Bulgaria’s President Approves of Archaeological Restoration of Trapesitsa Fortress as Part of Controversial Azerbaijan-Sponsored Project
Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev has expressed approval of the ongoing archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress in the city Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) in the Middle Ages.
Plevneliev, who has paid a visit to the Trapesitsa Hill, which together with the Tsarevets Fortress was one of the two citadels of the medieval city of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), has been “pleasantly surprised” by the restoration and new tourist infrastructure in the fortress, in the wording of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality.
The Trapesitsa Fortress is presently being partly restored with EUR 1.2 million by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation of the government of Azerbaijan.
However, the partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill has been criticized by independent journalists because of the human rights and media freedom record of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
Bulgaria’s President Plevneliev has been taken around Trapesitsa by Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov, a chief proponent of the Azerbaijan-sponsored archaeological restoration project.
Plevneliev has been shown a historical presentation of the importance of the Trapesitsa Fortress for Tarnovgrad and the entire Second Bulgarian Empire which was prepared by archaeologists Mirko Robov and Ivan Tsarov, who is the Director of the Veliko Tarnovo Museum of History.
The archaeologists have pointed out that the archaeological exploration and excavations on the Trapesitsa Hill started at the beginning of the 20th century, and predated the excavations on the Tsarevets Hill.
Nowadays, the latter has been the more popular of the two citadels of Tarnovgrad largely because of the partial restoration of its fortress executed between 1930 and 1981.
President Plevneliev has seen first-hand the reconstruction of the northern fortress wall of Trapesitsa, and the construction of a special walking alley for visitors.
Veliko Tarnovo Municipality reminds that the Azerbaijani funding is being used for the restoration of the fortress wall and three churches, and the construction of exhibition space for the artifacts found in Trapesitsa.
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.
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.
The partial restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress was originally supposed to be completed before October 26, 2015, when Veliko Tarnovo and all of Bulgaria celebrated 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:
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.