Visit Tsarevets and Trapezitsa Fortresses in Veliko Tarnovo
Visit Tsarevets Fortress
It’s safe to say that the biggest attraction In Veliko Tarnovo is the Tsarevets Fortress that dominates the landscape of the city. Tourists, from Bulgaria and beyond, flock to visit the ‘castle on the hill’ and wander around the old Capital’s ruins for a visual lesson in Bulgarian history.
As with many historical places in Bulgaria, Tsarevets’ construction and subsequent reconstructions have suffered turbulent times: initially the Thracians and Romans used it in defensive conflict but it was the Byzantines who built the first important fortress (5th to 7th centuries AD). Later, it was rebuilt by the Slavs and Bulgars before the Byzantines fortified it once again in the early 12th century. But it was the years between 1185-1393 when Tarnovgrad was the Second Bulgarian Empire, that Tsarevets became notorious for its magnificence…until the Ottomans destroyed it yet again.
Walking past the entrance’s lion sculpture and up the cobbled path to the gateway, will take you left and along the castle’s walls. Wander northwards, you’ll see the Execution Rock, from where traitors were pushed into the Yantra River. In addition to the fabulous views at the top, you’ll pass the bells, used to their full effect for the Sound & Light Show. Its hard to imagine that many of these remains once belonged to monasteries, numerous churches, grand houses of the aristocracy and hundreds of dwellings on this hilltop.
There has been extensive restoration of the Church of Ascension which was rebuilt on the foundations of the Royal Palace where no less than 22 kings ruled Bulgaria from. Originally constructed around 1235, it was then reconstructed in 1981 when the interior’s modernist and detailed frescoes were also created. Although they may not be to everyone’s tastes, on first sight these colourful murals will most certainly take you by surprise – good or bad!
Tips for Going to Tsarevets Fortress
- Visiting Tsarevets is an all season venue but beware that in the summer months it can get hot up there so you’re best planning your visit early mornings or late afternoons.
- There is a small cafe on site but you’d be advised to take water in the hot weather.
- The Sound & Light show is free to watch on official holidays; on other occasions, tickets can be bought from the tourist centre in VT where you have the opportunity to watch it from the viewing tower. You can still watch it for free from the street if you catch it on the day others have paid. A full itinerary is here for this year.
Open: 9:00am-18:00pm, Apr-Oct – 9:00am-17:00pm, Nov-Mar
Closed Mon 9:00am-12:00pm (Last admission 1hr before closing)
Admission: 6 lev (adults) 2 lev (students)
Children under 7-free
Free admission the last Thursday of the month
Amateur photography 5 leva
Guide services in a foreign language 20 – 30 leva
Visit Trapezitsa Fortress
After many years of restoration, Trapezitsa Fortress, finally opened to the public at the end of last year. There are two ways of travelling to the top: the first is simply, to walk your way up the hill, and the second is by an inclined lift which leaves from the newly-built, historic railway station of Trapezitsa. Travelling by the funicular takes only a few moments but once you’re at the top, incredible panoramic views of Veliko Tarnovo can be seen.
Surrounded by three sides of the Yantra river, the second most important fortified hill of medieval Tarnovgrad comprises of a modern Visitor Centre in addition to the partially-built fortress. Inside here you’re able to see collections of artifacts found by archaeologists and includes fragments medieval frescoes, tools and household items made from bronze or bones. In contrast to Tsarevets, information is available in English and interactive screens offer more detailed records.
Whilst some areas have been left completely untouched, other parts have been partially or fully rebuilt although the fortress isn’t currently open to venture inside. However, it’s the magnificent landscape scene that really make this a great experience to visit.