14th Century Blacksmith’s Workshop with Kilns Found at Tsarevets Fortress in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

The newly discovered blacksmith’s workshop at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo dates to the end of the 14th century, i.e. the last decades of the Second Bulgarian Empire before it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Photo: archaeologist Konstantin Totev

A blacksmith’s workshop with two kilns dating back to the 14th century AD has been discovered by archaeologists at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress in today’s Veliko Tarnovo, the successor of the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185 – 1393.

The blacksmith’s workshop has been found during archaeological excavations to the south of the medieval Great Lavra monastery complex at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill.

It dates back to the late 14th century, i.e. the period shortly before medieval Tarnovgrad (today’s Veliko Tarnovo) and all rump states of the Second Bulgarian Empire were conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks.

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.

Nowadays, the Tsarevets Fortress is Bulgaria’s most popular cultural tourism museum landmark and the only one open for tourists 365 days a year

The more than 600-year-old blacksmith’s workshop has been found by a team lead by Prof. Konstantin Totev from the Veliko Tarnovo Branch of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, and Dr. Evgeni Dermendzhiev from the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History.

They have been excavating the site which also lies not far from the 13th century Holy Forty Martyrs Church, a symbolic monument for the height of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the first half of the 13th century.

“We’ve come across a residence and a blacksmith’s workshop with at least two kilns for iron processing. They are from the late 14th century," Totev has told the 24 Chasa daily.

“The blacksmith’s workshop is 3 meters (9 feet) wide and 4 meters (12 feet) long. Part of the floor, the walls, and a working table’s top have been preserved. One of the kilns is perfectly preserved. The other seems to have been refashioned. Both we used for processing iron," he explains.

Totev’s team is seeking a staircase that was used for supplying water to the Tsarevets Hill Fortress.

The site under excavation spans an area from a fortress wall built in the Byzantine period (when Bulgaria was part of Byzantium in 1018 – 1185) to the Yantra River, which circumvents the Tsarevets Hill on three sides.

Ruins of craftsmen’s workshops have also been during previous excavations in the area at the foot of the Tsarevets Fortress.

The 2018 excavations there are funded with BGN 8,000 (EUR 4,000) by Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

A panorama view of the Tsarevets Fortress, one of the citadels of the late medieval Bulgarian capital Tarnovgrad, today’s Veliko Tarnovo. Photo: Wikipedia

Archaeologist Konstantin Totev has revealed upcoming rescue excavations of a medieval Bulgarian church turned into a bathhouse in the early Ottoman period.

The church in question was discovered back in 1992 but its research was frozen because of large-scale digs at the nearly Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church. Its ruins are threatened by a landslide starting above the Great Lavra monastery.

“We hypothesize that [this church] was a crypt of the [Great Lavra] monastery because of preserved murals. Later, at the end of the 14th – beginning of the 15th century, a bathhouse was built on top of it," the archaeologist explains.

“This structure has been damaged by the landslide but [we] are going to start work there after it is reinforced," he adds.

He notes that the entire area containing archaeological structures south of the Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church faces a drainage problem, and every time there are torrential rains, the medieval monuments are at risk.

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

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Background Infonotes:

The Tsarevets Hill is one of two main fortified historic hills in themedieval 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 AD – in 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".

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