Driving down a windy road on the northern slopes of the Balkan mountain range towards Veliko Tarnovo gives you a fantastic view of the city. The buildings appear to be precariously nestled over a number of tree covered hills with a wide, meandering river far below. It’s already clear from this vantage point that this is a very old town and as expected, it turns out that it has history in abundance.
The river is called the Yantra and over the centuries it has carved its way through the rocks in such a way as to almost turn back on itself a couple of times. Between one of these impressive u-turns the land rises steeply to form a hill that is almost completely surrounded by water. On it there are the remains of the ancient fortified citadel of Tsarevets, the seat of the Bulgarian capital in the middle ages.
For a reasonable fee you access the site through an original gate tower and walk over a stone covered lane up to the impressively sized city walls. Much of the stone walls remain standing and have been secured so that they are safe to walk along. Behind the safety of these fortifications there are numerous ruins of buildings where each room is clearly visible. There are also strategically placed lookout towers along the wall which are also accessible. Climbing to the top of one of these gives a breathtaking view of the citadel on one side the modern city, in the distance on the other. The vista also makes it clear how important the river must have been to keep enemies at bay.
The city walls surround the peak of a large and sharply inclined hill, at the centre of which is church high up above the surrounding land. It’s a bit of a demanding trek to get there, especially on a summer day with the sun beating down but it’s worth it. The church is in a typical orthodox style and is very well maintained inside and out, probably it has been recently restored. Inside the tinted windows and fresco’s are clearly religious, dramatic and far from traditional. Fantastic as far as I am concerned but I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.