Medieval Byzantine, Bulgarian Fortress Tuida in Bulgaria’s Sliven Generating Growing Interest among Tourists

The ruins of the medieval fortress Tuida which were partly restored in 2014. Photo: Tuida Fortress

The Tuida Fortress in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven, a major archaeological, historica, and cultural landmark, is gaining popularity as a destination for cultural tourism even though it was opened for visitors just three years ago, according to a report.

The city of Sliven in Southeast Bulgaria is the successor of Tuida, originaly an Ancient Thracian settlement which grew into a Late Roman fortress, which was also used by the early Byzantine Empire and the medieval Bulgarian Empire.

The Roman fortress itself was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. The Tuida Fortress was in use between the 4th and the 13th century AD, and in the 6th century AD it was equipped with a secret passage.

The ruins of the Tuida Fortress itself were partly restored by Sliven Municipality back in December 2014 to promote cultural tourism.

The fortress was part of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine chain of fortifications built in the Late Antiquity along the Balkan Mountains designed to stop barbarian invasions.

“The fortress was discovered a while ago, in the 1960s. However, it had not been developed [as a cultural tourism site for visitors]," says its manager Maya Ivanova, as cited by the Bulgarian National Television.

Ivanova points out that the Tuida Fortress – whose true might is now presented with a model of what it used to look like on display in its yard – is still being researched further.

“The modern-day tourist is attracted by [experience] – what we present every day – the living history, being able to practice archery, to put on medieval attire," she adds.

One of the touristic attractions of the Tuida Fortress is Drako, a Harris’s hawk. The hawk has been part of the site’s team for 2 years now, and is a favorite for the tourists.

Ivanova notes the chronicle reports about the Ancient Bulgars saying that they were “born" on a horse, with a bow in hand, and that every one of them had a bird.

Drago the hawk has been trained to follow a guide as he takes tourists around the Tuida Fortress.

Drago the hawk is one of the attractions for the visitors of the Tuida Fortress. Photo: Tuida Fortress

One other advantage of Tuida as a tourism site is the fact that it boasts a beautiful view towards the Blue Stones natural park up in the Balkan Mountains above Sliven.

Among other things, the Tuida Fortress, which itself was in use as a fortress between the 4th and the 13th century AD, boasts a secret passage from the 6th century.

The passage is an arched tunnel leading from inside of the fortress to the bank of the Novoselska River, a tributary to the Tundzha River, outside the fortress walls.

The restoration of the Tuida Fortress in 2014 was part of a project for the restoration of three key medieval Bulgarian fortresses that were crucial for the defense of Bulgaria in the later years of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) – namely, Tuida in Sliven; the medieval Bulgarian fortress of Velbarzhd known in the Antiquity period as Pautalia, in today’s Western Bulgarian city of Kyustendil, and the Stipon Fortress in the Trajan’s Gate Pass near the southern Bulgarian town of Ihtiman (the Trayanovi Vrata Pass).

The project for the restoration of the fortresses Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (also called the Fortress of Trajan’s Gate Pass) was financed with EU funding and by the local municipalities of Sliven, Kyustendil, and Ihtiman, respectively, and was dedicated to the remembrance of the 1,000th year since the death of Bulgarian Tsar Samuil (r. 971/997-1014 AD) who defended Bulgaria for more than 40 years against the Byzantine Empire led by Emperor Basil II Boulgaroktonos, i.e. “the Bulgar-slayer" (r. 976-1025 AD).

Tsar Samuil of Bulgaria died, allegedly of a heart attack, in 1014 AD, after the Byzantine Emperor Basil II captured some 14,000 Bulgarian soldiers in the Battle of Belasitsa (Battle of Kleidion / Clidium) and blinded them. However, Tsar Samuil defended Bulgaria successfully against Byzantium for several decades. In the Battle of the Trajan’s Gate Pass in 986 AD his forces annihilated the entire Byzantine army, with Emperor Basil II himself barely escaping death.

The three fortresses of Tuida, Velbazhd (Pautalia), and Stipon (Trajan’s Gate Pass), which were key in Bulgaria’s defense under Tsar Samuil, are just a tiny percentage of the some 6,000 fortresses that existed in medieval Bulgaria, and most of which were razed to the ground by the invading Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century, and after that, during the Early Ottoman period.

Learn more about the Tuida Fortress in Bulgaria’s Sliven in the Background Infonotes below!

Background Infonotes:

Тhe Tuida Fortress is a Late Roman, Early Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian fortress located on the Hisarlaka Hill in the eastern Bulgarian city of Sliven.

It was first excavated in 1982 by archaeologists from the Sliven Regional Museum of History and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The archaeologists have discovered there remains of a Late Iron Age Ancient Thracian settlement (6th-1st century BC) which in the Roman period turned into a market place; a 2nd-4th century Thracian settlement is cited in written sources as Tuida, Suida, or Tsoida. The name is believed to be of Thracian origin, though its precise ethymology is still unclear.

The Tuida Fortress was built after the capital of the Roman Empire was moved from Rome to Constantinople in 325 AD. It is known to have had a secret tunnel built in the 6th century AD leading to the Novoselska River located to the west, a tributary of the Tundzha River.

The Tuida Fortress avoided destruction during the invasion of the Goths in 378 AD but was destroyed in the invasions of the Huns in the 5th century AD. It was rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Anastasius I (r. 491-518 AD), preserving but also enhancing the original architecture of the fortress. The Tuida Fortress was ultimately destroyed around 598-599 AD, most probably during an invasion of Avars and Slavs.

The territory around today’s Bulgarian city of Sliven was made part of Bulgaria, i.e. of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD), around 705 AD when Bulgarian Khan (or Kanas) Tervel gained the Zagore Region south of the Balkan Mountains after he helped Byzantine Emperor Justinian II the Slit-nosed (Rhinotmetos or Rhinotmetus) (r. 685-695 and 705-711 AD) regain his throne in Constantinople. Thus, a Bulgarian settlement, whose name remains unknown, was built on the place of the Tuida Fortress. A lead seal of Bulgarian Knyaz Boris I Mihail (r. 852-889 AD) has been found there.

The Bulgarians rebuilt the fortress walls and the aquaduct of Tuida, and erected new buildings inside the fortress that were covered with marble slabs produced by stone cutters in the then Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (“Great Preslav"). Several bricks with an Ancient Bulgar sign (resembling “|Y|") have been found there. Written sources indicated that Tuida was the seat of a bishop from the 4th century AD onwards.

After the original excavations of the Tuida Fortress first started in 1982, they were resumed in 2004. The archaeological finds there include, in addition to Knyaz Boris I’s lead seal, a number of iron tools, ceramic vessels, ornaments, coins, and bones from 14 species of wild and domesticated birds including Bonelli’s eagle (Aquila fasciata), western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), great bustard (Otis tarda), and common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

The archaeological excavations have revealed the fortress walls of Tuida, fortress towers and gates, remains of buildings, two marble pedestals dedicated to gods Apollo and Zeus which contain the name of the fortress as Tuida or Suida (known in written sources as Tsoida), a 3rd century AD inscription describing the settlement as a market place, a cult complex used between the 4th and the 13th century consisting of a three-nave one-apse Early Christian basilica and a unique baptistery decorated with murals and mosaics.

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