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Culture Tourism

Culture Tourism

Valley of the Thracian Kings

This is a region of Thracian burial mounds, to be found in the valley of Kazanluk. Apart from the famous Kazanluk tomb and the tombs at the villages of Krun, Muglizh, the Koprinka Dam and many others, the archaeological excavations in the region in 1992-1997 brought to light new sites under the mounds – the Zapryanova, Malkata (Small), Golyama (Big) Arsenalka, Ostrousha, Helvetsia, Shoushmanets, Sarafova, Sashova, Slavchova, the Mound of Gryphons, the Mound near the village of Gabarevo. The unearthed archaeological monuments are unique showing the development of Thracian culture (architecture) between the 5th and the 4th century B.C.

In the summer of 2004, the region aroused great interest by the new sensational discoveries. A unique gold mask (second half of the 5th century B.C.) was unearthed in a mound in the Svetistata [female saint] locality (close to Shipka). It weighs 690 grammes, while a big gold ring of 20 grammes, was also found. In the Golyamata Kosmatka mound, the same team of archaeologists brought to light one of the oldest Thracian temples (first half of the 5th century B.C.), known in the world to date, and a bronze head of a man (second half of the 4th century B.C.) was unearthed, ritually buried in front of the temple. A big treasure was also found, including 74 items, 20 of them gold, among which a unique gold wreath, weighing more than 300 grammes, applications for horse tackle, a wine drinking vessel, a sword in a scabbard, and some others.

Rila Monastery

This is the most impressive monastery compound in the country, whose architectural and artistic magnificence has earned it a due place in the List of the world cultural and natural heritage, under UNESCO protection.

Founded during the 10th century, the monastery underwent different stages of construction. Its founder is believed to have been Ivan Rilski(John of Rila), the outstanding Bulgarian hermit and healer, a patron saint of the Bulgarian people. Together with his disciples and followers, he established a community of monks, the core of the Rila Monastery. Rebuilt, deserted, reduced to ashes by Turks and built anew, the monastery has been a witness and the symbol of the rich Bulgarian history.

From the outside, the monastery has a harsh and inaccessible appearance of an emphatically defensive character. In the inside, however, the architecture of courtyard facades is attractive, varied and enlivened by the multitude of staircases, arcades and roofed balconies. The total area of the Rila Monastery is about 8,800 sq m, 4,500 sq m of which are occupied by the wings of the monastery, 1,000 sq m – by the church, 80 sq m – by Hrelyo’s Tower, while the remaining around 3,200 sq m are the monastery courtyard.

A specific artistic emphasis in the architectural ensemble of the monastery is Hrelyo’s Tower – the only structure preserved from the old buildings. It was put up in 1335 by Sebastocrator Hrelyo in the monastery courtyard, with the purpose to serve as a defense tower. The fortification style of its architecture is softened by the decorations made out of bricks. It is 23 m high, its walls being 1.80 m thick. In the inside, the space of the tower is distributed into a ground floor with a suspended vault and five stories with wooden floors. On the top story of the tower there is a chapel, elaborately decorated by mural paintings. Access to the stories is by stone stairs built into the walls. Later the monks built a small annex to the tower, serving as a belfry. In the early 19th century the monks decided to renovate the old monastery by new solid monastery wings. The building work was started and partially completed by master-builder Aleksi from the village of Rila, who completed in 1816-1819 the north, east and west wing. A big fire destroyed most of the new structures in 1833. During the following year, donations arrived from all over the country for the rebuilding of the monastery and in 1834 the monastery wings were restored and completed in the appearance we can see them today. In 1847 master builder Milenko from Radomir completed the south wing. The wings have more than 300 monk cells, four chapels and numerous guest rooms, warehouses, etc.

Murals and woodcarvings decorate the facades and the walls in the interior. In some of the rooms, known as the Koprivshtitsa, Chiprovtsi and others, there are strikingly beautiful wood-carved ceilings.

Of special interest is the magernitsa (the big monastery kitchen), located in the underground floor of the north wing. It is a solidly built pyramidal 22 m tower, rising up and passing through all the floors, ending with a dome over the roof. By its construction, layout and architectural impact, the magernitsa of the Rila Monastery is a rare architectural achievement.

