Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo Vows to Create ‘Authentic’ Restoration of Medieval Fortress Trapesitsa

A view of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress (partially restored between 1930 and 1981) as seen from the Trapesitsa Hill, with some of the ruins of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress visible in the foreground. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A view of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress (partially restored between 1930 and 1981) as seen from the Trapesitsa Hill, with some of the ruins of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress visible in the foreground. Photo: TV grab from BNT

The municipal administration of the northern Bulgarian city of Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) in the Middle Ages, has vowed to achieve an “authentic” restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress, which together with the Tsarevets Fortress was one of the two citadels of the medieval city.

The Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, which is one of the two citadels together with the Tsarevets Hill Fortress, of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD), is presently being partly restored.

However, the partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress has become a criticized and controversial project 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, the Azerbaijani government funding has been warmly welcomed by the administration of Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov.

Now, however, new doubts have arisen with respect to the restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress as a result of the controversy with the almost completed restoration of the ruins of the Ancient Thracian and Roman city of Serdica in the downtown of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. As a result of media publications, the Serdica project has been temporarily put on hold pending an approval by a newly assembled working group.

Yet, the administration of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, which has recently been granted the management rights for the Trapesitsa Fortress, has vowed to carry out a proper and authentic restoration of the second most important fortification in the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.

“The entire sum [of EUR 1.2 million] will be invested into the authentic restoration. The western fortress wall will be fully completed. It will be the starting point of a network of alleys making the entire site accessible for the tourists,” says Donka Koleva, an architect at Veliko Tarnovo Municipality, as quoted by the Bulgarian National Television.

She has promised that there will be no “botched restorations” at the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, and the future tourists will be able to enjoy an exciting cultural tourism site with a historically authentic landscape.

The recent archaeological excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill started in 2006, and since then the Bulgarian archaeologists have found there a total of 21 medieval churches, a monastery, and a set of civilian and military buildings.

According to archaeologist Mirko Robov, who has been working on Trapesitsa since 2006, he and his colleagues have done a proper job with the conservation of the newly exposed archaeological structures.

However, the “intermittent” government funding has created problems in this regard because it has oftentimes forced the experts to delay their conservation efforts.

“In the first three years, the [funding allocated for the Trapesitsa Fortress] was BGN 6.5 million (app. EUR 3.3 million). After that the funding was reduced tenfold,” Robov complains.

Conserved archaeological structures from the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Conserved archaeological structures from the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress. Photos: TV grabs from BNT

Trapesitsa 3 Trapesitsa 2 Trapesitsa 1

A view of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress (partially restored between 1930 and 1981) as seen from the Trapesitsa Hill, with some of the ruins of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress visible in the foreground. Photo: TV grab from BNT

A view of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress (partially restored between 1930 and 1981) as seen from the Trapesitsa Hill, with some of the ruins of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress visible in the foreground. Photo: TV grab from BNT

As the Trapesitsa Fortress is presently being partly restored, the archaeologists continue to excavate and research various sections of one of the two major strongholds inside the late medieval Bulgarian capital.

For example, archaeologist Deyan Rabovyanov and his colleague Plamen Doychev have just unveiled a 3D model of the southernmost residential quarter of Trapesitsa from the end of the 14th century.

The partial restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress was originally 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 restorations of ancient and medieval fortresses and castles, which are lavishly funded with EU money for the development of cultural tourism, have recently caused a heated public debate in Bulgaria over some cases of outrageously botched executions denigrating the historical monuments.

Also check out our other recent stories about the archaeological discoveries and developments connected with the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress and Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo:

Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo to Welcome Visitors as Cultural Tourism Site in 1 Year

Archaeologists Show 3D Model of 14th Century Residential Quarter of Trapesitsa Fortress in Capital of Second Bulgarian Empire Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo)

Archaeologist Discovers Early Byzantine Basilica in ‘Frankish Quarter’ of Medieval Bulgarian Capital Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo)

Archaeologists Find Silver Cross in Medieval Christian Necropolis in Trapesitsa Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

Archaeologist Uncovers 13th Century Monastery Dining Room in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo to Start Restoration of Trapesitsa Fortress with Funding from Azerbaijan in Controversial Project

Bulgaria’s Cabinet Grants Veliko Tarnovo Municipality Management Rights for Trapesitsa Hill Fortress ahead of Restoration

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

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.