The belogradchick fortress

The Belogradchik fortress “Kaleto” follows centuries-old construction traditions. It attracts attention not only with its monumentality but also with the sense of proportion and aesthetic sense of its builders. The fortress walls smoothly follow the outlines of the terrain. The fortress walls are 2.5 m thick at the base and reach 12 m in height. Their embossed decoration includes decorative niches, columns, stone cornices, rosettes, palmettes and solar signs, marble slabs with texts from the Koran, stylized images of animals and plants. White and red stones alternate in the arches of the entrances. The two apotropaic lion heads enhance the power of the main portal.

Fate determines a key role of the fortress in the history of Bulgaria. It is connected with the feats of Haydut Velko, with the heroism and longing for freedom of rising Bulgarians, with the activity of the group of Panayot Hitov… During the Russo-Turkish war for liberation it was besieged by Russian and Romanian troops and by virtue of the armistice it was handed over to the allied forces. And during the Serbo-Bulgarian War the fortification held back the Serbian troops who came through the Stara Planina passes, and they were defeated by the Bulgarians.

The Belogradchik fortress “Kaleto” is located next to the town of Belogradchik and at first glance impresses with the harmonious cooperation between nature and human creativity. The construction of this ancient fortress among the inaccessible and steep cliffs began long before the formation of the Bulgarian state – during the Roman Empire when in the I-III century the Romans built roads in the new provinces of the empire on the Balkan Peninsula as well as fortresses to guard them.

The power and location of the natural stone barriers eased the work of the Roman architects in the construction as only two of the walls (northwest and southeast) were built by human hands. The huge rock massifs reaching up to 100 m in height naturally complete the fortress which served as an observatory. There was a connection between the eastern and western part of the empire and the strategic location was favorable to control the road from the Ulpia Ratiaria (near the present-day village of Archar in the region of Vidin). The Romans built the highest part of the fortress called the Citadel. A few meters from it there are the remains of another fortress – the Latin Kale which served as an auxiliary fortification.

During the division of the Roman Empire in 395, the Balkan lands entered the borders of Byzantium. At the end of the 7th century the Belogradchik fortress fell within the territory of the newly created Bulgarian state. For a long time it continued to perform the same functions until Ivan Stratzimir (1356-1396) became ruler. Then the first major reconstruction was carried out and it changed the status of the fortress into a defensive post. The king ordered it to be expanded and strengthened. Two partition walls were erected to the northwest and southeast, and at the same time wooden suspension bridges and stone stairs were built to facilitate movement in it.

At the end of the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom the fortress was captured and partially destroyed by the Ottoman troops. Later the Ottomans expanded and rebuilt it. During the Ottoman Empire a garrison was placed in it to protect the western part of the empire and to suppress the uprisings of the Bulgarians.

In 1850 the Belogradchik uprising was defeated and its leaders were taken out through one of the tunnels of the fortress and beheaded. At this place today stands a monument in their memory. During the Serbo-Bulgarian War the fortress was last used as a military facility. It was declared an architectural monument in 1965.

In Kaleto except a fortification you will see three fortified courtyards separated from each other by massive portals with doors clad in iron strips. Their total area reaches 10,210 square meters. There are two main gates – Vidin Kapia and Nish Kapia. There are guard rooms with gun platforms and embrasures (openings), as well as 365 loopholes on the fortress walls and rooms for warehouses and ammunition. The embrasures for rifles and three bastions and embrasures for the cannons can still be seen on the fortress walls today. During the war, the number of defenders of the fortress and the surrounding hills reached 3,000 people.

Behind the walls, in addition to buildings related to defense activities, there were also those for commercial purposes. Master craftsmen worked here. There were buildings for living and sheds. The free spaces are occupied by barns, flour and salt mills and stables. Water needs were met by a well located in the southern part of the middle yard and two wells carved into the rock which collected atmospheric water.

Tunnels under the rocks were adapted to store food and ammunition that would be most useful during long sieges. Important for the protection of the fortress is the outer defensive belt including a fence of stakes dug firmly into the ground and baskets full of stones and earth. To strengthen the western sector of the fortification in 1862 the so-called “Suleiman’s Fortress” was built.

The fortress captures with its unique architecture and rich historical past, and the views of the surrounding Belogradchik rocks take breath away. The most famous rock formations are Haydut Velko, the Madonna, the Horseman, the Monks and others. The very ascent of the numerous steps to the top of the fortress, from where the magnificent landscapes are revealed, is also exciting.

Apart from being historic, this area is an exceptional natural treasure for Bulgaria. As it is clear, the fortress was built among the magnetic beauty of the Belogradchik rocks which were nominated for one of the new 7a wonders of the world and very few was not enough this title to become a fact. Above all, the whole area is a beautiful and quiet place of the Bulgarian lands. A wonderful view is revealed from the highest point of the fortress named the First Plate. To the south are the wavy peaks of Stara Planina and to the west – the pointed Carpathians mountains.

Belogradchik Fortress, together with the surrounding rocks, is one of the 100 national tourist sites. Restored and spectacularly lighted at night, it is definitely worth seeing.