20 kg Gold Donated for Gilding Domes of Bulgaria’s Medieval Patriarchate Church in Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo

20 kg Gold Donated for Gilding Domes of Bulgaria’s Medieval Patriarchate Church in Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo

Top left: the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia with its gold domes; top right: the Shipka Monastery Cathedral in Central Bulgaria with its gold domes; bottom: the partly restored Tsarevets Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo with the towering restored late medieval church of the Bulgarian Patriarchate – soon to have its domes coated with gold as well. Photos: Wikipedia, Shipka Monastery

A donor has donated 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of gold to be used to gild the domes of the restored church of the medieval Bulgarian Patriarchate in the Tsarevets Hill Fortress in today’s Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185 – 1393.

Thus, the Ascension of Jesus Christ Church from the time of the High Middle Ages is going to become the third major Christian temple in Bulgaria to have golden domes – after the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, likely the most famous landmark of today’s Bulgarian capital Sofia, and the Birth of Christ Cathedral in the Shipka Monastery near the town of Kazanlak in Central Bulgaria.

The Tsarevets Hill Fortress was one of the two citadels (together with the recently restored Trapesitsa Hill Fortress) of the medieval city of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo), which was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) for 208 years (until 1393 when it was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks).

Managed by the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, the Tsarevets Fortress is Bulgaria’s only museum to be opened 365 days a year, and is one of the country’s most popular cultural tourism sites.

The medieval fortress wall and some of the buildings on the Tsarevets Hill in Veliko Tarnovo were partly restored between 1930 and 1981.

Unlike the Tsarevets Hill palace of the Tsars of the Second Bulgarian Empire, the Ascension of Jesus Christ church of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarchate from the same period was restored based on archaeological findings and images from medieval artifacts and books.

What was also the residence of the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchs in the 13th – 14th century towers at the highest point of the Tsarevets Hill. The entire Patriarchate complex has an area of about 3,000 square meters (appr. 32,300 square feet).

The main Church of the Bulgarian Patriarchate in the 13th-14th century, which was also the residence of the Patriarch in the Second Bulgarian Empire, occupies the highest point of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress. It was restored in 1981. Photo: Wikipedia

The projected look of the church of late medieval Bulgarian Patriarchate after the gilding of its domes. Photo: Borba daily

The Tsarevets Hill Fortres in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo was partly restored between 1930 and 1981. Photo: Wikipedia

The archaeological excavations of the Patriarchate in 1960 – 1965 discovered that it was a fortress in its ow right, with fortress walls, gates, and two fortress towers of its own.

The Ascension of Jesus Christ church itself is a three-nave, three-apse temple with a high bell tower, which was not a very common feature in church architecture in the Balkans at the time.

It was built in two stages – in the 13th and then in the 14th century. It was built on top of an Early Christian church date to the end of the 5th – beginning of the 6th century AD, i.e. the Early Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) period.

The church, as the rest of the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire Tarnovgrad, was destroyed in 1393 by the troops of Ottoman Turkish ruler Bayezid I (1389-1402) who conquered the city.

The church of the late medieval Bulgarian Patriarchate was fully restored in 1981 based on a project by architect Boyan Kuzupov. The murals were competed in 1985.

The project for gilding the domes of the Patriarchate Church in the Tsarevets Hill Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo has been presented together with two other cultural tourism projects by the “Asenevtsi” initiative committee – a local organization named after the Asen’s Dynasty (House of Asen – “Asenevtsi”), the founding dynasty of the Second Bulgarian Empire which ruled it in 1185 – 1257.

The other two projects provide for building a new bridge over the Yantra River to link the Tsarevets Fortress and the Monument of the House of Asen, and erecting an 18-meter tall monument of Tsar Ivaylo (r. 1277-1280), a popular usurper of the Bulgarian throne who led the most successful resistance against the constant raids of the Mongols (Tatars) of Bulgaria at the time.