Aladzha Monastery 

It is 4 km northwest of Golden Sands] and 12 km northeast of Vrana, in the bounds of the Golden Sands Nature Park. It was founded during the 13th century in caves into the rocks, used as far back as during the 4th-6th centuries by hermits and monastic societies. It operated until the 18th century. The monastery naturally fits in the mosaic of rocks, trees and bushes. About 20 m above ground, dug into the rocks, the surviving parts can be seen to this day of premises, monks’ sells and a chapel, where medieval mural paintings from the 14th century have been partially preserved. There is a kind of a museum with the monastery, presenting scale models, sketches and photos connected with its history. A permanent exhibition of Medieval Mural Paintings from the 13th-16th Centuries (copies) is also open.

Melnik

This is a true museum town. Its picturesque location, the unique Revival Period architecture of its houses, tucked into the reddish sandstones, the wine-cellar caves, where the wine, spreading the fame of Melnik in the world, ripens and matures, have long earned it the fame of one of the most attractive spots to visit in Bulgaria. The little town is about 20 km southeast of Sandanski and about 95 km south of Blagoevgrad. This is the smallest Bulgarian town.

Remains of the medieval monasteries of St Haralampi and of the Holy Virgin (with a chapel of a later date) can be seen on the plateau, south of the town as well as of the medieval Church of St Nicholas, and imposing ruins of the fortress (with the castle) of Despot Slav.

Melnik is located amidst the grand Melnik pyramids, a natural phenomenon, declared a nature landmark (1960). The impressive rock formations (earth pyramids) can be seen around Melnik and close to the village of Kurlanovo, where they reach a height of up to 100 m. They resemble pyramids, obelisks, gothic temples, towers, sharp-peaked ridges, etc. They have been formed by the erosion of the mountain springs, the evaporation of the rocks and by the rains onto the sediments of different mineral composition.

Perpericon

The sacred rock town of the Thracians located on top a low hill near the village of Gorna Krepost, 15 km northeast of Kurdzhali. The discoveries and the results of the continuing comprehensive investigations of the rocks of Perperikon and the region are among the sensational archaeological developments during the past few years. Investigations have shown that the rocks of Perperikon had been worshipped by ancient people as far back as during the late Neolithic Age (end of the 6th and early 5th millennium B.C.), while life on the hill continued until the end of the 14th century. Large parts have been unearthed of the palace and sanctuary, of the fortress wall and of the colonnade of the Acropolis, the monastery compound and other sites. Noteworthy are the ancient round altar of the temple of Dionysus, the rock passage leading to the palace, the crypt with the uncovered sarcophaguses, the huge water reservoir, the ancient graffiti drawings.

Until a few years ago, Perperikon was considered only to be part of the system of medieval fortresses. Rising on the hill to this day are the restored fortress tower from the strong medieval fortress of Perperikon, which acquired major importance during the 12th-14th century, when Achridos, the new administrative unit, was established. The Byzantine name of Perperikon was Hyperperakion, soon contracted by its contemporaries. In 1339 Perperikon was already a rich centre of a bishopric. The wealth of Perperikon was the cause of frequent clashes between Bulgaria and Byzantium. Among the finds, unearthed here, and including pottery, coins and everyday life objects, of particular interest are the extremely rare for this region silver coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander, registering his rule over Perperikon.

Starocel Thracian Cult Centre

It is located near the village of Starosel, about 20 km west of Hissarya. The lands of Starosel are exceptionally rich in archaeological monuments. So far, several temples under mounds, and scores of embankment mounds have been unearthed. Remains of rich royal tombs, rock sanctuaries and other finds have come to light. During the excavations and investigations, carried out in 2000 and 2002, major discoveries were made, referred to the 5th-4th century B.C. A grand Thracian temple came to light in the Chetinyova Mogila mound, where religious ceremonies had been performed, most probably associated with the cult for the Mother-Goddess and her son – the Sun, and with Orpheus. The cult centre of Starosel can be visited by tourists, tourist guides and printed leaflets are available, while the village of Starosel offers sleeping accommodations and facilities for stay.

The Belgradchik Rocks

One of the unique natural phenomena in the Belogradchik village system is the Belogradchik Rocks. This rocky fairy-tale is spread from west to the east, from Peak Vedernik around Belogradchik, Borovitsa village to Belotintsi village. The region is 30km. long and 3km. wide. The most awesome rocks are around the town-The Madonna, The Monks, The Rider, The Dervish, The Bear, Adam and Eve, Haidout Velko, The Castle, The Little Shepherd, The Mushrooms, The Lion and many others.

