Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново in Bulgarian) is a medieval town in the center-north of Bulgaria, former capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and one of the most visited cities of the country. In particular it gets flooded with tourist for the yearly celebration taking place on the 22nd of March, famous for its 3d and light show.
The center of Veliko Tarnovo is made of a mix of old and new buildings perched on the side of a hill, organized on several layers. But what stroke us the most was the proximity between the historical center and nature: just a few steps away from the main attractions there were big forests and steep rocky cliffs.
Still a short walk from the city centre is located the medieval fortress. Once it was a citadel built over two hills, Tsarevets and Trapezitsa, connected by a bridge, with the residence of the Emperor, the Patriarchate, several churches and residences. What it remains nowadays are mainly the protective walls and the heavily restored foundations of the buildings as a memory of it ancient glory, and only one of the two hills is open to visitors. The fortress itself isn't impressive, but it is definitely a pleasant place where to spend a few hours in a quiet environment surrounded by trees with flowers in blossom, and a view over the city.
The best place to feel the medieval character of Veliko Tarnovo is actually General Gurko Street, with a series of traditional wooden buildings that recalls, much more than the fortress, the historical origins of the city. Many buildings are now restored and converted into hotels and restaurants, with an open view over the cliffs and the monument of Asen Dinasty.
The latter is an obelisque with gigantic equestrian statues that is not particularly interesting if not for its location at the beginning of the valley, with the river flowing around it and surrounded by the city center.
The monument is also the main stage for the 3d light show that is projected on it during the city celebration happening the 22nd of March.
We attended the show this year, and it was very short, but still worth the stay. It started with chinese sky lanters released into the sky, followed by a laser and light show, enlightening the monument and the surrounding, the most enjoyable part of the celebration. Then it was the turn of a 3d projection over the facade of the monument, that was barely visible and not really impressive. Eventually the celebration ended with fireworks, spectacular but that lasted just a couple of minutes. A few replicas of the light and 3d shows were given after the end, but not of the fireworks.
We were able to find a very good location to enjoy the light show below the house of our host, a place not too much desired because next to a collapsed building (by the way, another things that impressed us in Veliko Tarnovo, was the number of abandoned and collapsed buildings, even in the historical center) but the city was so full for the celebration, that many people weren't able to see the lights. The most wanted places are along General Gurko Street, so if this is your location of choice, it's better to be there well in advance to beat the competition.
After the show ended, we were able to experience the social life of Veliko Tarnovo, following the schedule of our Bulgarian host. Being a student city there are many young people gathering in the several parks and squares, chatting, socializing and never missing the tipical 2.5 liters bottles of beer.
There are also several museums in the city: we chose to visit the Museum of the Bulgarian Revival and Constituent Assembly. While the room of the assembly and the wooden structure of the building were esthetically appealing, the exhibition with many books and military memorabilia, was of no interest to non Bulgarian people.
In the surroundings we visited the village of Ledenik, only 5 km from the Veliko Tarnovo, where there is an interesting Ottoman building, that according to our host Emil, was appreciated even by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited the area several decades ago.