Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo Renovating Historic Train Station to Make Trapesitsa Fortress Accessible for Tourists
The city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria is about to complete the renovation of the Trapesitsa Train Station, a historic place which is also the key to making the Trapesitsa Fortress, one of the two citadels (together with the Tsarevets Hill Fortress) of the late medieval Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad, accessible for tourists.
The reconstruction of the long dilapidated Trapesitsa Train Station started at the end of summer 2015, after Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov insisted on it before Bulgaria’s Transport Ministry, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality has said in a statement.
The renovation is being performed by Bulgaria’s National Railroad Infrastructure Company, a state-owned enterprise. It is supported to restore the original appearance and functions of the Trapesitsa Train Station from 108 ago.
The Trapesitsa Train Station is a historic place in itself. This is where on September 22, 1908, celebrated today’s as Bulgaria’s Independence Day, then Bulgarian ruler Knyaz (King) Ferdinand I (r. 1887-1918) arrived in order to reach the medieval Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church located nearby.
After Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 recognized by Europe’s Great Powers under the Berlin Treaty, Bulgaria was not fully independent; the so called Principality of Bulgaria was autonomous within the Ottoman Empire.
After in the early fall of 1908, Austria-Hungary decided to violate the Berlin Treaty by continuing its occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which had been leased to it back in 1878 for a period of 30 years), the Bulgarian government took advantage of the situation and declared the independence of Bulgaria as a Tsardom (technically meaning an “empire”, a successor to the medieval Bulgarian Empire), and upgraded Ferdinand’s title to “Tsar” (i.e. “emperor”).
The Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church is known for a victory inscription of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD) from the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) and for housing the grave of Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD).
This is why in 1908, Knyaz (King) Ferdinand I arrived at the Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church in the late medieval Bulgarian capital Veliko Tarnovo (Tarnovgrad) in order to pronounce there a declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire.
In addition to this historic significance of the Trapesitsa Train Station, it is also supposed to become the starting point from which tourists visiting the soon to be partly restored Trapesitsa Hill Fortress will begin their tours.
The train station is going to be fully reconstructed within weeks. The first station of the funicular, i.e. a cable railway with which tourists will climb up to the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, has already been constructed.
Once the renovation is completed, the Trapesitsa Train Station will not only become fully operational once again but it will also be granted the status of a monument of culture of national importance.
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, is being carried out by Veliko Tarnovo Municipality with EUR 1.2 million donated by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation of the government of Azerbaijan.
The project for the partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress has been criticized by independent journalists because of the human rights and media freedom record of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.
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.
For example, archaeologist Deyan Rabovyanov and his colleague Plamen Doychev created a 3D model of the southernmost residential quarter of Trapesitsa from the end of the 14th century.
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.