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Author: Lyubomir Vladikin


History of Research in the Old Capital

In 1858 after finishing his medical degree, Dr. Hristo Daskalov settled in the town of Tarnovo. In a comparatively short time he did remarkable work in listing and researching the historical sites and monuments of the old capital. They include a full and accurate description of the church "Sveti Apolstoli Petur i Pavel" (Saints apostles Peter and Paul), drawings of the plan and descriptions of the of the church "Sveti Dimitur" (Saint Dimitur) where the best preserved area has been the altar with early Slav inscriptions.

Daskalov transcribed the inscriptions from the Omurtag column and the column of Ivan Asen II. This work was published in 1859 by the Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, later that year Dalaskov himself published his own work "The Findings from the Old Capital Tarnovo", bringing the work to a wider academic community and becoming an important building block for Bulgarian history.

This activity in Tarnovo earned Daskalov the name as the discoverer of the earliest most significant monuments in Bulgaria, and that's why, years latter Karel Shkorpil called him "first Bulgarian archeologist".

The start of the archaeological exploration in Tarnovo is connected with the creation of the First Archaeological Society in Bulgaria, established on 18 March 1879 by the initiative of Prof. Marin Drinov with the active participation of concerned Tarnovo citizens. The society's main purpose was defined as "to discover all kinds of antiquity which can be found in Tarnovo or elsewhere in Bulgaria".

In pursuit of that goal the society started the first archaeological excavations on the hill Trapezitsa, under the supervision of the president of the society Dr. Vasil Beron. With the help of two companies of soldiers, a discovery of the foundations of two churches (No:1 and No:2) was made, which in fact turned out to be the base of a tower and military site for the security for the northeast gate. The next excavation made in 1884 found the remains of another two churches, known as (No:3 and No:4).

The intentions of the Archaeological Society for "systematic scientific research" in Trapezitsa, Tsarevetz and Momina Fortress did not unfortunately achieve success due mainly to lack of finances. In 1885 the society came to an end, and as M. Moskov said, "it's dead as all cultural society in our country is dead from economical anemia".

Another substantial contribution to the research of the history of Tarnovo was made by Karel Shkorpil during his work as a teacher in the High School for Boys in Tarnovo from 1891-1894. He made plans and wrote detailed descriptions, which in 1893 he sent to Tsar Ferdinand in a report titled "Monuments in Tarnovo and a project for excavations of the old Bulgarian capital". This was accompanied by 37 illustrations of plans, photos, drawings and sketches. In 1910 they were published as a study titled "A Plan of the old Bulgarian capital Tarnovo".

Later on in 1900 the French archaeologist George Sior conducted further excavations on the commission of His Majesty Tsar Ferdinand. Sior worked on Trapezitsa where he discovered another 14 churches. His work on Tsarevetz, exactly on Chan Tepe (Bell Hill), led him to discovery of  "Church of the Patriarch".

In 1903-1904, the Ministry of Education commissioned the well known reproduction artist from the National museum, V. Dimov, to make copies from the frescos of the newly discovered churches in Trapezitsa. Apart from reproductions, Dimov made drawings of the plans of the churches and published his observations in a extensive study in 1915.

In 1905 the Archaeological Society resumed it's activity and in the same year, under the supervision of M. Moskov, clearing parts of the palace building in Tsaravetz, the Wall on the east from "Church of the Patriarch", and the tower-wall on the left shore of the Yantra river, at the foot of so called "Balduinova Kula" (tower). In 1906 Moskov conducted excavations of two remarkable Tarnovo churches, "Sveti Dimitur" and "Sveti Chetiredesete Muchenici" (Saint of Forty Martyrs) and the results were published in 1912.

On 6-8 June 1910, the Tarnovo Archaeological Society hosted the First Archaeological Conference of the society in Bulgaria. After the big earthquake on 1 June 1913, which damaged a lot of the Tarnovo monuments, the excavations continued.

