Sightseeing in the Veliko Tarnovo region is the source not only of knowledge. It is also a strong emotional experience. Coming into touch with the cultural heritage and with the intense beauty of the scenery is a good way to revitalize. This region of Bulgaria is proud of its fourteen Orthodox monasteries. Take any of them and you will find out that it has its own contribution into Bulgarian history and spiritual quests. Some of them have played a formative role in the development of the Bulgarian state over centuries. It is not accidental that after the liberation from Ottoman Yoke and during the process of creating Bulgaria’s new administrative and cultural structures, the Tarnovo dialect was adopted as the basis of the Bulgarian literary language.
Tsarevets Architectural Reserve
Stately as it is in its historical grandeur, the Tsarevets Stronghold towering above Veliko Tarnovo, attests to the power, building skills and the affluent lifestyles of the sovereigns of the Bulgarian kingdom and of senior clergy. Built on a hill providing for natural inaccessibility, the stronghold is protected by its natural environment, as well as by an elaborate fortification system consisting of high fortress walls, gates and towers. There was a wooden draw-bridge at its first gate.
The royal palace and the patriarchal complex stand out in Tsarevets. In the period 12-14 c. the site underwent a few reconstructions. The buildings had vividly decorated facades. The throne-hall and the private royal chambers revealed the grandeur and wealth of the royals.
The palace church kept the relics of St. Petka of Tarnovo. Some of the Bulgarian sovereigns who ruled the country in 14 c. were buried there.
The patriarchal complex was the place where from the administration of ecclesiastical affairs of the country was carried out. It housed the library, the scriptorium, the patriarch’s residence and offices, monastic cells and the Ascension Patriarchal Church.
The area surrounding the two complexes was densely built-up too. Archaeological research suggests there were 470 residential buildings, a lavish mansion owned by a high-standing aristocrat, and an inn.
Forty Holy Martyrs Church
“Man even if he lives well, dies, and another one is born. And let the one born later when he sees this writing, remember the one who left it…” This remarkable quote from the time of Khan Omurtag has survived to the present day inscribed on one of the marble columns of the Forty Holy Martyrs in Veliko Tarnovo.
This church is the most prominent Bulgarian medieval monument in the old capital city. It was erected and its frescos painted during the reign of Tsar Ivan Assen II to celebrate his glorious victory near Klokotnitsa against the troops of Despot Theodore Komnin on 22 March 1230.
In the first years of the Ottoman Yoke the church was preserved as Christian. Later on it was converted into a mosque. Fortunately it keeps some of Bulgaria’s most outstanding epigraphic monuments: the Omurtag and Assen columns and the Border Column from the time of Khan Krum.
Archeological digs here opened in 1969. Three years later King Kaloyan’s burial was unearthed (burial of a man, 1.90 m tall, clad in a richly ornamented military outfit, decorated with tinsel and pearls). The gold ring found in the burial weighs 61.1 g. A snow leopard is depicted on it, and it bears an inscription reading ‘Kaloyan’s Ring’.
Sound & Light Audio-Visual Show
Sound & Light – a synthesis of light and music in an unmistakable way! One has to see the Sound & Light audio-visual show to be able to feel the full power of this artistic presentation. During the night multicolored lights and lasers explode to the chime of church bells and to the tune of dramatic music. The show is a unique attraction. Collected in one, hundreds of colorful lights, the three laser beams and the music recreate the glorious and tragic history of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1393). Sound & Light recreates events from Bulgarian history, the resistance put to the Ottoman invaders coming to Europe, the years of the Turkish Yoke, the national-liberation movement and the Liberation itself.
The Sound & Light audio-visual show defined by hundreds of spectators as “the magic of Tsarevgrad Tarnov” was performed for the first time in 1985 to commemorate the 800 anniversary since the uprising of the brothers Assen and Petar.
Samovodska Charshiya (Bazaar) in Veliko Tarnovo
Taking a walk in the ancient streets of Samovodska Charshiya, the Veliko Tarnovo guest will feel the atmosphere of the National Revival, of the habits and ways of the people who lived in post-Liberation Bulgaria. Amid the lovely scenery of past times the visitor becomes part of a romantic show as both performer and spectator.
The Samovodska Charshiya emerged in 1860s and 1870s, when Tarnovo got bigger and developed briskly as a center of trade and crafts. Its two streets are lined with small stores, workshops and inns. The famous inns included Davidov Inn, Hadji Velikov Inn and the Inn of Atanas Yonoolu. Today only the Hadji Nikoli Inn survives.
Depending on what was made and sold, there were various bazaars during the National Revival – grocery, blacksmith’s, sandals’ and other bazaars.
The cloister of the Hilendar Monastery was here too.
Today the Samovodska Charshiya is a museum site in Veliko Tarnovo representing a historical, cultural and tourist attraction. It includes the Samovodski Market.
The complex consists of restored and adapted Revival and post-Liberation houses from 19 c. One of them is the house of birth of writer Emilian Stanev.
Visitors are fascinated with the functioning workshops representing replicas of the original ones: a pottery, an armory, a wood-carving workshop and an icon-painting studio, a weaving mill and a few sweet shops. Outlets selling souvenirs and antiques add to the captivating atmosphere of the place.
Veliko Tarnovo Archaeological Museum
The millennia-old history of Veliko Tarnovo and its vicinity have for many years been the subject of archeological research and discoveries. The Archeological Museum with its exhibition “Tarnovgrad, capital of Bulgaria 12-14 c.” highlights the period when Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the medieval Bulgarian state. The museum’s collection incorporates items from other periods of history as well.
The House with the Monkey
At first glance the House with the Monkey in Veliko Tarnovo is not more than an oddity. In fact the building erected in mid-19 c. is an outstanding manifestation of the construction genius of Master Kolyo Ficheto. Displaying his unique architectural and building skills the great master designed and built on a very narrow plot of land a three-storey house for his client, merchant Nikola Koyuv. Despite the limits of space, the house had everything necessary to be functional: storehouse premises, shops and a residential section for the family.
A profiled column on the house’s façade depicts a sitting monkey with a slate. This image has lent the building its exotic name.
The house has quite distinctive exteriors – it is faced with convex bricks, a rarity for that time. Most probably, Kolyo Ficheto used his own style of decorating buildings. Other of his creations display the same exterior decoration.
And there is another curious detail about the House with the Monkey: for some time it was the home of Stoyancho P. Ahgar. He was a pioneer collector of antique objects and created the first private collection of this kind.