Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo, formerly Trnovo or Tirnovo or Tarnovgrad is city in north-central Bulgaria, at the foot of the Stara planina Mountain and on three hills and the Yantra River, 240 km north-east of Sofia, on the halfway between Sofia and Varna. Veliko Tarnovo is remarkably rich in wonderful cultural and historic heritage sites and landmarks, thus is often referred as the “City of Tzars“. Veliko Trnovo is actually situated along the historical hills of Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora on the both banks of the Yantra River, right tributary of the Danube River. Veliko Tarnovo impresses everyone with its location on the hills around the medieval fortress, the story of the four Asan kings, and the fragrance of roses. Veliko Tarnovo is today important tourist, commercial and crafts center with well developed production of foodstuffs, textiles, and leather. Walking along the picturesque streets of the Old Kingstown Tarnovo – Tarnovgrad, visitors discover the place that offers to all the citizens and visitors of Veliko Tarnovo the panorama of pleasures that combines in itself past, presence and future.

Veliko Tarnovo is the seat of an Eastern Orthodox metropolitan. The site was probably a Roman fortress. The Tsarevets fortress is named after the historical Bulgarian tsardom – empire, and once ranked among the largest and most impressive castles in the world. The Tsarevets Hill Fortress was one of the two citadels /along with the recently nicely restored Trapezitsa Hill Fortress/ of the medieval city of Tarnovgrad – Veliko Tarnovo at present/, which was the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire /1185-1396-1422/ for 208 prosperous and successful years. From 1185 to 1393, Tarnovgrad was the seat of power of one of Europe’s biggest medieval empires – the Empire which reached from present day Moldova in the north to Epirus in southern Greece, incorporating much of the old Byzantine lands and the Balkans in general. The second Bulgarian Kingdom came into existence in Veliko Tarnovo when Bulgarian ruler Ivan I was proclaimed tsar in 1186. It was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire under Ivan Asen II, who built (1230) the Church of the Forty Holy Martyrs to commemorate his great victory of Klokotnitsa Battle against the Byzantine Greek despot Theodore Comnenus of Epirus. After the Klokotnitsa battle, Bulgaria became the largest medieval country in the Balkan peninsula, stretching between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic Sea. The city has remained in the collective Bulgarian memory as the majestic and flourishing capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. In the 12th, 13th and the 14th centuries Tarnovgrad was center of political, religious and cultural life of Bulgaria with numerous trade colonies and a number of churches and monasteries. At its pinnacle the historical Tarnovo became large and well-protected town with some 12000 to 15000 inhabitants – very large settlement for that time. The city of Tarnovgrad fell to the Turks in 1393, after a three-month siege under the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid. Battle of nearby Nicopolis, the main Turkish stronghold on the Danube River was harsh military engagement on the 25 September 1396 which resulted in a Turkish victory over the army of European crusaders and brought an end to massive international Christian efforts to halt Turkish expansion into the Balkans and central Europe. Tarnovo was seat of resistance movement and the two uprisings against the Turkish conquest and yoke, the First Tarnovo uprising organized in 1598, and the Second Tarnovo uprising in 1686, but none provided liberation of Bulgaria, but added to repressions and torture.

The unique golden cross with fractions of the Jesus Christ cross was found by archaeologists in the Trapezitsa Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo. Its weight is 75 gr, and features sophisticate precious jewelry decoration. This peace of the holy reliquary is completely preserved, found in the altar space of the newly excavated church on the hill above Veliko Tarnovo.

A Bulgarian constitution was drafted in 1879 at Tarnovo, where the full independence of Bulgaria was proclaimed in 1908. In 1965 the city was renamed from Tarnovgrad into Veliko Tarnovo – “Great” Tarnovo. The University and the Vasil Levski Military Academy are located in Veliko Tarnovo. The combination of old style and modern architecture, as well as amazing Churches and Monasteries of Veliko Tarnovo truly represent the spirit of Bulgaria. Huddle of antique houses of Veliko Tarnovo seems bound to the rocks by wild lilac and vines while seemingly poised to leap into the chasm below.

Etar Open-Air Ethnographic Museum is the first museum of its kind in Bulgaria, some 55 km south of Veliko Tarnovo, opened up in 1964. The Etar museum is situated 8 km to the south of Gabrovo. The Etar open-air museum showcases the original architecture, way of life and traditional crafts and economy of Gabrovo and the other Balkan mountain settlements during the Revival period. Some of the Tarnovo buildings have been well-restored on-site and others have been ‘transferred’ from neighboring villages. The unique Etar exhibition presents sixteen masterpieces of architecture forming the artisans’ square, residential interiors and twenty functioning workshops – fur-dressing, bell making, wood-carving, folklore music instruments manufacturing, icon-painting, herb gathering, etc. One may also see how Gabrovo townsfolk used the water-generated power and the ingenious solutions they came up with whilst experimenting with it, some of which are considered historic within the development of technical science in Bulgaria. Balkan people’s ingenuity helped build a unique water-propelled mechanism used by housewives and artisans alike. Festivals are annually held at the museum when traditional customs and rites associated with the traditional festive season are performed. One of the most important customs is Enyo’s Day, associated with the healing power of herbs and the traditional autumn crafts festival, when traditional objects of Revival art are exhibited.

