Asen's Fortress is among the oldest strongholds in Bulgaria
1 December, 2017
The “Holy Virgin of Petrich” Church is among the few 13th-century churches preserved in Bulgaria.
The church keeps preserved and restored murals dating back to the 13th century.
The King Ivan Asen II stone inscription.
An unassailable fortress sitting on an almost perpendicular cliff about 30 km south of Plovdiv defends the ancient route connecting Thrace to the Aegean Sea across the Rhodope Mountains. Known as Asen's Fortress (Asenova Krepost), the strategically located fort is one of the oldest strongholds in Bulgaria and nowadays among the most attractive tourist sites in the southern part of the country.
The earliest archaeological finds on the site date back to the 5th century BC, when the Thracians, drawn by the natural defence of the place, built a fort. It was used by the Romans and in the 6th century AD was considerably renovated by Byzantine Emperor Justinian to be used as a protection against incursions by barbarians, and mostly by the Slavs. The fortress was additionally fortified in the 9th century, this time around because of the incursion by the Bulgarian army in Byzantine territories.
The fort is mentioned in the late 11th century in the Statutes of the Monastery of Bachkovo, founded in those days. Its founder, Gregory Bakuriani granted the citadel, called Petrich (from the Greek word petros meaning “rock”), to the monastery. In 1204, it was conquered by the crusaders only to be taken back a year later by Bulgarian King Kaloyan. The fortress was once again renovated in 1231 under King Ivan Asen II, as evidenced by an extant stone inscription, and for this reason was later called Asenova (Asen's).
Archaeological excavations have unearthed fortified walls, an innermost keep, reservoirs of water, a small church, residential rooms, etc. The innermost keep or donjon was built on the hilltop. In peacetime it was the governor’s residence and in days of war it was used for defence and as a watchtower. The two reservoirs of water were built in the most well-protected part of the fort to collect rainwater.
The well-preserved 13th-century “Holy Virgin of Petrich” Church is the landmark of the site. It was among the earliest across the Orthodox Christendom with a tower used both as a belfry and a watchtower. It is a two-storey single-nave, single-apse, single-domed building with its sanctuary divided into three parts and a tower over the narthex on the second floor. The first floor was also used as an ossuary. The church itself, with its unique extant 14th-century murals, is on the second floor of the building.
In the wake of the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria in the late 14th century, the fortress lost its strategic importance and was forsaken. It was last mentioned in 1410 as a hiding place of one of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid's sons, who fought between each other as claimants to the throne.