TSAREVETS CITADEL

Tsarevets Tsarevets Tsarevets

Located in the Eastern part of VelikoTurnovo, the ruined Tsaravets Citadel, almost encircled by the river, was a great fortress sacked by the Turks in 1393. The Church of the Blessed Saviour at the top has been rebuilt. You can look down on the foundations of the ruined Royal Palace, home to 22 successive tsars. Execution Rock is a daunting bluff directly to the north, where traitors were once pushed into the Yantra River.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of Veliko Turnovo, and one of the major attractions in Bulgaria, is the Tsarevets Citadel, part of the Tsarevets Museum-reserve. The hill, located in the eastern part of VelikoTurnovo is a natural fortress: to the South, East and West it is surrounded by the Yantra River; a narrow and high neck connects the hill with the land. Tsarevets Hill, on which the fortress stands today, and the nearby Trapezitsa Hill, were inhabited by Tracians in 2000 BC. The Romans built the first fortress walls, and, in the 5th century AD, a Byzantine cytadel was established on Tsarevets Hill by Emperor Justinian. Next came the Slavs who captured the town in the 7th century and the fortress was rebuilt by Slavs and Bulgars between the 8th and 10th centuries, and again by the Byzantines in the early 12th century. The fortress reached its peak when, under the able leadership of the Bulgarian brothers Asen and Petur, Turnovgrad became a major centre of rebellion against the Byzantine rulers. After the subsequent foundation of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185), Turnovgrad became the second most important town in the region, after Constantinople, and trade and culture flourished for the next 200 years. The Byzantine chronicler Nikita Honiat had praised it as "the most beautiful town among all the towns along the Hemus".

Archaeologists have so far uncovered remains of over 400 houses, 18 churches and numerous monasteries, dwellings, shops, gates and towers. The outer walls of the fortress have been restored and all archaeological finds inside are displayed intact and exhibited as they were discovered. Central among them are the ruins of the royal palace with the Baldwin Tower and the patriarch's church. Many churches have been preserved as monuments of early medieval architecture and painting. It is advisable to arrange a guided tour in advance.

The sound & light show, not to be missed, illuminates the whole of Tsarevets Hill in a stunningly colourful display, accompanied by a stirring musical soundtrack. Designed to tell the history of Bulgaria through the ages, the sound & light show is a stunning sight, especially when viewed from the terrace of open-air seating opposite the entrance to the fortress. The show could take place on any day after dark and runs for about 20 minutes.


ARBANASSI

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Arbanassi, located just over two miles from Veliko Turnovo, was founded in the late 15th century by Christians coming from the South-western parts of the Balkan peninsula - Bulgarians, Greeks, Albanians. It was ruled by a number of decades by different Ottoman notables. By the mid 16th century it became property of Roustem pasha, the great vizir of the Ottoman Empire. The inhabitants of Arbanassi enjoyed privileges and paid reduced taxes, providing the safety of the pass nearby in return. Very soon the village prospered and brought new settlers. Seven churches were erected and richly decorated in the village. The wealthy Arbanassians travelled and traded not only in the vast Ottoman Empire, but also in many European countries. The diverse ethnical origin of the population, the trade contacts and the economic might were the main conditions for the formation of an original culture in Arbanassi. Unique are the architectural and artistic monuments which have came down to us - houses, streets, fountains, monasteries and churches, containing unique murals and icons. The monumental houses fairly resemble minor fortresses. The oldest church is the Birth of Christ (1637-1649) dug into the ground without a belfry hiding a magnificent fresco gallery with over 3,500 stunningly realistic figures and Biblical scenes, painted by unknown artists. Of the 80 preserved houses in this picturesque outdoor museum, 36 have been declared national monuments of culture.


ETURA

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This Architectural and Ethnographical Open Air Museum is situated on both banks of a clear mountain stream, a tributary of the Yantra River, at the foot of the Balkan Range at around 20 miles from Veliko Turnovo.
It first opened in September 1964 aiming to show a genuine Bulgarian mountain town during the Revival period from the late 19th century. Etura covers an area of 7 ha and features 50 different exhibits.


