The Yantra River has flooded the yard of the Holy Forty Martyrs Church located outside the walls of the Tsarevets Fortress, at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church, an early 13th century church in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo, which could probably be described as the most important temple in the Second Bulgarian Empire, has been almost flooded by the rising waters of the Yantra River, which engulfed the church yard.
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church is located at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill, outside of its fortress walls, close to the Yantra River that surrounds both medieval fortresses boosting their natural defenses.
The church was closed for visitors on Monday, June 3, 2019, after its yard had been flooded overnight by the rising waters of the Yantra River, the Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History, which manages the historic temple, has announced.
The nearly flooded 1230s church with the Tsarevets Hill Fortress in the background. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church was built by Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218 – 1241) to honor his victory at the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230 over Despot Teodore Comnenus (Komnenos) of the Despotate of Epirus, at the time the leading bidder to restore the Byzantine Empire (after its conquest by the Latin Empire knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1204).
On a column inside the church, Tsar Ivan Asen II left one of the most famous inscriptions from the time of the medieval Bulgarian Empire describing his victory over Teodore Comnenus and its ramifications.
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill also contains columns with inscriptions from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680 – 1018), namely a famous inscription by Khan Omurtag (r. 814 – 831) (best known in Bulgarian popular culture for the quote stating, “Even if a person lives well, he dies, and another one gets born"), and a border pillar from the Rodosto Fortress (today’s city of Tekirdag in Turkey) from the border between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire from the time of Omurtag’s father, Khan Krum (r. 803 – 814).
The 13th century Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church, whose full-fledged excavations by archaeologists began in 1969, is known for allegedly containing the grave of Tsar Kaloyan (r. 1197 – 1207), Tsar Ivan Asen II’s uncle.
The Holy Forty Martyrs Church was probably the single most important temple in the history of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Regional Museum of History
The discovery of Tsar Kaloyan’s grave was made in 1972 by archaeologist Valo Valov, who, however, himself disagreed that the grave belonged to the Tsar, and insisted instead that it was the grave of a 14th century nobleman.
Tsar Kaloyan’s grave was especially notable for the buried man’s massive gold ring weighing 61 grams, reading, “Kaloyan’s Ring", with the image of a snow leopard, seemingly a symbol of the House of Asen (Asen’s Dynasty, r. 1185 – 1259) of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The same depiction of a snow leopard was discovered on a seal in 1981 seen as further evidence of the image’s imperial status.
In the 13th – 14th century, the Holy Forty Martyrs Church in Tarnovgrad was the main church of the then Great Lavra Monastery lying at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill, outside its fortress walls, on the left bank of the Yantra River.
In 1908, because of its historic importance, the Holy Forty Martyrs Church in Veliko Tarnovo became the site of the Declaration of Independence of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire, with the ruler of the Third Bulgarian Tsardom, Ferdinand I (r. 1887 – 1918) formally re-assuming the title of “Tsar", i.e. Emperor, of the Bulgarians.
Because of the torrential rains in Central North Bulgaria, the waters of the Yantra River have risen to just 1 meter below its critical level, leading Veliko Tarnovo Municipality to call up an emergency meeting of officials and experts at 3 am in the morning, and to inspect the situation in the historic Asenov Quarter.
The rising river level in the region also affected the Dryanovo Monastery to the south where the waters of the Dryanovska River half-destroyed the so called “Wooden Bridge" that is very popular with tourists.
The Dryanovska River has almost destroyed a wooden bridge at the Dryanovo Monastery, Veliko Tarnovo District, in Central Bulgaria. Photo: Zhelyazko Velikov, Facebook