bulgaria fortresses

FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 2

Such examples are the fortification structures excavated at a salt-producing town near Provadiya and a fortified settlement now in Ticha Dam, near Shumen, both belonging to the 5th millennium BC. Archaeologists interpret these two sites as early evidence for a stratified society whose wealth and resources attracted incursions and invasions.

Discovering new fortifications sounds great, but most of the fortresses in the Bulgarian lands are in a condition that can excite only an archaeologist. Few have survived in a state fit for Instagrammable photos.

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FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 1

Why there are no old forts and fortresses in Bulgaria on the scale of Romania, Greece, Italy or the Western Balkans is a controversial issue. The sort of answers you will be getting will depend on who does the talking. Some will assert the "Turks" destroyed everything when they ruled over these territories in the 14-19th centuries. Others will, more level-headedly, point out that when the Ottomans were in control the Bulgarians lands were no longer a border zone and consequently forts and fortresses were no longer needed for defence purposes.

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FORTRESS ON THE EDGE

Bulgaria's Route 86, that leads from Plovdiv to Smolyan in the heart of the Rhodope mountains, is a slow and winding drive through a maze of rising tops, dense forests, crumbling villages and depopulated towns. It is a route you take to escape from the urban noise into one of the quietest corners of Bulgaria.

It wasn't always so.

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ASENOVA FORTRESS: MEDIEVAL REMAINS ON EDGE OF RHODOPE

The Asenova Fortress is about 3 km south of Asenovgrad, on the road to Smolyan, and impresses from afar. A tiny church is perched on a steep rock overlooking the narrow gorge of the Chepelarska River. A winding road leads up to the height, where the remains of the castle are. The church, Holy Mother of Christ, is the best preserved building in the complex: a brick-and-mortar confection in the Byzantine style popular across the Balkans in the 12th-14th centuries.

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MICKEY MOUSE CASTLE BUILDING

On a crisp spring morning, the distant hum of traffic on the Trakiya Highway can barely be heard in the narrow Trayanovi Vrata Pass, in the Sredna Gora mountains. Birds sing, the sky is blue, and early greenery covers the slopes. Until not that long ago, the romantic ruins of an ancient and medieval fortress used to stand there; a labyrinth of still-standing arches and walls, a piece of ancient Rome on Bulgaria soil.

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'RED' FORT BY A 'BLACK' RIVER

In Bulgarian, cherven with the stress on the second "e" means red. When pronounced with the stress on the first "e," however, the name of the colour becomes the name of one of the best places in Bulgaria to be when spring is in full bloom and the unbearable dreariness of urban life overwhelms you.

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UP IN THE SKY

The best place for paragliding in Bulgaria: that is the unlikely fame of Sopot. The town in the valley between the Stara Planina and the Sredna Gora mountains is most famous as the birthplace of Ivan Vazov, Bulgaria's venerated 19th Century writer. Sopot is also the hometown of Bulgaria's biggest military ammunition factory.

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BULGARIA'S NEW RUINS

Extensive and menacing, perched high above a particularly steep meander of the River Yantra, Tsarevets Fortress is one of the most recognisable sights in Bulgaria, a must for every tourist to Veliko Tarnovo. That town used to be the capital of Bulgaria from the 12th to the14th centuries, and today has one of the few medieval fortresses in the country. Tsarevets's precipitous walls are the stage for lavish open-air opera performances as well as a 1980s Sound & Light show.

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