BOJENCI

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The 600 year old village, set in the folds of the Balkan, is located at 40 km from Veliko Turnovo. Today it is a favourite place among the artistic circles as a holiday retreat. With its tranquil atmosphere, nothing but fresh mountain air and quaint white-washed houses covered in seasonal flowers and roofed with heavy stone tiles, it feels that if time has stood still these past two centuries. The blacksmiths and craftsmen have shut their window shutters long time ago, but there is still a hearth burning in the mehana (local pub). High stone fences, oak doors, studded with nails, tiny cobblestone-paved lanes, stone fountains and bridges, as well as small shops create the incredible atmosphere of this cosy beautiful place. Here, one may find calm and quietness, getting into the far-off days of the past. A romantic place to visit throughout the year.


TRYAVNA

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The picturesque town Tryavna is hidden in the valleys of the central Balkan mountains along the river Tryavna. The earliest document testifying the existence of Tryavna, originate from the year 1565. The art of the Tryavna masters of wood carving is unique and splendid with its overwhelming fantasy and the perfect blend of floral and animal decorative elements. Traditions and people's everyday life is the main source of the abundant variations of patterns and details. With their skilful hands they transformed wood into wound vines, roses, sunflowers and singing birds. There are no less than 140 listed buildings in Tryavna.


ELENA

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Elena is a town in the Middle Balkan Range, 26 miles south-east of Veliko Turnovo. An old settlement founded in the 15th century, it was established in the 18th-19th centuries as a crafts, trade and educational centre. Several architectural ensembles, dating back to the Bulgarian National Revival and comprising about 130 old houses, have been preserved there. Wall-to-wall construction forms interesting street silhouettes. The houses have stone basements with white-washed or wooden walls of the upper floor with protruding bays above. The first class school, founded in 1848 and named Daskalolivnitsa where future teachers have been educated (nowadays a museum exhibition is arranged), has been preserved and also St. Nicholas Church (16th C., with valuable mural paintings, icons) and the Church of the Assumption, built entirely of stone (1837). On the highest elevation the town clock-tower (1812) raises with an antique clock mechanism.


NIKOPOLIS AD ISTRUM

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The City of Victory was founded by Emperor Trayan in honour of his victory over the Dacians in 102-106 A.D. It lasted until the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century - in that period the town was devastated by the invasions of the Avars and the Slavs.

As a result of the archaeological excavations and studies, which continued for not less than 100 years, many findings came to the surface: parts of the fortified system and its gates and towers, the street network of the city, the water supply and the sewerage systems, a great number of public and residential buildings. The visitor's route usually begins through the northern gate of the fortress, then continues along one of the main streets, and goes up the original stairs of the city square - and meanwhile the richly ornamented architectural details never cease to arouse their admiration. The building where the City Council held its sessions is particularly impressive. No-one could miss neither the little musical theatre, nor the open square with the limestone pedestals for the statues of the emperors, their wives and notable citizens, all of which have been preserved on their original places. More than hundred mounds of necropolises have been kept as well. A small lapidarium stores exhibits of tombstone architecture. The most interesting findings today occupy their rightful place in the Archaeological Museum in Veliko Turnovo.


PREOBRAJENSKI MONASTERY

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(the Monastery of the Transfiguration) sits in a scenic forest high in the crags, two miles north of Veliko Turnovo. Originally built in 1360, Preobrazhenski Monastery was destroyed by the Turks in the late 14th century, and rebuilt in 1825 about 500m from the original site. Finished in 1860, the monastery almost looks old enough to be medieval, with a canopy of vines strung over the spartan cells. Over the last decades repeated rock falls from the cliffs above have destroyed many of the monastery buildings, although the central Transfiguration church still stands and its south wall bears a remarkable painting of the Wheel of Life by the renowned Zahari Zograf. Getting to the monastery is relatively easy: a regular bus (No 10) stops by the turn-off at the main E85. A taxi from Veliko Turnovo will cost about ?1 one way.

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