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Belogradchik Rocks and the Fortress

TRUD Publishing House gives the chance to take a virtual tour through Belogradchik Rocks and the Fortress, one of the candidates for the New Seven Wonders.

The Belogradchik fortress, also called Belogradchik Kale, was built on inaccessible cliffs. During the 1st-3rd century the Romans erected it to guard the strategic roads crossing the area. The fortress has only two walls – one on the northwest and another on the southeast. Two enormous rock massifs naturally protect the other two sides, each about 100m high. The fortress walls are solid, 4-5m wide at the base and 12-15m high. There are two water reservoirs dug into the rock. They are about 5 m deep and were filled with rainwater and snow.

Along with watching, controlling and guarding the road, the Roman garrisons that were quartered there transmitted communications using various signals. In the daytime they used smoke, in the night – fire. In foggy weather they beat drums.

In the antiquity the fortress was part of the defense system of the Roman Empire that later became the Byzantine Empire. The system was built on the northern slopes of Stara Planina Mountains. It also included the strategic castle near Belogradchik. In the 6th century the Balkan Peninsula became a target of Slav inroads. The great danger from the north forced the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to build several fortified posts. At the close of the 7th century the stronghold fell under Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian control.

The importance of Belogradchik Kale increased after the establishment of the Vidin kingdom. The latter incorporated the territories of what is today Northwestern Bulgaria, parts of Eastern Serbia, and Southwestern Romania. It is one of the last fortresses (then called Belgrade) that the Turks captured in the late 14th century. They quartered a garrison here that was to play and important role in guarding the western parts of the Ottoman Empire and suppressing the Bulgarian rebellions. In 1805-1837 the fortress was expanded and adapted for using guns by French and Italian engineers. The plaques commemorating the construction project are in Turkish and Bulgarian. This is a unique instance in the history of Turkish fortress construction. The fortress consists of 3 yards (each capable of separate defense) with a total area of 10 211 sq m and one separate fortification. It has two main gates – Vidin Kapi and Nish Kapi. There are openings for guns on the walls.  In times of war the number of defenders of the fortress and the neighboring hills could reach 3000 men.

In 1837-1867 the fortress had a permanent army that protected the town and the neighboring area. In 1850 the Bulgarian insurgents failed to seize it and this led  to the suppression of the Belogradchik uprising. The town notables were taken out through one of the fortress tunnels and decapitated. A monument close to the actual site of the execution commemorates the tragic event.

The fortress was used for military purposes during the Serb-Bulgarian war of 1885. However, it lost its importance after barracks were built in Belogradchik. In 1890 the town authorities decided to sell the stone material from the fortress for construction purposes. Their plan failed because of opposition from local shepherds. Through lack of proper care the fortress began to fall apart. Nonetheless, experts consider it as one of the best preserved strongholds in Bulgaria, especially after it was restored and declared a monument of national culture.

Not far from the fortress, remains of a Roman aqueduct have been discovered. Parts of other smaller fortresses have also been found, e.g. near the village of Kladorub (the former Roman settlement of Cambustica), the village of Granichak in the Hanishte locality, the village of Dubravka etc. Their total number is 17.

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Boyan Dobrev

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