“Etara ethnographic complex – the museum that recreates the architecture, lifestyle and handicrafts the way they existed during the National Revival Period. It has been laid out as a typical Revival Period mountainous settlement of craftsmen with markets and shops, bakeries and workshops, water mills, little bridges and drinking fountains, a clock tower and cozy houses. Traditional Bulgarian crafts can be observed here, such as wood-carving, pottery, coppersmith, furriery, cutlery, tailoring etc. The Etara complex is rich in nice small shops where visitors can buy interesting souvenirs, taste delicious traditional “white” jam or enjoy a cup of nosy Turkish coffee.” Ulpia Tours Bulgaria 

Architectural and Historical Reservation of Bozhentzi is a small village and a monument of Bulgarian Revival architecture, tucked in the northern slopes of the central Balkan Mountain range at 750 meters above sea level. Bozhentzi village is situated 16 km to the east of Gabrovo and a 40 km from Veliko Tarnovo. The history of architectural and historic reservation of Bozhentzi goes back 600 years. Here the tourist would find peace and quiet stepping back into a world that is no more. Legend tells us the village was founded by Boyana – who took refuge in the mountains with her nine sons after Veliko Tarnovo fell to the Turks in 1393. The high stone walls, gates of carved oak wood, tiny cobbled streets, stone fountains, and miniature shops are true embodiment of the atmosphere of this heavenly nook of Bulgaria.

A new Museum in Veliko Tarnovo gives rich insights into medieval Bulgaria and attracts foreign tourists to the heart of the medieval capital of Bulgaria. Its visitors have the opportunity to meet “face to face” exquisitely crafted life-size sculptures of iconic figures of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1396). In the evening, when it gets dark in Veliko Tarnovo, the visitors of the city can enjoy the impressive “Sound and Light” show over the Tsarevets fortress.

Places to see in Veliko Tarnovo : Tsarevets Fortress, Preobrazhenski /Holy Transfiguration/ Monastery, the Holy Forty Martyrs Church, Samovodska street crafts shops, Church of Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, Trapezitsa Fortress, ETAR architectural-ethnographic complex of Gabrovo and an Open-air Museum containing buildings, objects, tool of the Bulgarian National Revival with shops where wood-carved, pottery, copper-smith crafts can be bought, Hotnishki Waterfalls…. Ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum, the powerful and majestic Roman town founded by Emperor Trayan around 101-106 in memory on his victory over Dacians is some 20 km away from Veliko Tarnovo, Monument of the Assenevtsi kings.

Tsarevets Fortress

Tsarevets Fortress is a fortification constructed on the exciting foundations of a structure attributed to the Byzantines dating from the 5th century. The Tsarevets Fortress became the center of Second Bulgarian Empire during the 12th century, which lasted from 1185 to 1393, to be invaded by the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century, in 1393 which determined the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo comprises the huge entrance gate, fortified King’s Palace, Throne Hall, the Royal Church, royal chambers, and the Baldwin’s Tower – defensive tower which guarded the gate and a water reservoir where, according to the legend, the Latin Emperor Baldwin I, one of the most prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade that captured the Constantinople found his end as prisoner.

Preobrazhenski (Holy Transfiguration) Monastery

Preobrajenski monastery was founded in the 11th century as convent of the Vatopedi Monastery in Mount Athos and played an important role in the spiritual and cultural life of the Veliko Tarnovo capital. During the 14th century the medieval monastery of Holy Transfiguration – Preobrajenski (situated some 300 meters to the south of the present one) was burned and destroyed – significant architectural and ceramic elements of it were discovered, as well as some fragments from wall paintings and remains from the Medieval church with a nave and narthex, strengthened with external supporting vaults because of the unstable surrounding grounds.

The present Transfiguration Monastery ensemble was developed during the 19th century. The church of “The Holy Transfiguration”, featuring unique architecture was created by two great master-builders from the period of Bulgarian Revival – Dimitar Sofianliata and Kolio Ficheto. The church of Preobrajenski Monastery has also remarkable art decoration, work of the outstanding Bulgarian painter Zahari Zograph dating back to the period 1849 – 1851, one of the masterpieces of Revival’s art. The woodcarving of the iconostasis, completed by masters from Triavna is of the same high value as the icons. The monks’ wings with spacious verandas are also built by Kolio Ficheto in his typical Revival’s style. The Transfiguration Monastery, erected 7 km from Veliko Turnovo in one of the picturesque gorges of the Yantra River, is a masterpiece of another age and of different principles in architecture and art.