Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo to Start Restoration of Trapesitsa Fortress with Funding from Azerbaijan in Controversial Project
The northern Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo is set to start the partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, which together with the Tsarevets Hill is one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), with funding from the government of Azerbaijan in a controversial project.
The work on the restoration of the archaeological structures on the Trapesitsa Hill is to begin in the second half of August 2015, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality has announced.
It is supposed to be completed before October 26, 2015, when Veliko Tarnovo and all of Bulgaria will celebrate the 830th anniversary since the Uprising of Tsar Asen I and Tsar Petar IV, which restored the Bulgarian state in 1185 AD, after it had been conquered by the Byzantine Empire in 1018 AD.
The partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress has become a criticized and controversial project precisely because it will be funded with EUR 1.2 million by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation of the government of Azerbaijan.
The Bulgarian government has been criticized by independent journalists for accepting a donation by the Foundation because of the human rights and media freedom record of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, while some NGOs have criticized the plans for the restoration of several archaeological structures over their “hastiness” and “lack of transparency”.
At the same time, however, the Azerbaijani government funding has been warmly welcomed by the administration of Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov. In its media release, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality even states that “the funding became possible after the impressive presentation about the historical fortress which Mayor Daniel Panov gave before Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev” during the official meeting between Aliyev and the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
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, Bulgaria’s 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.
“With the realization of the project, Veliko Tarnovo will have a new and attractive cultural and museum preserve which will be accessible for the residents and guests of the city,” states Veliko Tarnovo Municipality regarding the planned restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress with Azerbaijani funding.
The Azerbaijani-funded project provides for the restoration of a 400-meter section of the western fortress wall of Trapesitsa; building a 700-meter alley linking a panoramic elevator with the reconstructed southwestern gate of Trapesitsa leading to the Tsarevets Hill Fortress; setting up a museum and visitor center displaying archaeological artifacts found during the excavations; restoring and displaying three churches with preserved fragments of medieval murals and frescoes; rehabilitation of the road leading to the Trapesitsa Hill.
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.