Enthroned on an ancient bulwark at a distance of two kilometres from the city of Asenovgrad, the Asen’s fortress has a long history. It is a famous tourist’s destination in Bulgaria and attracts hundreds of people from the city, the country and from abroad every day.
A great part of the history of the fortress is known as a result of the archaeological excavations that are carried out every summer since the 1970s under the guidance of outstanding archaeologists like Rositsa Moreva. According to the diggings, the history of the fortress begins back in the Neolithic period, from which there are different artefacts. Although we know a bit about the history during the reign of the Romans and later, when it was in the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire, the glorious period of its existence is connected to the medieval period, after the renovation of the fortress by the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II in year 1231. The fortress was used as a defence against the Latin raids in that period.
It is known that in that period the walls of the fortress stretched back to the centre of the modern city of Asenovgrad. The former name of the city – Stanimaka – is also connected to the fortress and there are two different theories about its origin. The scientific theory is that the name comes from the Greek word Stenimahos, meaning impregnable. The theory is logical, as the Greek influence in Stanimaka has always been strong, especially during the Bulgarian Renaissance. There is, however, another theory, that has turned into a folk tale.
According to it, once the fortress was severely attacked by enemies. The fortress was expected not to bear this brutal attack and the Bulgarian tsar (king) got really frightened. He went to his mother and told her ‘Get up, mother, and let’s go!’. The Bulgarian word for ‘get up’ is ‘stani’ and the Bulgarian word for ‘mother’ is ‘maika’ (in those years or in dialect it may have been ‘maka’), so after connecting the two words, we get the name of the city – Stanimaka.
Nowadays most of the fortified walls of the fortress are ruined and the most preserved building in it is the church ‘Saint Mary of Petrich’. There are also two water reservoirs, a small one (the older) and a bigger one, which is built later. As the river is far below the fortress, its inhabitants used a special system that caught the rainwater and stored it in the water reservoirs.
As a result of the excavations, the archaeologists have found a great number of graves, coins, ampullae, knives and other items left from different historical periods. One of the most precious findings is the seal of Abas Pakourianos, the brother of the eminent Byzantine commander Gregory Pakourianos. The seal is unique, no other seal of Abas has ever been found before.
You can visit the fortress every day. The newest attraction in it is a light show, similar to that of the Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo. From Wednesday to Sunday there is a professional guide, who can show you the fortress and give a talk in Bulgarian and English. You can reach the fortress on foot, by car or by bike.