Restoration of Trapesitsa Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo Features Interactive Exhibition Center
The ongoing project for the partial archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress in the city of Veliko Tarnovo, the modern-day successor of the medieval Bulgarian capital Tarvnograd, has provided for the construction of an interactive exhibition center.
Together with the neighboring Tsarevets Hill Fortress, the Trapesitsa Fortress was one of the two citadels of medieval Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) for 208 years – between 1185 and 1393.
The present archaeological restoration of the Trapesitsa Fortress in the city of Veliko Tarnovo is being carried out by Veliko Tarnovo Municipality with EUR 1.2 million donated 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.
The Trapesitsa restoration project has nonetheless been welcomed by the Bulgarian authorities.
It already features an interactive exhibition center which is to present the history of medieval Tarnovgrad and the Second Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality has announced.
The nearly completed center and the virtual “time travel” opportunities that it provides using latest equipment have been inspected by Veliko Tarnovo Mayor Daniel Panov, the Municipality says.
It has also announced that under the restoration project, part of the northern fortress wall of Trapesitsa and three medieval churches have already been restored.
The project has also provided for the construction of nearly 1 km of walking alleys between the southern tower of Trapesitsa, the churches, and the upper station of the the funicular (cable railway). The cable railway itself connects the fortress with the recently renovated historic Trapesitsa Train Station situated at the foot of the hill.
A team of Bulgaria’s Road Infrastructure Agency has inspected the Trapesitsa Hill after it was alerted by Veliko Tarnovo Municipality about the need to reinforce its slopes in order to prevent landslides on the road connecting Veliko Tarnovo to its Asenov Quarter and the nearby town of Arbanasi.
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.