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Ovech Fortress Bulgaria
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Ovech Fortress
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Ovech Fortress

Ovech Fortress - The military fortification

Ovech Fortress is a stone stronghold located east of the town of Provadia, 53 km west of Varna and 410 km east of Sofia. The fortress is mentioned under different names in the historical chronicles. The oldest one is the Byzantine name Provat. Bulgarians referred to it as Ovech, while Turks called it Tash hisar (which translates from Turkish as a stone fortress). Archaeological research established that the fortress was used in periods from the 3rd century to the first decades of the 7th century, and then from the 10th-11th centuries until the end of the 17th century. The fortress was inhabited successively by Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Turks. It is related to the reign of Tsar Ivaylo (1277 – 1280), the crusade of Amadeus IV, Count of Savoy (1366), and the crusade of Vladislav Varnenchik (1444).

The fortress has three entrances. The eastern access way has been preserved in its original form with stairs carved into the rock. It is convenient for visitors who have their own means of transportation. The western entrance is accessible from the town through the original 111-step spiral staircase. The northern entrance is the main entrance of the fortress. A 150 m-long bridge structure is built in front of it connecting the stronghold with the adjacent Tabiite Plateau.

The golden years of Ovech were in the period 12th–14th century when the fortress was a military, religious, economic, and administrative centre of the region. At the fortress, visitors can also see the talking 79 m-deep well, the bishops church, the knights prison, the tower with the devils path, and the Friars holes. The fortress is open all year round. A guide assigned by the Museum of History of Provadia is available in the fortress. Information materials and souvenirs are sold on site.

The military fortification is located 53 km west of the city of Varna and 410 km northeast of the capital. The first evidence of human activity in the area is dated around the 5th century BC, which ranks Provadia in one of the leading places among the oldest settlements in our country with its nearly 15-century history. The natural fortification, hidden among the inaccessible steep rocks of the plateau, first attracted the Thracian tribes inhabiting the area, and today the foundations of Thracian temples can be seen on the territory of the fortress, probably serving as a link between mortals and the Thracian Horseman - a symbol of the sun, divine for the Thracians .

Later, in the 3rd-4th centuries, the Romans were also attracted by the strategic location of the fortress and created the Provaton fortress there (translated as the Sheep Fortress) as a defense against hostile barbarian tribes invading from the north. The name of the fortification corresponds to the probably well-developed sheep breeding in the area, but the mysterious seal rings with an eagle majestically spreading its wings, found during archaeological research, somehow blur the time boundaries separating some inhabitants from others.

Scientists believe that life was boiling in the fortress during the time of Omurtag, but it experienced the apogee of its development in the 12th-14th centuries, when it was the military, religious, administrative and economic center of the region. Many legends say that during his reign, King Ivaylo defeated a large Byzantine army precisely in front of the walls of the Ovech rocks. It is assumed that the metropolitan church, near which several burial chambers were discovered, probably belonging to prominent and wealthy citizens or warriors who became famous on the battlefield, and the knights prison, in which in the 14th century the knights of the count were imprisoned, belong to this period. Amedeus of Savoy.

According to Mehmed Neshris chronicle, in 1388 Ovech fell during a military campaign of Ali Pasha in Northern Bulgaria. The ruler of the fortress, reports Neshri, was called Hussein Bey, who, although an infidel, was known for his kindness and nobility. The recurring motif of kindness and nobility matches the descriptions of the Bulgarian Ivan Asen V (the second son of Tsar Ivan Alexander) given by other sources, especially since the name Hussein is believed to be a Muslim transcription of Asen.

Neshri describes how a five-thousand-strong Ottoman army arrived before the walls of Ovech in the winter of 1388. The invaders cunningly managed to convince its governor to open the gates of the fortress and subsequently accept Islam. The year coincides, and the danger mentioned in the epitaph, Asenya falling away from the beauty of faith, corresponds to the events that took place. There we also see that the Bulgarian queen Kera-Maria managed to guide him with the power of God and stay in the Church of Christ. As it seems, the realized Ivan Asen, albeit too late, engages in battle with the Ottomans to reclaim the city. Neshri describes a similar episode in which he tells that after the Ottomans entered Ovech, the infidels gathered and started a battle, but were slaughtered.

However, the military fortification clearly has the ability to choose its inhabitants, because according to historical sources, in 1409, the stone fortress became the center of the Fruzhin uprising. After the uprising suffered its pogrom, Musa, son of Bayezid I, recaptured the fortress at the cost of countless casualties on both sides. Crimson rivers of blood run down the white stones of the bastions...

But the wheel of Fortune apparently assigned a slightly different fate to the giddy Ottoman invaders, because a little later, in 1444, Provadion changed its inhabitants once again. Passing through the countryside on their rescue march, Władysław Varnenczyks troops act presciently, razing the centuries-old military fortification to its foundations, turning it once again into a domain of ruin and death.

After the death of the Polish king, the Ottomans rebuilt the fortress, but although restored, it lost its military purpose and was abandoned at the end of the 17th century. Thus the land, which sheltered in its arms the white bones of Thracians, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Western European knights and the united troops of Vladislav III Yangelo, finally finds peace.

Thanks to the hard work of Bulgarian archaeologists and restorers, today tourists can immerse themselves in the majestic atmosphere corresponding to the time when Ovech experienced its architectural, military and cultural heyday.

Two towers - actual stone sentinels of the military fortification, although restored, still guard two of its three entrances. The eastern tower has not been restored, but the original access to the site has been preserved by means of steps cut straight into the rocks. Near the western tower, according to visitors, an original staircase with 111 steps was built, connecting the modern city with the medieval one.

The northern entrance, considered by scientists to be the main one, is still one of the main attractions for knowledge-hungry tourists. A 150-meter bridge facility has been built in front of it, which connects the fort with the neighboring plateau, called the Tabiia. It is believed that the modern bridge structure recreates the early Byzantine one that preceded it, serving as the main trade route connecting the fortification with the surrounding settlements.
The nature in the surroundings and the ruins of the once majestic fortress will surely leave a lasting impression on your mind, making you often remember huddled in the Ovech rocks.