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Veliko Tarnovo: The Soul of Bulgaria, the Spirit of Europe

The medieval city of Veliko Tarnovo is nestled in the north of Bulgaria and is plentiful in cultural traditions which makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions throughout Bulgaria.

Built upon three historical hills: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora, the city is surrounded by monasteries, churches and unique architectural relics which date back hundreds of years and are preserved to honour their ancient histories. Houses perch together above steep valleys or hang over limestone rocks overlooking the River Yantra which curves round the city’s natural surroundings.

Veliko Tarnovo’s turbulent history dates back more than 7000 years and during its glory era it was crowned as the ancient capital of the Second Kingdom of Bulgaria (1185-1393). Having fought, lost and won numerous battles from invasions ranging from Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottoman tribes, 2013 celebrated the city’s  105th Independence Day from Ottoman rule.

The newer area of Veliko Tarnovo houses the majority of the city’s population with a shopping mall and cinema and is constantly being regenerated through new builds of apartments blocks and shopping areas. Travel eastwards and the streets become narrower and are lined with trendy boutiques and shoe shops. Walk further and upwards, you’ll arrive P1010190at the old quarter, Varusha, and to the cobbled inclines which, like the grape vines, twist through a labyrinth of narrow passages.

Samovodene Street curves upwards through a cobbled street where you can browse tiny shops and often have workshops where artisans can be seen making their traditional crafts. In the Nineteenth century, this marketplace was a central hubbub to the town, and although now much smaller in size, it makes for an attractive jaunt through for traditional mementos to take home.

Following the street up and round you pass church; if you bear right it will lead you out of town towards Tsaverets, a castle perched up on the hilltop.  Much of this has not survived and only walled outlines are evidence of days and battles gone by but has been revived in recent years. At the top is a church with startling artwork by a contemporary artist, a most unusual homage to religious history.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeaving the fortress and downwards towards the river will lead you onto Gurko Street, named after General Gurko. Houses here were built huddled on top of each other in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  It is one of the most scenic streets in the town fo a romantic amble and fantastic views of the Monument of Assens, the Art Gallery.

Throughout the city, new and old, you’ll find a array of bars and restaurants which offer mostly traditional Bulgarian dishes at very reasonable prices and where you can sample local wines and rakia (fruit brandy) in as much indulgence as you can cope with! Given that Tarnovo is the second biggest university town in Bulgaria, it has a strong student population and a busy night life.

The title of this article, The Soul of Bulgaria, the Spirit of Europe, pays homage to their motto for the candidacy of European Capital of Culture 2019 which the municipality is campaigning for.

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