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Assen`s Fortress

You could reach that beautiful place by driving south from Plovdiv into the Rhodope mountains to the town of Assenovgrad. When just going out of Assenovgrad take the road to your right. This is the road which would brings you along with the thousands of tourists each winter eventually to the Pamporovo Ski Resort up in the mountains.

Your first wish to stop at the Assen`s Fortress is due to the fact that you simply can pass it by without its capturing all of your attention. (After being here, you could visit the Bachkovo Monastery, another sacred place for all the Bulgarians). The fortress as well as the neighbouring town itself (Assenovgrad - meaning Assen`s Town) are both bearing te name of one of the greatest rulers Bulgaria ever had - Tsar Ivan Asen II.

It was under the reign of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II (1218-1241, son of Tsar Assen I and a nephew to Tsar Kaloyan), that the Second Bulgarian Kingdom reached its peak. Bulgaria expanded to three Seas and extended over Thrace, Macedonia and part of Albania.

Ivan Assen II signed a peace treaty with the Kingdom of the Magyars (i.e. Hungary) and married the Magyar princess. In 1230, he was victorious in the battle against the Byzantines led by Theodorus Komnin near the village of Klokotnitza, destroying the enemys army. The captured soldiers were set free, and this generous act made a favourable impression to everyone.

Tsar Ivan Assen II ruled with a significant statesmanship and diplomacy, successfully marrying all of his sisters, daughters and female cousins to the strong rulers of all the neighbouring lands, thus guaranteeing peace to his country. By means of his strategic and diplomatic attitude, he ensured political, economic, military and cultural prosperity to Bulgaria. Ivan Assens sincere religious faith endeared him even to his foes. He restored the autonomy of the Bulgarian Church and established a centralised administration.

Now, with some understanding of the history, join our photo exploration of the Assens Fortress (known in Bulgarian as Assenova Krepost). What remains intact from that fortress is the church, called Holy Virgin of Petrich. It was partially restored in the 20th century, primarily to prevent further deterioration.

It is one of the most valuable representations of sacral architecture in Bulgaria. Inside you will see preserved small bits of wall-paintings dated from the 14th and 19th centuries. The thumbnail images below are linked to larger images, which will lead you through a photo-tour of this part of the Bulgarian history.

The Guard of the Pass The Guard of the Pass
The Guard of the Pass
The Guard of the PassStanding proudly on a high Rhodopean hill, the Assen's Fortress has guarded for ages the main entrance to the heart of the mountain.
The Fortress inside The Fortress inside
The Fortress inside
The inside of the fortress Assen's Fortress is a medieval Bulgarian fortress, built on a steep rocky hillside, towering over the left bank of the picturesque Assenitsa River. It covers an area of about 1.5 hectares and creates the impression of unique architectural structure. The stone construction is preserved 15 m high at places, and features a feudal castle, 30 premises for warriors with a chapel, a tower, two water reservoirs, and a castle church.
Every inch was used Every inch was used
Every inch was used
Every inch was usedThe stronghold was built in the 6th century to guard the strategically important Aegean Pass of any approaches. The small size of the land and the steep terrain had forced the builders into a rather dence construction, and made them effectively use every inch of land. 
The two-storey chapel The two-storey chapel
The two-storey chapel
The two-storey chapelThe chapel, built on top of an old Thracian sanctuary, as well as the different buildings are joined by narrow, steep streets and pathways. The fortress houses the bolyar's palace, a two-storey chapel, the water reservoirs and other structures important for the life of the people.
The Tsar’s inscription The Tsar’s inscription
The Tsar’s inscription
The Tsar Ivan Assen II's inscriptionAn eight-lined inscription by Ivan Assen II, cut out in 1231 in one of the entrance rocks, testifies to this reconstruction: "In the year 739 (i.e. 1231), Indication 4th, I, Ivan Assen, by God's will raised (into a kingdom) Tsar of Bulgarians and Greeks, and also to other lands, promoted Alexis Sebastos and built this fortress".   That very inscription led to naming the fortress after Ivan Assen II (Assen's Fortress) early in the 19th century, as well as later on, in 1934, giving the town of Stanimaka the wonderful name of Assenovgrad (i.e. Assen's town).                  
The Fortress entrance The Fortress entrance
The Fortress entrance
The fortress entranceThe entrance to the Assen's Fortress.
A view from the Fortress A view from the Fortress
A view from the Fortress
A view from the Assen's FortressA view from above to the town of Assenovgrad - the medieval meets contemporary photograph.