This charming city located on four hills along the Yantra River about 120 mi/195 km northeast of Sofia is a tourist favorite. Founded in 1185 in a deep valley, Veliko Turnovo was, 700 years ago, the capital of the second Bulgarian empire, at which time it became a noted center for art, literature and culture.
Allow at least two nights to walk the winding cobblestoned streets, where you can watch weavers, instrument makers, coppersmiths, potters, woodworkers, coopers, glassblowers and other craftsmen making and selling their wares.
There are also dozens of centuries-old churches and several museums, as well as excellent examples of 18th- and 19th-century houses (one, the Nikoli Han Building, is yet another outstanding example of the National Revival style of architecture).
While you're in the area, don't miss a visit to the Momina Krepost Fortress, a medieval walled town on a hill. Much of it has been reconstructed, and its walls and tower are lighted at night. A nearer fortress, Trapezitsa, holds the ruins of 17 churches.
Some 20 monasteries dot the surrounding area, the most impressive being Preobrazhenski (Transfiguration) Monastery, with four churches (located 4 mi/7 km north of Veliko Turnovo). One of them has fascinating frescoes inside and out; another is located near a cemetery and features a charnel house—monks' skulls and bones line the walls of its cellar. If you're still up for seeing more monasteries, you can visit the Arbanasi Monastery in the town of Arbanasi (located 3 mi/5 km from Veliko Turnovo). A miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary is said to be housed there.
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