Veliko Turnovo is situated in central Bulgaria, at the foothills of the Balkan Mountains. It is spread over the historical hills of Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora, towering over the wide curves of the Iantra river. The city is more than 7000 years old. Veliko Tarnovo impresses with its original renaissance architecture – antique houses, situated one above another, towers, splendid museums, and monasteries with icon-paintings that attract tourists from all over the world. Capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, Turnovo offers some of the most abundant and important cultural and historic attractions in Bulgaria. It also offers lively modern night life and nature with great opportunities for sports and rest.
Veliko Tarnovo has a rich historical past. The first clues for life date back to the 3rd millennium b.c. The first inhabitants were the Thracians and their settlement existed until the end of the Bronze Age. The next inhabitants were the Byzantines. A big Slav settlement was situated here during the VIII a.c. The Old-Bulgarian settlement appeared during the IX c. and during the X c. the hills Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora were already richly populated. The brothers Asen and Peter organized successfully a revolt against Byzantine rule in 1187 and declared Veliko Tarnovo the capital of Bulgaria. Turnovo became a well-fortified city and a significant political, administrative, economic and cultural center in Europe during the next 200 years. The contemporaries referred to it as the “The Second Constantinople” and “The Third Rome”.
The most important remnant of these times is the archaeological preserve Tsarevets, a restored fortress that surrounds the hill Tsarvets. One of the main attractions of the fortress is the Baldwin towers where the Latin Emperor Baldwin was captured and locked during the crusade in the early 1200’s. The palace of the Bulgarian tsars was a self-contained fortress with the fabulous Throne Hall and the palace church St. Petka. The Bulgarian patriarchate was situated on the highest place within the fortress. In recent years, the fortress has received further acclaim with a “Lights and Sound” show – a program that combines sound and light effects to reproduce the history of the old Bulgarian capital.
Venturing beyond the fortress walls, one enters a historical preserved neighborhood with winding narrow cobblestones lined with craft shops, cafes, restaurants and boutique hotels. One can admire the numerous fully renovated Renaissance houses in a typical Bulgarian style, interspersed with ancient ruins and churches. The Gurko street and the ethnographic complex Samovodska Charshia reveal a great variety of Renaissance houses that seem to have landed on top of each other, with sheer views over the Iantra river. The Sarafkina house, built in 1861, is a particularly beautiful sample.
There is much to do around Veliko Turnovo as well including fourteen monasteries built during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom in XII – XIV c. Many of them were destroyed during the Ottoman rule and were renovated by the self-educated Bulgarian architect and builder Kolio Ficheto and wall-painted by Zohari Zograf during XIX c. One of the largest is the Preobrajenski monastery that was founded at the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom during XIII – XIV c. by queen Sara, wife of Tsar Ivan Alexander. It had an important role for the spiritual life of the capital. It is situated 6km from Veliko Tarnovo in a beautiful area with vertical rocks in the canyon-like gorge of the Iantra River.
Turnovo has much to offer for people interested in history and architecture but it is also a very vibrant, energetic town with long pedestrian areas, restaurants, shops, and cafes. It is a favorite destination for Bulgarians of all ages and interests as well as international tourists.