Cover photo: By Спасимир - Собствена творба, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
We continue our series with interesting sights around Plovdiv, because its proximity to the Rhodope Mountains is undoubtedly an occasion to use every weekend for nature walks and exploring history. Unfortunately, you cannot reach the Tsepina Fortress by intercity transportation, as it is located about 6 km from the village of Dorkovo. The alternative is to catch a bus to Velingrad and then another one to Dorkovo, and take the road up on foot. This is not a short walk, so we recommend that you use your own car or rent a car if possible. There may also be companies or hotels in the Velingrad area that offer organized tours.
However, once you find a way to get around, we promise you won’t regret it. The road to the hut and the museum area is narrow but paved, and there is a convenient parking area where you can leave your car. There are gazebos for rest and picnic. In the immediate vicinity there is a tap with delicious Balkan water, from which even the locals come to pour themselves.
The climb up is on a rough terrain with a slight slope, but we wouldn’t call it difficultin any case. If you don’t have a problem walking, you will also manage the route, and the views that are revealed are worth every step of the way. Especially in the autumn, the hills are so spread that it seems that the artist has just swinged the brush and carelessly sprayed green, yellow and brown for full effect. The road is about 15 minutes at a normal pace, and you really have nowhere to stray and get confused.
The outer fortress walls cover an area of 25,000 square meters, and in the highest part, a medieval castle was built over an area of 1,500 square meters. Its walls are preserved up to a height of 2.5 m. The remains of three churches and four deep water reservoirs, reaching a depth of up to 10 m, were discovered and explored in the fortress. During the Middle Ages, Tsepina was one of the most famous Rhodope fortresses. It entered the borders of the Bulgarian state in the middle of the 9th century. In the 11th century it was conquered by Byzantium, but during the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) Tsepina was again brought back to the borders of the Bulgarian state. When Kaloyan appointed his nephew Alexius Slav as governor of the Rhodopes, Tsepina became the seat of the despot's domain. After the assassination of the tsar in 1207, despot Alexius Slav declared himself independent.
In the period 1246 - 1254 Tsepina was the property of the Nicene Emperor John DucVatacius, but Mihail II Asen managed to regain it. In 1373, the fort was conquered by the Ottoman invaders. It is one of the last to fall under their authority. For nine months, its inhabitants have been able to withstand the raids of the troops and surrender mainly because of their provisions. The monastery complex continued to operate even after the fall of Tsepina under Turkish rule until 1666, when the mass rampage of the Rhodopes took place, again according to an information plate in the area of the fortress.
Today's most well-preserved (and restored) ruins in Tsepina, which attract the interest of tens of thousands of tourists, are the foundations of 3 churches and 4 deep water reservoirs, the inner and outer fortress walls, and the foundations of the citadel. In one of the churches were found 2 marble altar reliefs depicting the apostles Peter and Paul, which are today exhibited at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. And Alexius Slav's gift to the Melnik Monastery "Holy Virgin", in which he first mentioned Tsepina, is stored in the Mount Athos.
You don't have to spend too much time looking, because much remains to the imagination. However, you definitely enjoy the views from above, which in good weather reach far beyond the village.
There is no entrance fee when climbing to the fortress, as if you combine the museum part with the Pliocene park in the village of Dorkovo, the price is 5 BGN for an adult. Winter working hours are from 10am to 5pm and in the summer between 10am and 7pm.
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