Asen’s Fortress, Bulgaria

Stood at the cliff’s edge, the land below falling away into a deep ravine lined in nothing but forest where the Asenitsa River cuts its path through a wild green wilderness, it isn’t hard to see why they built a fortress here. The view is as majestic as it is powerful. It celebrates nature, but it dominates it too. The ruined Asen’s Fortress, in Bulgaria, must have been spectacular in its time.

 

The view from Asen's Fortress, Bulgaria.
The view from Asen’s Fortress, Bulgaria.

The Church of the Holy Mother of God. Asenovgrad, Bulgaria.

Asen's Fortress-13The fortress – known as ‘Petrich’ by some researchers – first appeared in history books during the 11th century. It belonged to the rulers of the First Bulgarian Empire, who were subsequently conquered by the Byzantines.

Later, when the brothers of the Asen Dynasty led a rebellion that launched a Second Bulgarian Empire, they would return to the fortress. The site underwent serious redevelopment and went on to play a significant role under the rule of the 13th century Tsar Ivan Asen II, from whom Petrich would adopt its more common name: ‘Asenova Krepost,’ or ‘Asen’s Fortress.’

Today, there’s barely anything left of Asen’s Fortress in Bulgaria. Most pictures you’ll see illustrate only the the view from the fortress – Petrich itself is little more than broken walls, the outline of a medieval stronghold on top of a steep, rocky promontory. The only surviving structure of the 12-13th century fortress complex is the Church of the Holy Mother of God.

That’s not to say that the church survived the Middle Ages unscathed… it was badly damaged in the 14th century, when the Ottomans invaded and laid siege to Tsar Asen’s Fortress. But while the fortress was levelled to the ground, the church fared better and was soon being repaired by the local Orthodox community. It has remained in religious use ever since.

Of course, the most striking thing about this place is the view. Located just outside the town of Asenovgrad (itself named after the tsar and his fortress), the church commands an incredible view along forested valleys. Sitting up there on the sun-bleached rocks, it’s easy to imagine how effective a look-out point this would have been. The fact that the Ottomans took the fortress regardless, should give some indication as to the scale of ferocious and bloody combat which once filled this seemingly peaceful mountain valley.

The images below offer a visual tour around Asen’s Fortress in Bulgaria; from the hilltop walls to the fully renovated church. The location is relatively popular, especially with domestic tourists – and it’s certainly a change of tone from the hidden secrets and difficult recent history that I usually write about. Every so often though, just once in a while, I reserve the right to share something simply because it’s beautiful.

For another instalment of ancient Bulgarian history, read my article about the ruined fortress on Cape Kaliakra.

 

The main hall of the Church of the Holy Mother of God, set up for service.
The main hall of the Church of the Holy Mother of God, set up for service.

Stone passages connecting upper and lower levels of the church.
Stone passages connecting upper and lower levels of the church.
An altar flanked by Orthodox icons at the Church of the Holy Mother of God.
An altar flanked by Orthodox icons at the Church of the Holy Mother of God.
Iron candle holders and faded murals. Asen's Fortress, Bulgaria.
Iron candle holders and faded murals. Asen’s Fortress, Bulgaria.
The man himself: Tsar Ivan Asen II.
The man himself: Tsar Ivan Asen II.
Outside, the mountains.
Outside, the mountains.
The highest section of Asen's Fortress in Bulgaria is now little more than ruined walls.
The highest section of Asen’s Fortress in Bulgaria is now little more than ruined walls.

Asen's Fortress-2Asen's Fortress-11

 

A view of Asenovgrad in the distance.
A view of Asenovgrad in the distance.

View of the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Asen's Fortress, Bulgaria.
View of the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Asen’s Fortress, Bulgaria.

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