In the 1930's the first restoration works of the old capitol were commenced on the initiative of the Ministry of Public Works and the Tarnovo Council. In 1946 the exploration of "King Palace" (Tsarskia Dvorets) began. In 1958-1959 the study of the fortress walls for the first time established the cultural stratification layers.

In 1960 research of the south transverse Fortress wall, and the Patriarchal complex was started. In 1963 was revealed a small church on the square in front of the Palace and the excavation of a residential district on the west slope of the hill "Momina Krepost" (fortress). The scale of the excavations grew after 1966, when a government decree was issued for the development of Tarnovo as historical, cultural and tourist city. The project was managed by a Public committee, involving a large team of archeologists, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the Archaeological Museum in Tarnovo.

The archaeological dig was concentrated on the central capitol fortress, the monastery "Velikata Lavra" and the church "Sveti Dimitur". On Tsarevetz Hill the north and the west fortress walls with the associated defenses, facility gates, towers, embrasures, as well as the dwellings around them were extensively studied. Much work was done on clarification of the foundation plan and the architectural history of the two most important complexes — the Palace of Bulgarian Tsars (residence of secular power), and the Patriarchate (residence of clerical power), during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

The vast excavation discovered over 500 dwellings, 23 Middle Age churches, and numerous artifacts that gave an insight not only for the architecture, but of the craft industry, style of life and culture of the society at that time.

An important part of the work is "reading" through the stratification of the early Thracian settlement, the Byzantium town, the Middle Age settlement, and the capital town Tarnovo until it fell under the power of the Ottoman Empire.



Addendum: The literature on the Second Bulgarian Kingdom can be characterized with its paucity and numerous appendages. There is no straightforward treatment of the subject as was brilliantly presented by S. Runciman's "First Bulgarian Empire". Maybe the losses in terms of scholarly potential were too big for Bulgaria to compensate. Just before beginning of the Great War at 1930s end, one by one the academic professorship chairs at the University were emptied — i./ Prof. Vasil Zlatarski (d. 1936) couldn't retrieve his multi-volume history further than year 1280. His narrative ended with the reign of peasant Ivailo in the Tsar's capital Tarnovo; ii./ Prof. Petar Nikov (d. 1938) as second in charge at the Bulgarian Historical Association couldn't write his planned history on the Asenovtsi dynasty. Nevertheless he had left numerous scattered articles on Medieval Bulgaria XII to XIV cc.; iii./ Prof. Petar Mutafchiev (d. 1943) was primer propagandist and educationalist on the Bulgarian national cause. His two-volume history remained unfinished by year 1323 and reign of Mihail Shishman.

These are only few of the losses that Bulgarian culture suffered at the eve of WW II. The demise of the Bulgarian state with Socialist revolution in 1944 produced a new generation of scholars who were unable of creative thinking and associative research. They only obeyed orders from the Central Committee of the Party and from the Soviet Union. Those achievements that were ploughed by two generations of talented intellectuals in capitalist Bulgaria were easily spoiled in the next 50 years or so. The mediocrity of copying academic predecessors and censoring poignant information and facts continues until today in Bulgarian universities.

What is the state of art (and unsolvable) in Bulgarian Medievistics? Why is it that Bulgarian glory in Middle Ages, ostensibly the time-period of Feudal relations between lords and serfs that is referred to as Romanesque (750-1250) and Gothic (1150-1500), has not been expounded vividly as it should be. It is a matter of fact that Bulgarian culture was lost to Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, but still it is the Bulgarians that are cited as country of origin for Slav civilization (or its Cyrillo-Methodius tradition). Even the Ottoman Turks were shy to deny their kin relationship to the enslaved Bulgars, while those got special privileges as "rayah" and didn't consorted to Catholicism as the rest of the enslaved Slavic population. So the Bulgarians as both traitors to Slavdom and bearers of its alphabet had been and remained a controversy to the study community. The numerous appendages and links to Byzantium culture still further complicates the landscape of Middle Ages on the Balkan Penninsula.