The second group of rocks is westwards from the town, and the most famous rocks are: Zbegove, Erkjupria, and Borich. These rocks can be approached via well figured road, suitable for vehicles. Giddy abysses and enormous rocks can be seen from here. In the west, a gallery of stone pyramids, similar to the Stobski and the Kutinski in Rila, is revealed. The most interesting stone composition-the Twins, can be seen from here too. Little and Big Zbeg were fortresses used as a natural fortress during different ages, by Byzantine, Bulgarian and Turkish soldiers. Once there were a hundred stairs and some of them can be seen and today. Signal contact with other fortresses from the region was established from the top of Zbegove. Foundations of buildings, walls, pieces of bricks and pottery can be seen around this place. The Zbegove have their name from the refugees from local villages when they searched protection during different invasions. 2km westwards is the rock Borich. This rock was also of strategic significance. At the level of this rock-the tale tells-heroic defenders waged last fight with the Ottoman conqueror. Red blood coloured Borich. Around Zbegove and Borich, there are many single rocks and groups of rocks with the queerest figures and shapes like giant sphinxes, monkey heads, mummies, minarets and domes of mosques, flying dragons, Socrates’ face and many more.

The Belogradchik Rocks, these amazing stone structures, have been sculptured for 200 million years by nature. At the end of the Paleozoic era there were sediments of sand-marvel rocks, which later were overwhelmed by sea. Great quantity of gravel, sand and clay, dragged down from above by torrential rivers, settled on the bottom of the sea. By and by the dragged materials were soldered with silicon or sandy-clay mixture. Sandstone and conglomerates were formed which due to the ferrous oxide gained red colour.

Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo is among the most visited Bulgarian cities. It is one of the most ancient cities and has a history of more than five thousand years, as the first evidence of life on these lands is from the 3 thousand years B.C. and is found on the Trapezitsa Hill. The old part of the city – the Tsar castle – which is from the time when it was the capital of Bulgaria by the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1187-1393) is situated on three hills- Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora.

Part of the territory of Veliko Tarnovo is pronounced a museum preserve with three zones, which comprises as well as the territory of the ArbanasiVillage.  

The two main medieval fortresses used to rise on Tsarevets and Trapezitsa. Tsarevets hill is surrounded by the River Yantra from three sides. By the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom it was occupied by the tsar`s family, the boyars and the patriarch. It is encircled by a fortified wall, built on natural vertical rocks. The fortress used to have three entrances. The main entrance had a moving bridge above a cut rock and then there were three successive gates, the second – The Small Gate connecting Tsarevets with Asenova Mahala neighbourhood, and the third- Frenkhisar. From all the towers the only one   kept till now is the Balduin Tower. In the middle of Tsarevets there is situated the castle which consists of an official hall , St. Petka Church, home and farm buildings , water stores and premises for the guards. It was protected by strong stone walls and battle towers. Tsarevets Hill is pronounced an architectural- museum reserve.

The fortress on Trapezitsa Hill is the second most important after Tsarevets. In the 12th- 14th centuries it was called “ The Glorious Town Trapezitsa” . Protected by strong fortress walls , following the rocky wreath of YantraRiver was also built up with dwellings. There were built other seventeen temples. In that fortress was situated the “ St. Ivan Rilski “ Monastery, where in 1194-1195 the relics of the Rila saint were brought, they were stored there almost three thousand years. Exactly from the capital of Asenevtsi , the cult to the Bulgarian national saint goes beyond the range of the kingdom and acquires common Orthodox dimensions.

Ethnographic complex Samovodskata Charshia is a typical street from the revival period with crafts workshops, small shops and characteristic houses. Samovodska Charshia is created in the 60s – 70s of the 19th century, when Tarnovo begins to grow westwards from the economic center Bazhdarlak. There are two main crafts and trade streets formed with many crafts and trade shops on them , workshops and inns. One of them starts from a small square , now famous as the Samovodski Pazar. In the years of the Revival period here are the grocer`s , the shoemaker`s  , the blacksmith`s and other markets, hadzhi David`s , hadzhi Velikov`s and Atanas Ionoolu`s  inns.

Especially fascinating for the guests of Veliko Tarnovo is the Audio-visual show “ Sound and Lights”  - that is a unique attraction for Europe. Similar kinds of attractions can be seen in not more than three places round the world. Similar show can entertain the visitors of the Egyptian pyramids . Dramatic music, colourful lights, lasers and church bells, gathered in one , tell us the glorious and tragic history of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom ( 1185- 1393). The performance is a unique attraction and is a part of the magic of Tsarevgrad Tarnovo. The first show was in 1985and was dedicated to the 800th anniversary  from the Asenevtsi Uprise . The hundreds colour lights , the three lasers represent moments of the Bulgarian history, the fights against the Ottomans hordes, the years of Ottoman Yoke and the Revolutionary movement and the Liberation.