Urvich Fortress – Sofia, Bulgaria

The fortress of Urvich is located some 20 km southeast of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. The medieval fortress there was built in the 9th-10th century by the First Bulgarian Empire, possibly as early as the reign of Khan (or kanas) Krum (r. 803-814 AD) who first conquered Sofia for Bulgaria in 805 AD, and was lated developed during the reign of Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD). It was first excavated in 1969 by Prof. Dimitar Ovcharov, father of Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov. Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov has resumed the excavations there in recent years. The Urvich archaeological site bears marks from different time periods – from the Roman Empire in the late Antiquity, Byzantium, the First Bulgarian Empire (680-1018 AD) and the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) to the Ottoman Empire. In Bulgarian culture and national memory it is mostly known as a site of heroic resistance against the Ottoman Turkish invaders in the second half of the 14th century by some of the last state leaders of medieval Bulgaria, defending the strategically vital city of Sredets (today’s Sofia).

As the Second Bulgarian Empire was being conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the late 14th century (Sofia was conquered in 1385 AD), the Urvich fortress was set on fire but was later rebuilt and used by the Ottoman Turkish invaders; the local monastery was also restored. The archaeological excavations at Urvich have unearthed murals from the St. Iliya (St. Elijah) Church and St. Iliya Monastery, and some of the frescoes have been shown to the public. It has also been emphasized that there is information about the monastery at Urvich in the first History of Bulgaria, the Slavic-Bulgarian History, compiled by the Bulgarian monk Paisiy Hilendarski in 1762 AD, which was the book that essentially laid the foundations of the modern-day Bulgarian nation leading to the so called period of Bulgarian National Revival (late 18th-19th century). There is evidence that the St. Iliya Church at the Urvich Monastery was restored in the 15-17th century.

Back in 2011, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov unveiled 18 gold coins found at Urvich which were minted by medieval Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371). They are believed to have been part of a legendary medieval Bulgarian treasure “treasure of the Shishman Dynasty”, which ruled Bulgaria from the ascension of Tsar Ivan Alexander to the throne in 1331 AD to the demise of his sons – Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371-1395) and Tsar Ivan Sratsimir (r. 1371-1396) in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. It is believed that sometime in 1371-1372 AD the last Tsar of Bulgaria Proper, Ivan Shishman, buried his treasure at the fortress of Urvich where his forces made a stand against the invading Ottoman Turkish forces fighting fierce battles during the 1370s and 1380s. The archaeologists believe that Tsar Ivan Shishman’s treasure really existed but that most of it has been snatched by treasure-hunters and that the 18 gold coins found at Urvich are everything that is left of it.

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Archaeology in Bulgaria. and Beyond