At the beginning of this review we had much deliberations on how to present a short yet meaningful article on state of affairs in pre-Renaissance Bulgaria. The old capital Tarnovo, with dual fortress Tsarevetz-Trapezitsa, seemed to appear the best choice. The work from Lyubomir Vladikin, whom we are acquainted with as lawyer and Member of the Bar, was a convenient and short introduction to Tarnovo's archaeological and historical past. This book written in 1928 has numerous photographs and plates; also, important early literature sources are referenced. Thus if more sophisticated research is necessary — viz., have in mind that medieval Tarnovo is cultural reservation at UNESCO — there is Vladikin's book for a start although during socialist times great chunks of archaeological information were classified in Bulgaria. It comes to appear that archaeology of Tarnovo doesn't have much new artifacts to reveal after 1945, besides the innovations and restorations of the new Bulgarian Archaeological Society.

Some colleagues of mine called my comments hilarious and bleak, whenever, I tried to define the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1186-1460) as just another Crusader State from the Middle Ages. There are no precedents for this but let us examine the literature sources and try corroborate our statement. We shall give some bibliography titles with notes:

~ The best sources in English language remain those few that are outdated and not cited by Bulgarians, at least in University surrounding. There is the extensive article from R. L. Wolff on "Second Bulgarian Empire. Its Origin and History to 1204" (Speculum, 1949), where the author poke on the verifiable connection between Vlachs and Bulgarians rather than give narrative on ensuing Latin-Byzantium raw and the rise of medieval Bulgaria. Also consider the work from F. Dvornik "Slavs in European History and Civilization" (Rutgers University, 1962), where Bulgarian and Serbian states are studied at unity within a single chapter but overwhelmingly the polarity of Slavs is skewed to West Catholicism and Imperial Russia.

~ Since no single Bulgarian title is eligible and wide variety of citation sources profound (apparently, those that were outlaid by socialist censors) we give a score of references which later should find place in the booklist. All books mentioned treat at least one solid historical event and give array of literature sources,

1. Dr. Svetozar Georgiev wrote about half-a-dozen articles on Crusades and their role in the Balkans. He published on the pages of journals "Bulgarska Istoricheska Biblioteka", "Serdica", etc. but disappeared as author right after 1947. Pity to say that Latin and Greek literature on the above mentioned time-spell have been poorly explored by international scholarship. The single moving force that created the modern civilization was those that expounded on the territories of the former Roman Empire, and Crusades were the last outcry of Dark Ages.

2. Prof. Vsevolod Nikolaev was seldom mentioned as source in Bulgarian Medievistics. His research in Bulgaria gave two important monographs from the type of Russian émigré literature. One is the work on "Genealogy of Asenovtsi Dynasty" (1944), the second is based on letters of Bishop Theophylact cf. "Life and Feudal Relations in Byzantine-Bulgarian Lands" (1951) with many references and color plates.

3. Ivan Pastuhov (1945) managed to publish a two-volume Bulgarian history that had no ending (until 1850). Here we have almost 300 pages on Second Bulgarian State and falling to Turk's slavery.

4. Vasil Avramov (1929) left an important monograph on the defeat of the Byzantine army led by Emperor Isaac Angel II at Tryavna in year 1190.

5. S. S. Shangov and D. Gyulov (1922) made translation with commentaries on the correspondence of Tsar Kaloyan to Pope Innocent III, where Bulgarian territorial enlargement and its recognition were certified in year 1204-1205.

6. Yordan Venedikov (1918) has written the earliest full-length book on "Wars of the Bulgarian people in XII century", not readily referenced. This was the first effort from Bulgarian author on the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, while beforehand the single authority was Prof. Uspensky's writing on the titular theme, ditto.


Pictures 1: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). Topographical outlay of Tarnovo complex at about the time of Vladikin's textbook (1928). Aerial photographs and archaeological restorations were done at later phases.



Copyright © 2011 by the author.