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The second capital of Danubian Bulgaria

Its imposing ruins are to be found 2 km south of the present day town. Veliki Preslav was the capital of the Bulgarian kingdom from 893 till 969 in the epoch of its supreme might and in the boom of Old Bulgarian culture (the so called Golden Age). It sprang up in the first half of 9th century during the reign of Khan Omourtag (814-831) as a military camp with a fortified palace and garrison. Tsar Simeon (893-927) proclaimed it capital (thus moving it from Pliska). It established as an administrative, cult-religious, and cultural centre of the medieval Bulgarian state, renowned for its remarkable monumental construction work, the achievements of applied arts, the stone plastic arts, the painted ceramics, the famous literary school.

Veliki Preslav grew systematically as a town. It has the same construction of gates, towers and walls as Pliska does. It had the same two fortification rings separating the Interior from the Exterior City, however the exterior zone is not the ditch typical for the ancient Bulgarians but a solid and high fortress wall. Following and improving their own tradition of construction work the Bulgarian masters first in Europe built a town with two concentric fortress walls - the exterior being 3.25 m thick, and the interior (the citadel) - 2.80 to 3 m thick.

Preslav is a pure Bulgarian name coming from preslavun (famous, most glorious), and the name Veliki was added when the capital turned into a really huge and representative town for its time. The old Bulgarian capital occupied a territory of 3.5 sq. km. In the course of 28 years it was built on and improved by Tsar Simeon the Great, one of the most educated European rulers, an exceptional statesman, soldier and man of letters (a disciple of the Magnaur School in Constantinopol). He made Preslav the most majestic town in the whole of south-eastern Europe second only to the capital of Byzantium. For comparison, the population of London in 10th century was hardly fifteen thousand people, Paris had still not developed as a city, Madrid was a village, and Berlin and Moscow did not yet exist. The most talented Bulgarian men of letters of the time worked there - Yoan Ekzarh, Chernorizets Hrabar, Konstantin Preslavski, Presvyter Kozma, Tudor Doksov. Being followers of the mission of Cyril and Methodius, for several decades they turned the Old Bulgarian language from ecclesiastical into one of the richest literary languages of Europe at that time. In 969 Veliki Preslav was conquered by Prince Svetoslav of Kiev, and between 971 and 1186 it suffered the Byzantine rule and bore the name of Johnanopolis. In 13th-14th centuries it was a significant administrative centre, main bishops residence. In 1388 the town was conquered and destroyed by the Turks. Some Turkish documents of 1573, 1585 and 1620 registered a village on the spot of the present day town with the name Eski Stambolchouk (Old Istanbul) bearing the memory of the old capital. The village had this name till 1878, and then it was called Preslav. In 1993 the town returned to the name signifying its biggest grandeur. (Veliki Preslav).

There have been preserved remains of fortress walls, palaces, civil ensembles, workshops, public baths, water pipe systems. The most precious building in Veliki Preslav in the past (as well as a sight today) was the Round (Golden) Church built in 908. Its dome (gold-plated outside and inlaid on gold inside) covers the central building with 12 niches (cut in the wall) and 12 white marble columns erected in between them. In respect of plan and rich mosaic and sculptural decoration, the Golden Church is a unique example of the old Bulgarian architecture. It was a predecessor of the European Baroque with several centuries ahead of its time. It had good reputation during Middle Ages.

The whole region of the ruins was declared a National Historical and Archaeological Reserve (tel.: 0538 2630, 3243). A rich archaeological museum is functioning on its territory; it was founded 90 years ago. Of particular interest is the section about the painted ceramics of Preslav and especially the world-famous ceramic icon of St. Teodor Stratilat. The museum takes pride in Preslavs golden treasure and the unique collection of lead seals of Bulgarian and Byzantine rulers and dignitaries; these are exposed in the special hall. There is a bus line to the ruins and the museum.

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