Archaeologists Show 3D Model of 14th Century Residential Quarter of Trapesitsa Fortress in Capital of Second Bulgarian Empire Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo)
A 3D model of a residential quarter from the 14th century AD in the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, 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, has been made by two archaeologists.
Together with the Tsarevets Hill, Trapesitsa was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo).
The 3D model presents the southernmost residential quarter of the Trapesitsa Fortress the way it looked in 1370-1390 AD, shortly before the invading Ottoman Turks conquered the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1393 AD, destroying the city and slaughtering its population.
The model, which is based on the findings from several years of archaeological excavations on an area of 2 decares (0.5 acres), has been authored by archaeologist Deyan Rabovyanov from the the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia, and has been produced by his colleague Plamen Doychev, reports the local daily Borba.
“This was a typical residential quarter with a diverse population. Over the past few years we found buildings with an area of about 20-25 square meters as well as two-story buildings with an area of 180 square meters,” Rabovyanov is quoted as saying.
“This quarter had poor population, it had priests who marked their expensive household vessels with graffiti inscriptions, it also had merchants and craftsmen whose presence we have registered thanks to the finding of artifacts from bones, textile, precious metals,” adds the archaeologist who has been excavating the site for 8 years.
Rabovyanov started excavating the southern section of the Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo at the request of late Prof. Rasho Rashev, the then head of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology who perished in a tragic train fire in 2008.
“The quarter was too densely populated and highly overdeveloped. This [development] occurred over a period of about 100 years, in 2-3 generations. This place had only two large buildings at the beginning of the 13th century AD (i.e. after the Second Bulgarian Empire was formed in 1185 AD – editor’s note) when the development of Trapesitsa began. At the end of the 14th century, the Trapesitsa Hill was already the second core of the city after the Tsarevets Hill,” he explains.
Rabovyanov points out that at the very end of the 14th century AD, i.e. at the time of the conquest by the Ottoman Turks around 1393 AD, all signs of life on the Trapesitsa Hill completely disappeared.
His archaeological excavations have provided evidence that the population of the Trapesitsa Fortress left with all of their household belongings. Some of the families even dismantled their houses and took the construction materials with them.
The archaeologist presumes that this expatriation of the population of the then Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo) might have been forced by the Ottoman Turkish conquerors, who are known from historical records to have massacred many people in the city in 1393, including its 110 top aristocrats.
“The 3D reconstruction is fully authentic. It was made based on our excavations on Trapesitsa, on the research of other similar medieval cities in Bulgaria, and even on the excavations of Byzantine cities,” says Deyan Rabovyanov who authored the project.
The 3D model itself was produced by Plamen Doychev, a Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”.
During the 2015 summer excavations of the southernmost residential quarter on the Trapesitsa Hill, Rabovyanov, aided by Doychev, worked on completing the excavations of a large building discovered there in 2014.
The building in question has an area of 160 square meters, and is huge in comparison to the other buildings nearby; it is the largest structure in the residential quarter.
It is believed to have been a commercial building judging not only by its size but also because of its complex architecture, and the fact that it had four entrances, and three main halls with smaller rooms inside them.
What is more, Rabovyanov’s team has also researched in full another large building located to the west of the first one, with an area of 60 square meters.
During the 2015 digs the archaeologists have found a total of over 300 artifacts in Trapesitsa’s southernmost quarter. These include coins, remnants of clothing, household items, and some armaments.
They have also studied a 60-meter section of the fortress wall with a tower and a small gate originally built for military purposes but later walled up.
During their digs in 2014 and 2015, Rabovyanov’s team has also unearthed the necropolis of the residential quarter in the south of Trapesitsa; unfortunately, for lack of funding, they have managed to excavate only 15 graves, including richer funerals whose inventories included remains of gold-lace textiles.
Depending on the allocated government funding, Rabovyanov plans to continue the excavations of the necropolis in 2016.
“This year I worked with only BGN 10,000 (app. EUR 5,100) which was extremely insufficient. We worked for a short period of time but still achieved some results. Most of all, we’ve managed to conserve the structures on the spot,” says the archaeologist.
“This site has given me a lot in the past 8 years in terms of both research material, and [information] about the history of Trapesitsa. We have excavated 2 decares (app. 0.5 acres) from the area of the hill. This is an area between the street and the fortress wall which provides the all-out medieval chronology of the site evidenced by almost 3,500 coins. We have collects a huge amount of archaeological materials which we are yet to study, and document so that it can be of use for archaeologists,” Rabovyanov sums up.
His research also covers the earlier periods in the history of Trapesitsa, namely, the Prehistory and the time of Ancient Thrace which have been neglected in the past because of the rich history during the Middle Ages when it was one of the two citadels of Tarnovgrad, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Also check out our other recent stories about the archaeological discoveries and developments connected with the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress and Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo:
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 Fortress has been excavated by Assoc. Prof. Konstantin Dochev, Prof. Konstantin Totev, Assoc. Prof. Mirko Robov, and Assist. Prof. Deyan Rabovyanov, all of them 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.