Sunday, January 4, 2009

The hills of Cherven

#36

The Hills of Cherven




At first the fortress had been erected about the time of Justinian, the Emperor, in VI c. Later, proto- Bulgarians took possession of the town. The Byzantine way of construction is a sharp contrast to the Bulgarian one- the ashlars are bigger than the latter.

The firs written documents about Cherven used the language of the proto- Bulgarians of the eleventh century in the apocrypha “A tale about the prophet Jesay” in which we can read that “a king called Gega, also named Odelyan, created the towns of Cherven, Nessebar and Shtip within Bulgarian boundaries”. The names of another three Bulgarian metropolitans are also mentioned. There is some information about Cherven in the book about the life of Saint Theodosiy of Tarnovo written in the second half of XVI century. We can also read about Cherven in Emanouil Fill’s poem, concerning the march of the Byzantine military commander Mihail Glava against Ivaylo.

At some places the height of the rocks is 100m. but only their east side gradually merges into the surrounding sights which makes them easily accessible. Apart from the natural protection, the place was additionally strengthened with impressive sophisticated stronghold facilities. The easy location and the reliable defensive work turned Cherven into an important military center, defending the capital Tarnovo from its north side.

The special feature of the ground formed two parts of the stronghold- the citadel and the real town. The citadel was located on the most difficultly accessible place on the hill- within the boundaries of the old Byzantine stronghold, and the real town was on its west side, upon the rest of its lands.

The stone tower is clearly visible by all sides of Cherven. It protrudes over the north rocks. Every curious visitor can be attracted by its proud bearing coming from old times.

According to the Bulgarian apocrypha chronicle its creation is attributed to Peter Delyan.

Ruins of ancient churches and strongholds, residential buildings and workshops can be found all over the high hills, surrounded by the river. Among them there are narrow streets, rock stairs leading to somewhere. This is a world of shadows, myths and legends, a world of peace and silence reigning over the place for many centuries. All this is interrupted only by the noise of the archaeological picks and spades, but the hill was once full of children's laughter, the noise of the sledge- hammers, the sound of the churches’ bells, the welcoming tradesmen’s voices, the endless noise of the people’s daily routine.

During VI century an early Byzantine stronghold was erected over some parts of the Cherven hills. It existed only for a couple of decades, but during the First Bulgarian Kingdom it was replaced by a small settlement. The stronghold was rebuilt again in XI- XII century, and after the beginning the Second Bulgarian Kingdom in 1187 it was named Cherven. The origin of its name is still unknown. Some say that it is because of the red rocks around it, according to the others it means “nice, beautiful”. Another group of people say that its name is due to some Russian refugees that had left their native town with the same name in the kingdom of Galitz, and these Russians were seeking refuge from the Tartar invaders.

The fact that Cherven is situated along the river Lom, the important roads, crossing at this point, the fact that the place is easy defend, the fertile soil around and many other favorable circumstances are the reason for its fast thrive. The population started to increase as well as its strategic, economical and administrative importance. After the independent Bulgarian church was restore in 1235, Cherven turned into one of the biggest metropolitan’s centers. All this is supported by the well- preserved historical sources which read that after leaving the capital of Tarnovo, the great Bulgarian social figure and propagator of Hesychast, saint Theodosyi of Tarnovo, came exactly here, in Cherven, aiming at continuing his spiritual growth.

During the second half of XIII century the stronghold fully completed its aspect of intensively developing Medieval town, being the most important one among all the others along the river Lom. The newly come settlers were the reason for the fast growth of the settlement in XIV century; the new parts were surrounded by separate walls. There were other unprotected sections.

The two- centuries thrive of the town was due to its remoteness from the war active zones/ areas. However, it was conquered and destroyed several times. It was seized by Tartars that had previously destroyed the thriving settlements along the river Lom. This happened in 1241, in spring. The Byzantine army fighting against the Bulgarian King Ivaylo, took possession of Cherven in 1277. The most fatal seizure was that of the Ottoman Empire in 1388- we can read about all this in the historical chronicles. At that time Cherven was destroyed by a mighty fire, confirmed by the archaeological excavations.

The next centuries were marked by gradual degradation. At the beginning the town succeeded in preserving its administrative and warlike functions- this happened during the Ottoman reign, but it gradually turned into an unimportant country settlement. Population started visibly decreasing, but it was mainly composed of Bulgarians. The seat of the bishop of Cherven was moved to Ruse in XVI century. During that time the citizens most probably had left the high hills and settled into the foot of the river, where life conditions were more favorable.

Having heard about its once- being fame, travelers found only ruins. Time gradually erased everything around, and the famous town of Cherven turned into a memory. Only the tower continued protruding over the hill, becoming into a symbol of eternity.

The hills of Cherven revive again in 1910- 1911, when the history specialist Vasil Zlatarski lays the foundation of the archaeological research, excavating one of the cathedral churches in Cherven. What followed were another excavation works for over a century, revealing the already forgotten town, they give it a new life and fame, they give it a new meaning. And now the hills of Cherven attract thousands of visitors, came to see one of the most impressive, one of the well- studied and well- preserved Bulgarian Medieval towns.

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