After defeating the invadors from the Tatar Golden Horde to the norhteast, and usurping the throne in Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo), Ivaylo killed his predecessor, Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277) and married his widow. Tsar Ivaylo himself was ultimately deposed and killed after having to battle both the Mongols (Tatars) in the north, and the invading Byzantine forces in the south.

Part of the projects initiated by the Asenevtsi Committee in order to boost cultural tourism in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo have already been approved by the municipal territorial organization council, and their realization has been transferred to city Mayor Daniel Panov, local daily Borba reports.

The design of the projected monument of Tsar Ivaylo in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo which was first approved back in 1985. Photo: Borba daily

A donor who asked to remain anonymous has already donated a total of 20 kg (44 pounds) of gold to be used for gilding the domes of the late medieval Bulgarian Patriarchate Church in the Tsarevets Hill Fortress, Assoc. Prof. Simeon Zahariev, who is in charge of this particular project on behalf of the Asenevtsi Committee, has announced.

He has revealed that the gold-coating of the Tsarevets Church domes will be carried out by the same team who in recent years renewed the gold coating on the domes of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia and the Shipka Monastery Cathedral near Kazanlak.

The gilding of the domes is planned to take three months, and a special scaffolding is to be used for the purpose, Zahariev says.

The gilding itself is going to cost some BGN 600,000 (app. EUR 300,000; USD 378,000), with the funding having already been raised from other donors.

“The expert council on territorial organization has already approved this project, and it is only up to the mayor now to complete the remaining paperwork,” Zahariev says with respect to the dome gilding project.

“This is an initiative of patriotic Bulgarians. The donor is a producer of gold from Bulgaria. He doesn’t want to be announced but you that in Bulgaria gold is extracted in just a few places,” he explains.

In 2015 and 2016, possibly the same donor wishing to remain anonymous donated a large amount of gold and precious stones to the National Museum of History in Sofia for the creation of replicas of the crown of the Bulgarian Tsars (Emperors) and the crown of the Bulgarian Tsaritsas (Empresses) from the Second Bulgarian Empire. The original Tsars’ crown in question is known to have been made in the Vatican and presented to Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207 AD) by Papal emissaries on behalf of Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216 AD) in 1204 AD.

Bulgaria’s most famous church with gold domes is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, which was completed in 1912 but was consecrated only in 1924 because of Bulgaria’s national unification wars of 1912 – 1918 (the First Balkan War (1912 – 1913), the Second Balkan War (1913) and the First World War (1914 – 1918)).

The four gold-coated domes of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was designed in the so called Neo-Byzantine style, have a combined total area of 700 square meters (appr. 7,500 square feet).

The Shipka Monastery Cathedral is a Russian and Ukrainian style church with smaller domes. It was completed in 1902.

Both of these temples are connected with history of the Russian – Turkish War of 1877-1878, and Bulgaria’s Liberation from the Ottoman Empire.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is possibly Sofia’s most famous landmark. Photos: Wikipedia

The Shipka Monastery Cathedral stands on the southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains at the end of the Shipka Pass. Photos: Shipka Monastery

The project for a monument of Tsar Ivaylo, one of the most interesting, and controversial, rulers of the Second Bulgarian Empire who came to power after the so called Uprising of Ivaylo, is worth BGN 1.8 million (app. EUR 900,000; USD 1.13 million).

The sculptures of the monument were actually approved in 1985 but it was never built because of a military cable which passed through the said site.

“There is no problem with the erection of this monument anymore. It is planned for that particular spot because that was where the headquarters of Ivaylo was when he conquered the Tsarevets Fortress,” says Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Kanev, deputy dean of the History Department at Veliko Tarnovo University “St. Cyril and St. Methodius”.

The “good peasant Tsar” Ivaylo remains mostly clouded in mystery. According to some sources, Ivaylo was a peasant, a swineherd, who rose to the status of Tsar. However, according to some other modern-day hypotheses citing indirect evidence, he might have been a nobleman.

