Tsarevets

Approaching Tsarevets, along the stone causeway that was erected after the original drawbridge collapsed beneath the bey’s harem, you can appreciate how the boyars Petur and Asen were emboldened enough by possession of this seemingly impregnable citadel to lead a rebellion against Byzantium in 1185.

Petur’s proclamation of the Second Kingdom and his coronation occurred when Constantinople was already preoccupied by the Magyar and Seljuk Turk menace, and when a punitive Byzantine army was eventually sent in 1190 it was utterly defeated at the Tryavna Pass.

Now restored, the ramparts and the Patriarchate (plus the ruins of the palace and various churches) convey som ething o f Tsarevets s grandeur during the Second Kingdom, w hen travellers deem ed Turnovo “second after Constantinople”.

Artisans and clerics serving the palace and the Patriarchate generally resided in the Asenova quarter below the hill, and entered Tsarevets via the Asenova Gate halfway along the western ramparts, foreign merchants, invited to setde here by Tsar Asen II, had their own entrance, the “Frankish” or Frenkhisar Gate near the southern end of the massif.

Rapidly becoming a regional power, the Second Kingdom attacked and defeated the first Latin emperor of the East, Baldwin of Flanders, in 1205, the former emperor ending his days as a prisoner in the bastion overlooking the Frenkhisar Gate, thereafter know n as Baldwin’s Tower.

No one knows exacdy how Baldwin met his death. According to one fanciful legend, he resisted the advances of the Bulgarian queen, who prompdy accused him of attempted rape and had him executed. Twenty years after Baldwins capture, however, a herm it em erged in Flanders claiming to be the former emperor.

Despite attracting a coterie of followers, the pretender was declared an imposter and put to death.

The ruins of the palace seem insignificant com pared to the ramparts, but contemporary chronicles and modern excavations suggest that the royal complex was once splendid and opulent.

Delicate columns divided the 35-metre-long throne room into aisles, which were adorned with green serpentine, Egyptian porphyry and pink marble, and mosaics and murals depicting the rulers of three dynasties.

The church of the Blessed Saviour or Patriarchate, built early in the thirteenth century and now unconvincingly restored, was, significandy, the only structure perm itted to surpass the palace in height. Ribbed with red brick and inset with green and orange ceramics, the church contains florid modern frescoes, which the visitor is invited to contem plate while curators switch on a backing tape of Orthodox choral music.

The Lobna skala (Execution Rock) at the sheer northern end of Tsarevets is associated with the dynasty that followed the brief reign of the swineherd Ivailo The son et lumiere Frequently on summer nights the entire Tsarevets massif is lit up by huge spotlights, and accompanied by a stirring musical soundtrack.

Designed to tell the history of Tsarevets through the ages, the son et lumiere is a stunning sight, especially when viewed from the terrace of open-air seating opposite the entrance to the fortress. Unfortunately, the shows are not guaranteed as they depend on tourist groups forking out for the electricity, but if you do hear of one taking place, don’t miss it.

Proclaimed tsar after a popular anti-feudal revolt, Ivailo successfully organized resistance against invading Tatar hordes but neglected to guard against a coup by the bolyari (nobles), who had him flung off the rock.

The Terterid dynasty which followed was chiefly concerned with its own survival and willing to suspect anyone even the patriarch,Yoakim III, who was also executed of collusion with the Tatars, it was only during the later, fourteenth century reign of Todor Svetoslav that there was much progress or security.

However, Bulgarian culture strongly influenced by that of Byzantium revived during the Shishmanid dynasty (1323-93), and the enlightened rule of Ivan Aleksandur and his son Ivan Shishman created the conditions whereby medieval Turnovo attained the zenith of its development.

Trade with Genoa, Venice and Dubrovnik flourished; hospitals and hospices were maintained by the public purse; students came from Serbia, Russia and Wallachia to study at the university; and Turnovo became one of the Balkans’ main centres of painting and literature.

Nonetheless, by the late fourteenth century the Second Kingdom had fragmented into several semiautonomous states, and the hegemony of the kingdom had been dissipated: individually, the states were no match for the expansionist Ottom an Turks, who besieged Turnovo for three months before capturing, plundering and burning the city in July 1393.

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