The royal city of Veliko Turnovo, the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1187-1393) is situated on three hills - Tsarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora. These are circled by the deepcutting Yantra River above whose magnificent gorges sheer rocks rise into the sky. Perched one above the other on the rocks, the houses reach right down to the river bank.
Tsarevets Hill is a natural inaccessible fortress where the royal palace, the patriarchate, and a multitude of small cross-domed churches were built . A central place is occupied by the ruins of the royal palace.
Baldwin's Tower in the hill's south-eastern part, commemorating the victory of the Bulgarian Tsar Kaloyan over the knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1205, was restored in 1930-32.
Trapezitsa Hill rises on the opposite bank of the Yantra River.Remains of fortress walls, embrasures, towers and fortified gates have been discovered here. The hill housed the residences of boyars and some public buildings, churches above all.
The homes of the urban population were located at the foot of the two hills, outside the fortress walls and near the river. Several mediaeval churches dating from the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom have been preserved in the Assenev quarter.
The St. Dimiter of Salonika church has a sculptured and picturesque exterior with brick decorations. Besides being the city's oldest church, it is also one of the earliest examples of the Turnovo school of architecture and painting. The Holy 40 Martyrs church preserved the oldest Biblical calendar in the Eastern Orthodox world, along with the in-built columns of Khan Omourtag and of Tsar Ivan Assen II - two of the few surviving written monuments of Bulgarian mediaeval history.
From the 12th to 14th c. Sveta Gora Hill was the country's spiritual and cultural centre. The Turnovo school of literature and painting gave the world the Manassiev Chronicle and the Tetraevangelia of Tsar Ivan Alexander. Its traditions has a significant and lasting influence on the whole of south-eastern Europe.
Besides being a mediaeval capital, Turnovo was also a National Revival city. Its 18th-19th century houses seem to grow right out of the steep slopes flanking the river and crowning them with their gables and overhanging eaves. Gurko Street provides a fine example of an architectural ensemble.
Brought back to life in Turnovo are also the Samovodene Market Place with its attractive small workshops where master goldsmiths, potters, carvers, weavers and pastry cooks still pursue their crafts, and the old photo studio.