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Centralnorth Bulgaria > Veliko Turnovo > History

History of Veliko Turnovo

Veliko Turnovo is the town with the most glorious historical past in Bulgaria. It is a symbol of Bulgarian statehood and a source of national pride for every Bulgarian. Each little place in it is history.

The earliest traces were found on the Trapezitsa Hill (dating back to first half of the 3rd millennium BC). Remnants on Tsarevets Hill date back to the end of the Bronze Era (13th century BC). This oldest settlement was inhabited by Thracians (the tribes of uzdicenses and crobises) and existed by the end of the Iron Era. Its prosperity is related to 6th century BC - till 1st century AC. Its traces in the first centuries of the Roman Rule are lost on our lands (at the beginning of the new era).

The next layer of Tsarevets is early Byzantine, from the 5th to the first half of the 7th century when there was a fortified town on the hill (one of the supporting points of Byzantium in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula), which withstood for 3 centuries. A big Slavonic-Bulgarian settlement of the 8th to 10th century was founded on the ruins of this town. At the end of the 10th century the hill was already densely populated and in the 12th century it was a fortified town and a significant economic centre.

The origin of the name is related to the Slavonic word tern or trun (thorn) and during the years it developed into Ternov, Trunov, Turnov, Turnovgrad, Turnovo and Veliko Turnovo, being called Veliko (Great) in relation to its size, beauty and grandeur. In 1187 the Uprising of Assen and Peter was successfully completed, the Byzantine Rule was thrown off and Turnovgrad became the capital (the third capital in the history of Bulgaria) of the restored Bulgarian Kingdom. The following two centuries are golden in the history of the town.

The Tsars Palace and the Bulgarian Patriarchy were situated on the Tsarevets Hill and the houses of the boyars and the senior priesthood as well as a lot of churches were situated on Trapezitsa Hill. Assenova Mahala (quarter), located between the above mentioned hills, by the Yantra River, was inhabited by craftsmen. The district of foreign merchants (Franks) was to the south-east of the Baldwin Tower. Thick fortified walls of the internal town protected Tsarevets and Trapezitsa. The other two quarter also had fortified protection and formed the external town. Solely the dwellings of the destitute among the non-privileged people remained outside the fortifications at the foothill of the Momina Krepost (Maidens Fortress) Hill, in the immediate proximity of the Yantra River. During the 13th and 14th centuries the capital of Bulgaria was a big political, economic, trade and cultural centre in Europe. The Bulgarian State reached the heights of its development during this period. Along with Byzantium it was the first power on the Old Continent. Magnificent palaces, monasteries, churches, fortifications, bridges, big houses were built here. The Turnovo School of Painting and the Turnovo Literary School, whose founders, organisers and most prominent representatives are Patriarch Evtimii and Teodosii Turnovski (of Turnovo), developed and carried out their versatile activities here. All the prosperity and spiritual upsurge was discontinued on 17th July 1393, when after a 3-month siege Veliko Turnovo, and gradually the whole of Bulgaria succumbed under Ottoman Rule... The Metropolitan town was in ashes.

Centuries were to pass before the town was able to recuperate and experience a new economic, cultural and political upsurge during the Revival period. Crafts developed, trade flourished, beautiful houses, public buildings, churches (with the greatest contribution in that respect belonging to the unsurpassed Master Kolyu Ficheto), the aspiration for enlightenment and national self-awareness started to find their implementation and the struggle for ecclesiastical and national independence gained strength. The population of the old Bulgarian Metropolis took part in the Turnovo Uprisings of 1598, 1686 and 1700, in Velcho Conspiracy (1835), in the Uprising of Captain Dyado Nikola (1856), in Hadzhi Stavrev Revolt (1862) and in the April Uprising of the rebellious year of 1876. Then Bacho Kiro, Tsanko Dyustabanov and a lot of other fighters for freedom were hanged under the gallows erected in the town square. The Apostle Levski came here more than once (the last time in 1872, unfortunately enchained).

On 7th July 1877 Veliko Turnovo was free again. From 10th February to 16th April 1879 the Constituent Assembly, which developed the First Bulgarian Constitution - the Turnovo Constitution, one of the most democratic constitutions in Europe for that time, convened here. On 17th April 1879the first Great National Assembly of liberated Bulgaria convened in Veliko Turnovo to elect a head of state. On 27th July the same year Alexander Battenberg was elected as Bulgarias knyaz (first prince). It was namely here that on 6th September 1885 Stefan Stambolov and Petko Karavelov made the decision to acknowledge the union of the Principality of Bulgaria with Eastern Roumelia.

Although Sofia became the capital of Bulgaria after the Liberation, Veliko Turnovo continued to be a sanctuary for all Bulgarians, a bastion of Bulgarian national spirit and self-awareness. It is the birthplace of Petko R. Slaveikov, of the great actor Konstantin Kissimov, of the writers Emiliyan Stanev and Dimitur Mantov and of a lot of other eminent Bulgarians. 

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