Ivaylo was especially favored by historiography during Bulgaria’s communist period when his Uprising was even termed “the first anti-feudal rebellion”, clearly an overstatement for ideological purposes.

“We must not deem him a “peasant” because he was not one. His personality has no match in world history because there was no other “person from the people” who became a Tsar. A century later there was a similar case in China, while William Wallace who led the Scots in their fight for independence from England was never crowned. A later similar figure is Russian rebel leader Yemelyan Pugachev who also was never crowned,” Kanev adds.

In his words, the project for Tsar Ivaylo’s future monument in Veliko Tarnovo was re-approved by the municipal authorities in 2016, and now an agreement has been reached with the heirs of Prof. Dimitar Daskalov, the deceased sculptor who designed the original statues for the monument back in the 1980s; his son, Lachezar Daskalov, is also a sculptor.

This means that the building of the monument is now in the hands of Veliko Tarnovo Municipality.

The largest of the three cultural tourism projects put forth by the Asenevtsi Committee is the construction of a bridge from the Tsarevets Hill fortress to the House of Asen Monument.

It is going to be 97 meters long, and 13.5 meters wide, crossing the Yantra River, and will be worth appr. BGN 8 million (appr. EUR 4 million; USD 5 million).

The projected look of the proposed bridge to connect the Tsarevets Hill and the existing Monument of the House of Asen over the Yantra River in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: Borba daily

Learn more about the Tsarevets Fortress and the Trapesitsa Fortress in the Background Infonotes below!


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Background Infonotes:

The Tsarevets 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 Trapesitsa Hill, Tsarevets was one of the two fortresses of the inner city acropolis of Tarnovgrad (Veliko Tarnovo). The Tsarevets Hill is a natural fortress on the left bank of the Yantra River, and is surrounded by it on all four sides with the exception of a small section to the southwest. It is located southeast of the Trapesitsa Hill. The Tsarevets Fortress had three gates, the main one being its southwestern gate. The name of Tsarevets stems from the word “tsar”, i.e. emperor.

The first settlement on the Tsarevets Hill in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo dates to the Late Chalcolithic (Aeneolithic, Copper Age), around 4,200 BC. The hill was also inhabited during the Bronze Age and Iron Age by the Ancient Thracians, and there have been hypothesis that it was the site of the legendary Ancient Thracian city Zikideva – even though a recent hypothesis claims that Zikideva was in fact located in the nearby fortress Rahovets. An Ancient Bulgar settlement was built on the Tsarevets Hill in the 9th century AD, during the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) which later grew into a city. The Tsarevets Hill rose to prominence as the center of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) in 1187, after the successful Uprising of Asen and Petar, later Tsar Asen I (r. 1190-1195 AD) and Tsar Petar IV (r. 1185-1197), who ruled as co-emperors, against the Byzantine Empire in 1185-1186 AD.

Thus, the construction of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress began in the 12th century AD. The total length of the Tsarevets Hill fortress wall is 1,1 km, and it reaches a height of 10 meters (on top of the natural defenses of the hill’s slopes) and a width of 2.4-3.6 meters. The most vulnerable point of the Tsarevets fortification was the southeast section with its gate; however, it was protected by the so called Baldwin’s Tower because it is known that after defeating the Crusader knights from the 3rd Crusade in the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 AD, the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan captured the Latin Emperor of Constantinople Baldwin of Flanders, and kept him captive in the tower for several months, until Baldwin’s death. The Baldwin’s Tower was restored in 1933 by Bulgarian archaeologist and architect Alexander Rashenov; the restored Baldwin’s Tower was modeled after the surviving fortress tower in another medieval Bulgarian city, the Cherven Fortress.

