan (Kanas) Omurtag (r. 814-831 AD). Before that, the strategically located hill was the site of a major Ancient Thracian fortress from the 6th-5th century BC. Krakra was a relatively large fortress in medieval Bulgaria, with a fortified area of about 50 decares (app. 12.4 acres). Its fortress wall spanned 800 meters lining the natural curves of the plateau, and was 2 meters thick. The stronghold wall follows the natural outlines of the plateau of the Krakra hill, its width exceeds 2 meters and encompasses 4,5 hectares. The main gate is in the North-eastern part of the stronghold, the main street starting from it. The ruins of the Pernik fortress today feature remains of the fortress walls, residential buildings, a crossed-dome church, a large three-nave basilica, and a small two-story tomb church. This is where Bulgarian archaeologists have found a large number of coins and a silver seal of St. Tsar Petar I (r. 927-970 AD), the only silver seal of a Bulgarian monarch from this time period. Tsar Petar I made a stop at the fortress on his way to meeting Bulgaria’s patron saint, St. Ivan Rulski (876-946 AD), who was living as a hermit in the Rila Monastery in the Rila Mountain.

The Krakra fortress was last used before the Western European knights from the Third Crusade passed nearby in 1189-1192 AD, and after that was abandoned. It was besieged twice by Byzantine Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-slayer, in 1004 and 1016 AD, both times unsuccessfully as the defenders prevailed under the leadership of Krakra of Pernik, as described by 11th century Byzantine historian John Skylitzes (ca. 1040-ca. 1101 AD). The 1016 siege was especially fierce; it lasted 88 days, and cost the lives of many Byzantine soldiers, which is why the valley below the fortress is still known today as “The Bloody”. When all of the First Bulgarian Empire was conquered by Byzantium in 1018 AD, the Krakra Fortress was the last to fall.

In the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century Pernik was unap­proach­a­ble stronghold and administrative center of the local voyvode /duke/ Krakra Pernishki, described by the Byzantine chronicle writers Skylitzes and Kedrin as “eminent boyar and ruler of the town during the Bulgarian king Samuil, a man excelling in the military art”. In the beginning of the 11th century the local population displayed decisive opposition to the Byzantine invaders. In this struggle, the basic role was attributed to Krakra as at that time he ruled over Pernik and 35 other strongholds in the region of upper Struma. The stronghold of Pernik was his main stronghold and as the time passed it was named after him. Pernik was included in the limits of the Second Bulgarian kingdom in 1204 as the stronghold preserved its important strategic meaning as centre of the administrative region. The establishment of the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria’s Ottoman slavery (1396) put the end of the significance of Pernik as stronghold, and it was no longer administrative center.

In 2013-2014, Pernik Municipality carried out partial restoration of the Krakra Fortress with BGN 5 million (EUR 2.5 million) of EU funding under Operational Program “Regional Development. Unfortunately, the builders used “alternative” materials for some of the restoration giving the restored fortress wall and gate a “plastic” look. Thus, the restoration of the Krakra Fortress has become notorious among Bulgaria’s archaeological restorations, with critics claiming that the EU money was likely embezzled by local politicians and/or construction entrepreneurs who used cheap plastic instead of proper materials.

Krakra Pernishki – Monument of Krakra in the center of Pernik

Krakra (Krakras) is Bulgarian noble and commander who lived in the second half of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century. During the wars of tsar Samuil with Byzantium, Krakra defended the stronghold of Pernik and defeated two times the Byzantine emperor Basil II that was trying to conquer it. The first siege of Pernik was held in 1004 when Krakra withstood the assaults against the stronghold as well as emperor’s attempts to recruit him on his side. The second siege was in 1016 and continued for nearly three months with the same result – Byzantines had to step back after bearing significant losses. During the ruling of the First Bulgarian Kingdom, Ivan Vladislav, Krakra ruled over a vast region including 35 strongholds. In 1017 while Byzantines were ravaging the Southern lands of the state (South-Western Macedonia), the Pernik commander prepared counter-attack from the North. His plan turned futile because of the Pechenegs, living in the lands on the north of Danube, refused to join the Bulgarian army. Soon after the death of tsar Ivan Vladislav in February 1018, Krakra obeyed Basil II together with the towns he was ruling over and in return was conferred with the title of patrician.

Antique Thracian sanctuary near the neighborhood Tsarkva

Near the Pernik neighborhood Tsarkva, a Thracian Antique sanctuary dating back to 4-5th century BC was established, as it was dedicated to health-bringing gods and located in the plain locality at the bank of Rudartsi river, comprising cult yard – 24 x 28 m – in whose preserved part small temple and monumental sacrificial altar are located near it.