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The oldest restored fortress in Bulgaria is open for visitors

The oldest restored fortress in Bulgaria is open for visitors

Belchin is a small village nestled in a beautiful valley near Samokov (not far away from the winter resort of Borovets), blessed with picturesque scenery and healing thermal springs. In recent months it is becoming an increasingly popular place for cultural and pilgrimage tourism.
The “Tsari Mali Grad” Fortress on the Saint Spas hill just above the village is the oldest restored fortress in the country. Last month it was opened for visitors. Once the Roman fortress could be seen from everywhere in the Samokov field but in recent days - before the beginning of the restoration - the memory about it existed mainly in folk legends.
The surveys on the hill began in 2007. Until then everything was covered with dense, impenetrable forest. In just a month the archaeologists managed to clear the southeastern tower of the fortress. It became evident that it had been part of a Roman fortress with six watchtowers and that the total length of the wall was about 400 meters. And not only that! It turned out that the Saint Spas hill is a link in a chain of holy places surrounding the village of Belchin. Temples near the former military citadel serve as evidence about the 1700 year old history of Christianity without interruption.
The ancient name of the fortress is not known. People call it “Tsari Mali Grad” (The King’s small town) because with its area of almost 10 acres it can compete with the famous fortress Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo. The construction had begun during the reign of Emperor Valens (364-378 A.D.) Its location was chosen specifically because of the possibility to keep watchful eye on the valley and protect it. The settlement itself came to life due to the thermal springs, the mineral deposits and as a strategic point on the crossroads of the Roman roads joining the towns known today as Kyustendil, Separeva Banya, Samokov, Sofia and Plovdiv.
Erecting from the ruins of the fortress "Tsari Mali town" and the church architectural ensemble over Belchin has been a real challenge for the specialists. However, the result is a remarkable product of cultural-, eco- and pilgrimage tourism. It combines the architectural ensemble of the medieval church "St. Petka" with a museum, the church "The First Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul" in Belchin, the funicular (cable line) - a modern transport link between Belchin and the mural crown of the Holy Hill, the two eco trails, the path to the fortress and the parking places, the restored fortification system of "Tsari Mali town" with the six defense towers housing a museum, the iconic architectural ensemble with the Church of Ascension ("Sveto Vaznesenie Gospodne"),  the "St. Spas" area, the children's attractions with wood-carvings and replica of siege engines, the rope bridge and the artistic lighting.
The fortress on the hill can be reached in several ways. Hiking tourism lovers may use the two eco trails. For those who do not like to get off the car, there is an asphalt road. But surely everyone would prefer to use the funicular. From the windows of its cabins one can see during the ascent and descent and enjoy a panorama view of the valley between the Rila and Vitosha mountains. The rope bridge leading from the outside entrance of the fortress to the citadel has been finished too.