The medieval church of the Bulgarian Patriarchate is located in the center of the Tsarevets Hill. It is called the Church of the Ascension of God, and was restored in 1981. The church was known as the “mother of all Bulgarian churches”, and was part of a complex with a territory of 2,400 square meters. Right next to it are the ruins of the imperial palace of the monarchs from the Second Bulgarian Empire which had a territory of almost 3,000 square meters. Both the imperial palace and the Patriarchate’s complex were surrounded by fortress walls and protected by towers. The archaeological excavations on the Tsarevets Hill have revealed the foundations of a total of 470 residences which housed the high-ranking Bulgarian aristocracy, 23 churches and 4 urban monasteries as well as a medieval inn. In the northern-most point of the Tsarevets Hill there is a high cliff cape known as the Cliff of Executions which in the 12th-14th century AD was used for executing traitors by throwing them into the canyon of the Yantra River.

For some 200 years the medieval Tarnovgrad, also known as Tsarevgrad Tarnov (i.e. the Tsar’s City), together with its fortresses Tsarevets, Trapesitsa, and Momina Krepost (“Maiden’s Fortress”), also known as Devingrad (“Virgins’ Town”), rivaled Constantinople as the most important city in this part of Europe, with some of the most glorious and famous Bulgarian Tsars – Tsar Asen (r. 1190-1195), Tsar Petar (r. 1185-1197), Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197-1207), Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241), Tsar Konstantin Asen Tih (r. 1257-1277), Tsar Ivaylo (r. 1277-1280), Tsar Todor (Theodore) Svetoslav (r. 1300-1322), Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371), and Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) – ruling their empire from Tsarevets.

Tsarevets and the rest of Tarnovgrad had a tragic fate, however, after in 1393 AD, after a three-month siege, it became the first European capital to fall prey to the invading Ottoman Turks. This was somewhat of a logical outcome after the de facto feudal disintegration of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the second half of the 14th century. After Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD) lost his two eldest sons – Ivan in 1349 AD and Mihail in 1355 ADin battles with the Ottoman Turks, he failed to prevent a number of Bulgarian feudal lords from seceding, and on top of that divided the remainder of the Bulgarian Tsardom between his two surviving sons. His third son Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) received the smaller so called Vidin Tsardom, with the Danube city of Bdin (Vidin) as its capital, and his fourth son Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) received the rest, the so called Tarnovo Tsardom, with the capital proper of Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo). Just two decades later all Bulgarian lands, disunited and even warring among themselves, fell prey to the invading Ottoman Turks, ushering Bulgaria into five centuries of Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912), and signifying a practically irreversible loss of its former great power status.

As the last ruler of Tarnovgrad, Tsar Ivan Shishman was not in the capital at the time it was besieged by the forces of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I (r. 1389-1402 AD), its defense was led by the legendary Bulgarian Patriarch St. Euthymius (Evtimiy) of Tarnovo (ca. 1325-ca. 1402-1404 AD), the founder of the Tarnovo Literary School. After they conquered the Bulgarian capital on July 17, 1393, the Ottoman Turks slaughtered its population – an especially dramatic scene was the beheading of 110 captured Bulgarian aristocrats, and razed to the ground the Bulgarian imperial palace and the churches and monasteries of the Bulgarian Patriarchate. Tsarevets and Veliko Tarnovo were liberated from the Turks in the summer of 1877 in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878 that restored the Bulgarian state.

The archaeological restoration of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress began in 1930 and was completed in 1981, the year that was celebrated, now somewhat questionably, as the 1300th anniversary since the founding of the Bulgarian state. Tourists visiting Tsarevets can view the so called “Sound and Light” audiovisual show, an attraction using lasers and music to tell the story of the medieval Bulgarian Empire as well as Bulgaria’s fight for freedom against the Ottoman Empire, and the story of Bulgaria’s National Liberation. It was first launched in 1985 for the 800th anniversary since the Uprising of Asen and Petar. The Tsarevets Fortress was granted a protected status by the Bulgarian government for the first time in 1927, and in 1964 it was declared a “monument of culture of national importance”.


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.




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