The highlight of Veliko Tărnovo, Tsarevets Fortress is a huge medieval complex strategically set on top of a hill. It was the most important defensive complex in the Second Bulgarian Empire (at which point Veliko Tărnovo was the capital city), and also contained the patriarchal and royal places. The ruins were restored between 1930-1981.
All visitors enter via the main gate, over a rather exciting drawbridge.
From here, we continued walking onwards into the complex, first passing by a rather bizarre moving dummy model with a voice over about the history of the people who lived there. I guess it's a nice idea to have a fun animated model with information for the kids, but this genuinely was super weird…
Luckily once we were past that, there were no more creepy surprises and the rest of the Fortress is just open for exploration.
We chose to turn left at the first intersection, bringing us to the Little Gate.
You could actually climb up inside this, giving fantastic views over the city and defensive wall.
Inside, there are also a selection of items from the armoury.
Continuing on, we passed by the ruins of a monastery and many dwellings.
There was also a small section of the wall we were able to climb up onto.
At the far end of the Fortress stands the Monastery at the Place of Execution, a rather morbid sounding name I must say!
Walking back towards the entrance, but on the far side of the hill, we passed by the Palace of the Bulgarian Kings. Unfortunately this was undergoing a lot of restoration work and so we were only able to admire from afar, but it still looks pretty impressive!
This brought us back to the first intersection, from where we chose the path climbing upwards to the Patriarchate Ensemble. The main feature of this complex is the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Ascension of God, which was reconstructed in 1981.
The 1985 frescoes inside are very modernist in style and depict both biblical scenes and important moments from the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Finally, we returned to the intersection and took the right turn towards Baldwin's Tower. Apparently the Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople died here while being held prisoner of Kaloyan of Bulgaria. We climbed up the rather precarious looking steps to admire the view, but the most exciting bit turned out to be watching some daredevils abseiling down the side of the tower and wall!
All in all, a really fun afternoon – and you could easily spend a day here exploring. Apparently some evenings there's a sound and light audiovisual show in which the whole complex is lit up to music, telling important tales from the history of the city. At weekends there are also ceremonial changing of the guard processions for tourists.