Thursday, March 21, 2013

Scenes from "Valley of Thracians": Veliko Tarnovo

One of my favorite places in Bulgaria is Veliko Tarnovo, in the center of the country. The city served as the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

We visited Veliko Tarnovo twice during our stay in Bulgaria. Join me today on a virtual visit to Veliko Tarnovo, with texts from Valley of Thracians and pictures of the location where a pivotal scene from the book takes place.

“I remember visiting here,” Scott noted, impatient to cross the bridge and begin the ascent to the citadel. The stone-walled fortress was very familiar and certainly had been one of the highlights of his travels in the country.

“Welcome to the ancient stronghold of Tsarevets, home of Kaloyan, tsar of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom between the years 1197 and 1207." The lines were chanted in singsong fashion by an elaborately costumed marionette, almost life-size, sitting on a cardboard throne alongside three other similarly dressed puppets propped up against the shadowed inner wall of the gate. The bearded puppet, whose lips moved in synchrony with the recorded words, wore a gold-plated shield over his long red robe, and a round silver-foil crown rested atop his black hair. To the side, temporarily at rest from the demands of string and wire, was a female marionette, quite obviously the queen, regally gowned and crowned with jewel-like plastic beads. Her heavily made up face was stiff and expressionless.

“Most of the grandeur of Tsarevets Fortress has been destroyed. This church, the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Holy Ascension of God, is actually quite new, constructed in the 1970s and ’80s on the site of a fourteenth-century church.”

From atop the belfry tower, Scott took in his surroundings, trying to envision them in the mind’s eye of the past. The quaint wooden houses of Veliko Tarnovo, perched precariously on the sides of the hills, seemed poised to leap down to the dark waters of the Yantra River, snaking through the valley. 

At the center of the panorama was the Cathedral of Sveta Bogodoroditsa, rising majestically above the other historic buildings. The town was famous to Bulgarians not only for its medieval fortress, but also because it had hosted the drafting of the country’s first constitution in 1879. In Suedinenie Square, the National Revival and Constituent Assembly Museum was a popular tourist attraction. Other colorful buildings stood out in the dramatic view, all calling out for attention.

In another direction, Scott spotted an oversized Bulgarian flag flapping noisily in the wind above a reconstructed fortress building. The horizontal bands of white, green, and red competed for dominance against the cloudless blue sky.

Veliko Tarnovo should be on every tourist's itinerary in Bulgaria. If you don't have a chance to visit the fortress, at least you will get an idea of Bulgaria's former greatness by reading Valley of Thracians. Please also read the other articles in this series, which will take you on visits to:

* Plovdiv
* Varna
* Sofia
* Rila Monastery 
* Belogradchik

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