Bulgaria to Restore Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Medieval Capital Veliko Tarnovo with Funding from Azerbaijan despite Criticism

The Trapesitsa Hill, one of the two inner city citadels of Tarnovgrad (today's Veliko Tarnovo), capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Photo: Veliko-Tarnovo.net

The Trapesitsa Hill, one of the two inner city citadels of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Photo: Veliko-Tarnovo.net

Despite public criticism Bulgaria’s government has accepted major founding from Azerbaijan‘s government foundation for the restoration of some of the archaeological structures on the Trapesitsa Hill, which together with the Tsarevets Hill is one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD).

The funding of EUR 1.2 million for the restoration of the fortress, palace, and churches on the Trapesitsa Hill in Veliko Tarnovo is a donation from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, which is named after the late President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev (1923-2003; in office 1993-2003), the father of current President Ilahm Aliyev.

During his visit to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on Friday, June 12, 2015, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has thanked in person Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev for the funding for the Trapesitsa Fortress, reports Bulgaria‘s government press service, while also seeking to secure natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan, which have been long-anticipated as an alternative to Russia’s monopoly as the only foreign natural gas supplier for Bulgaria.

The agreement for the Azerbaijani donation was signed in the presence of Borisov and Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Elchin Efendiev in Sofia on May 26, 2015, by Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Vezhdi Rashidov, Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov, and Anar Alakbarov, CEO of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (middle) shaking hands with Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Elchin Afendiyev at the signing of the intergovernmental agreement for the Azerbaijani donation for the archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill in Bulgaria's Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: Bulgarian Cabinet's press service

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (middle) shaking hands with Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Elchin Afendiyev at the signing of the intergovernmental agreement for the Azerbaijani donation for the archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: Bulgarian Cabinet’s press service

The Bulgarian government has been criticized by independent Bulgarian journalists for accepting the funding from the government foundation of Azerbaijan because of the human rights and media freedom record of the administration of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Just several days before the signing of the contract for the Azerbaijani donation for the restoration of the archaeological structures on the Trapesitsa Hill in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo, the Bulgarian government refused to grant political asylum to Emin Ahmedbekov, a former political prisoner and opposition journalist from Azerbaijan, and his family, reports Bivol.bg, Bulgarias most respected investigative journalism site in recent years.

The President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation is Mehriban Aliyeva, the First Lady of Azerbaijan. The foundation has sponsored several projects in Western Europe including renovations at the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles, an EUR 40,000 donation for stained-glass windows in France‘s Strasbourg Cathedral, and an EUR 50,000 donation for the reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace in Germany.

The EUR 1.2 million in funding from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation will be utilized by the Bulgarian government for the restoration of the western part of the Trapesitsa Hill, including the reconstruction of three medieval Bulgarian churches, and for the creation of a museum which will exhibit the archaeological artifacts discovered there during the recent excavations.

The funding from the Azerbaijani government for the archaeological restorations on the Trapesitsa Hill has been praised in the city of Veliko Tarnovo, especially by the Mayor Daniel Panov, who has told the media that his municipal administration had approached the central government in Sofia with draft projects for establishing Trapesitsa as a cultural tourism destination (the other citadel of Veliko Tarnovo, the Tsarevets Hill, was restored between 1930 and 1980), and that the Bulgarian government managed to secure the funding from Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

During the visit of the foundation’s CEO Anar Alakbarov to Veliko Tarnovo in May 2015, the Municipality welcomed the Azerbaijani delegation with a historical reenactment performance.

A historical reenactment performance in Bulgaria's Veliko Tarnovo welcomed the Azerbaijani delegation from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in May 2015. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

A historical reenactment performance in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo welcomed the Azerbaijani delegation from the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in May 2015. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

Background Infonotes:

The Trapesitsa Hill is one of two main fortified historic hills in the medieval city of Tarnovgrad, today’s Veliko Tarnovo, in Central Northern Bulgaria, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1396 AD. Together with the Tsarevets Hill, Trapesitsa was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo). The Trapesitsa Hill is a natural fortress on the right bank of the Yantra River, and is surrounded by it on three sides. It is located northwest of the Tsarevets Hill. The Trapesitsa Fortress had four gates, the main one being its southern gate, which was also connected with the Tsarevets Fortress with a bridge across the Yantra River. There are two hypotheses about Trapesitsa’s name. The first one is that it comes from the Bulgarian word “trapeza" meaning a “table" or “repast", possibly referring to the receptions of the medieval Bulgarian Tsars; the second hypothesis is that the word comes from “trapezium" because the hill is in fact is a trapezoidal plateau.

The first archaeological excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo between 1884 and 1900 revealed the foundations of 17 medieval Bulgarian churches with fragments of rich murals, colorful mosaics, and beautiful floor tiles. The documented artifacts discovered there include crosses, necklaces, coins, rings, earrings, vessels. The churches on Trapesitsa were richly decorated with various architectural forms such as pilasters, niches, blind arches, colored slabs, among others.

The largest preserved church on the Trapesitsa Hill known as “Church No. 8" is named after the 10th century AD Bulgarian saint, St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila) (876-946 AD); it was surrounded with other buildings which are believed to have been part of a monastery complex. It is known that in 1195 AD, Bulgaria’s Tsar Asen I (r. 1189-1196 AD) transported the relics of St. Ivan Rilski from the city of Sredets (today’s Sofia) to Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), and had them placed in the specially constructed church on the Trapesitsa Hill. The Bulgarian archaeologists believe that a room in the southern part of Church No. 8 was the reliquary for St. Ivan Rilski’s relics. The relics of St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila), who is Bulgaria’s patron saint, were kept in Veliko Tarnovo until 1469 AD when they were transported to the Rila Monastery where they are kept to this day in what became a major event for the Bulgarians during the early period of the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), as the Second Bulgarian Empire had been conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1396 AD. The numerous and richly decorated small churches indicate that the Trapesitsa Hill harbored the homes of the medieval Bulgarian nobility, the boyars, and the supreme clergy. More recent excavations, however, also indicate that the imperial palace of the early Bulgarian Tsars from the House of Asen (the Asen Dynasty, r. 1185-1257 AD) was in fact located on the Trapesitsa Hill, and the imperial seat was possibly moved to the nearby Tsarevets Hill only later, during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD). In the recent years, the Trapesitsa Hill has been excavated by Prof. Konstantin Totev from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and by Prof. Hitko Vatchev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.