Madara Horseman, Basarabovski Monastery Unveiled in Scale Models Museum Park in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

Madara Horseman, Basarabovski Monastery Unveiled in Scale Models Museum Park in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo

The newly presented model of the Madara Horseman, an Ancient Bulgar rock relief, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: Veliko Tarnovo Municipality

The “Tarnovgrad – the Spirit of Millennial Bulgaria” Museum Park in the city of Veliko Tarnovo in Central North Bulgaria, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422), has unveiled two new models of Bulgarian landmarks: the Madara Horseman and the Basarabovski Monastery.

This has brought the total number of scale models of Bulgarian archaeological, historical, and cultural landmarks in the museum park to 62, Veliko Tarnovo Municipality has announced.

The Ancient Bulgar Madara Horseman relief near Shumen is Europe’s only rock relief from the Early Middle Ages, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The St. Dimitriy Basarabovski rock monastery, more commonly known as Basarabovski Monastery / Basarabovo Monastery, is a landmark located near the town of Basarabovo, and the Danube city of Ruse.

The two new additions to Veliko Tarnovo’s scale models park are the first scale models to be produced in the museum’s very own workshop, rather than in Ukraine, as was the case with the previous models.

The Madara Horseman and Basarabovski Monastery models each took about four months to build, with the latter model presenting in minor details the dining room, the icons, and the cave mausoleum of the Basarabovski Monastery.

The Tarnovgrad scale model Museum Park is going to unveil a few more scale models of Bulgarian landmarks, including the Dryanovo Monastery, the Ivanovo Rock Churches, and others.

Veliko Tarnovo is already home to a large number of cultural tourism spots, including the Tsarevets Hill Fortress and the Trapesitsa Hill Fortress, the two citadels of medieval Tarnovgrad, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396/1422) from 1185 until 1393.

In April, the scale models park in Veliko Tarnovo welcomed its 10,000th visitor, and in the May 2018 edition of the European Night of Museums, it received over 5,000 visitors in 3 hours.

The Museum Park in Veliko Tarnovo was opened in September 2017 with a total of 43 scale models scaled down to 1:25. (The only exception is the model of the Tsarevets Fortress which is scaled down to 1:70.)

It is situated at the foot of the Tsarevets Hill, southeast of the fortress wall of the Tsarevets Hill Fortress and the famous Baldwin’s Tower, in the so called Frenkhisar, or the “Frankish Quarter”, of medieval Tarnovgrad.

The newly unveiled scale model of the St. Dimitriy Basarabovski rock monastery near the Danube city of Ruse. Photos: Veliko Tarnovo Municipality

The previously existing models of landmarks in the Tarnovgrad Museum Park in Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo include:

The Bachkovo Monastery;

The Rila Monastery;

The Euxinograd Palace on the Black Sea coast which is a residence of the Bulgarian government;

The Dormition of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) Church in Gabrovo;

The Tsarska Bistritsa Palace, a former royal family residence, located near the Borovets Resort in the Rila Mountain;

The Antiquity Theater and the Ancient Roman aqueduct of ancient Philipopolis in today’s Plovdiv;

The St. Sophia Church and the Christ Pantokrator Church in the Black Sea town of Nessebar;

The Kaliakra Fortress on the Black Sea Cape of Kaliakra;

The Palace at the Botanical Garden in the Black Sea town of Balchik;

The Bridge on the Yantra River near the town of Byala built by self-taught 19th century Bulgarian architect Nikola Fichev (aka Kolyo Ficheto);

Asen’s Fortress in the southern town of Asenovgrad;

The Baba Vida Fortress in the Danube city of Vidin;

The Belogradchik Fortress in the northwestern town of Belogradchik;

The Devil’s Bridge on the Arda River near the town of Ardino in the Rhodope Mountains;

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in downtown Sofia;

The Russian church St. Nikolay in downtown Sofia;

The building of the Bulgarian Parliament in downtown Sofia;

The Cathedral of the Shipka Monastery near Kazanlak;

The Monument of Freedom dedicated to the Shipka Pass Battle of 1877 (during the Russian – Turkish War of 1877 – 1878 which ultimately resulted in Bulgaria’s partial liberation from the Ottoman Empire);

The 15th century Kadin Bridge (Kadin Most) over the Struma River located near the town of Nevestino, Kyustendil District;

The building of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in downtown Sofia;

The Pleven Panorama Museum, also known the Pleven Epopee of 1877, and the Monument of Russian General Mikhail Skobelev;

The Pobitite Kamani, known in English as the Stone Desert, a beautiful desert-like rock formation to the northwest of the Black Sea city of Varna;

The Dormition of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) Cathedral in the Black Sea city of Varna;

The Valley of Roses near the town of Kazanlak;

The Varna International Airport;

The Black Sea Port of Varna;

The Danube Port of Ruse;

The Bridge of Friendship, i.e. the first Modern Era bridge on the Danube connecting Bulgaria and Romania;

The Bansko Ski Resort;

The Holy Forty Martyrs’ Church in Veliko Tarnovo;

The Boris Denev Gallery of Arts in Veliko Tarnovo;

The Asenevtsi (Asen’s Dynasty) Monument in Veliko Tarnovo;

The Mother Bulgaria Monument in Veliko Tarnovo;

The Tsarevets Hill Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo.

The Church of Sveti Sedmochislenitsi (i.e. St. Cyril and St. Methodius and their five disciples) in Sofia;

The Holy Birth of the Mother of God (Virgin Mary) Cathedral in Veliko Tarnovo;

The Monument of the Holy Mother of God (Virgin Mary) in the city of Haskovo in Southern Bulgaria;

The Varna Railway Station;

The Plovdiv Railway Station;

The buildings from the Independence Square in Sofia (which include the Bulgarian Presidency, the Council of Ministers, and the offices of the National Assembly (Parliament);

A scale model of the Rila Monastery consisting of a total of five parts, including its 14th century Hrelyo’s battle tower, and the Birth of the Mother of God (Virgin Mary) Church

The Troyan Monastery;

The St. Cyril and St. Methodius Cathedral in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas;

The Banya Bashi Mosque in Sofia;

The National Gallery of Arts in Sofia, which is the former royal palace of the Tsars of the Third Bulgarian State, also known as the Tsardom of Bulgaria (1878 – 1944/46);

The Monument of the Defenders of Stara Zagora;

The Monument of the Founders of the Bulgarian State in Shumen.


Relevant Books on

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Bulgaria

Lonely Planet Romania & Bulgaria (Travel Guide)

Bulgaria History, Early Settlement and Empire: Pre-Bulgarian Civilizations, Communism, Society and Environment, Economy, Government and Politics

Cultural Tourism, 2nd Edition

The Middle Ages

Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity

The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age


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 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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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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