The Royal City - Veliko Turnovo

The royal city of Veliko Turnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1187-1393) is situated on three hills - Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora. These are circled by the deep cutting Yantra River above whose magnificent gorges sheer rocks rise into the sky. Perched one above the other on the rocks the houses reach right down to the riverbank.

Tsarevets Hill is a natural inaccessible fortress where the royal palace, the patriarchate and a multitude of small cross-domed churches, were built .The fortress walls were up to 12m high and 3 m thick. The basic fortress elements determining its silhouette have been restored today. The remaining archaeological finds are displayed as originally discovered: the foundations of numerous residential and administrative buildings that were part of the royal court, churches and streets provide an image of the former appearance of Turnovgrad's main fortress. A central place is occupied by the ruins of the royal palace erected on three terraces owing to the rocky terrain.

Baldwin's Tower in the hill's south-eastern part, commemorating the victory of the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan over the knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1205, was restored in 1930-1932.

The so-called "Execution rock" from which traitors were pushed into the river, rises high above the Yantra to the north. The Holy Ascension patriarchal church has been re-erected on top of the hill.

It contains murals painted by contemporary Bulgarian artist Teofan Sokerov, which reflect the historic and spiritual growth of the Bulgarian nation.

Trapezitsa Hill rises on the opposite bank of the Yantra River. Remains of fortress walls, embrasures, towers and fortified gates have been discovered here. The hill housed the residences of boyars and some public buildings, churches above all.

The homes of the urban population were located at the foot of the two hills, outside the fortress walls and near the river. Several medieval churches dating from the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom have been preserved in the Assenev quarter. The St. Dimiter of Salonika church has a sculptured and picturesque exterior with brick decorations. Besides being the city's oldest church, it is also one of the earliest examples of the Turnovo School of architecture and painting. It was here that the boyar brothers Assen and Peter declared the uprising for Bulgaria's liberation from Byzantine domination in 1185. The church has been reconstructed and the murals have been conserved. The Holy 40 Martyrs church was built in honour of Tsar Assen II who defeated the feudal lord Teodor Komnin in 1230. The church preserved the oldest Biblical calendar in the Eastern Orthodox world, along with the in-built columns of Khan Omourtag and of Tsar Ivan Assen II - two of the few surviving written monuments of the Bulgarian mediaeval history.

The Sts. Peter and Paul church, also with a spiking brick-decorated facade, was built during the second half of the 13th century, and painted during the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries. The murals depicting Biblical scenes carry the clear mark of the Turnovo School of painting - one of the most impressive ones in the Eastern Orthodox world, questing for the portrait and psychological individuality of the figures.

From the 12th to 14th c. Sveta Gora Hill was the country's spiritual and cultural centre. The Turnovo School of literature and painting gave the world the Manassiev Chronicle and the Tetraevangelia of Tsar Ivan Alexander. Its traditions have a significant and lasting influence on the whole of south-eastern Europe.

Besides being a medieval capital, Turnovo was also a National Revival city. Its 18th-19th century houses seem to grow right out of the steep slopes flanking the river and crowning them with their gables and overhanging eaves. Gurko Street provides a fine example of an architectural ensemble.

This is where you will find the Granny Mota and Anna Harieva houses, as well as the large Sarafkina House, whose salon runs across both floors (it now houses the 19th Century Turnovo Lifestyle exhibition). Turnovo is also the place of one of the finest architectural achievements of the self-taught Master Builder Kolyu Ficheto - the foremost representative of Bulgarian National Revival monumental architecture and building. He revived and ennobled mediaeval traditions with new elements, conforming to the terrain and construction materials. His works include the parish churches the first of which - St. Nikola - was begun by another master, Ivan Davdada to be precise, and completed by Kolyu Ficheto in 1836.

Followed the churches Sts. Cyril and Methodius (1860-1861), St. Spas (1862-1863), and Sts. Constantine and Helena (1872-1874), the latter being one of the most impressive and representative Turnovo churches in whose monumental structures elements of urban architecture are skillfully imbued. Kolyu Ficheto also built the Konak (1872), the former town hall of the Turkish administration (now housing the National Revival and Constituent Assembly exposition), the House with the Monkey at Vustanicheska Street, as well as Hadji Nikola (1858). The rooms on its two top floors where travelers were accommodated, are linked by open verandas galleries whose vaulted arches above the capitals are visible from the opposite bank of the Yantra River (the building now houses the National Revival and Ethnography exhibition).

Brought back to life in Turnovo are also the Samovodene Market Place with its attractive small workshops where master goldsmiths, potters, carvers, weavers and pastry cooks still pursue their crafts, and the old photo studio.

Veliko Turnovo is more than just a beautiful city surrounded by magnificent scenery. It is a city that is destined to survive.