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A short history of Bulgaria – part 3 – The Kingdom of Veliko Tarnovo
After the fall of the First Bulgarian kingdom, it takes about 170 years to recover from Byzantine rule – the Romans had gained certain political stability, but Bulgarians did not become peaceful and loyal residents of the new authorities. During this time there are numerous rebellions and more or less successful fights for the re-establishment of the Bulgarian Kingdom. Starting with the big uprising of Peter Delyan (1040-1041) which led to a temporary restoration of the Bulgarian state in the lands starting from the Danube all the way south to Solun (today Thessaloniki in Greece). In the following years a significant danger for Byzantium was the uprising of Georgi Voytech and Constantine-Peter Bodin, who also managed to restore partially the kingdom. There were also many other rebellions against the Byzantine authorities, but the most significant, because of its success, is the revolt of the Asenevtsi Dynasty.
The Uprising of the Asenevtsi dynasty
The rule of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos I seriously worsened the life of the Bulgarian peasantry – his early years were spent in pleasure and large spendings – after his wedding in 1185 he raised significantly all taxes and the taxes were higher for the Bulgarians, than for the Romans. When the brothers Peter and Assen (Ivan Assen I), nobles from Veliko Tarnovo, were preparing for the Uprising, the tough taxes were giving them a lot of allies. They started a propaganda campaign and soon had all the people were on their side – the uprising was declared in 1186 in the church of st. Demetrius in Veliko Tarnovo. Choosing this church this church was of significant importance, because it was believed that st. Demetrius had
left Thessaloniki and was now protecting the Bulgarians. The fight to recover the lost Bulgarian lands was not easy – it started with an attempt to take over the old capital, Preslav which was an important symbol of Bulgarian authority. As early as the autumn of 1186 Assen and Peter managed to free north Bulgaria and continued the fight for Thrace (the lands south from the Balkan, Stara Planina). After a battle in 1888 when the Romans who were led by emperor Isaak II Angel were defeated near Lovech, the emperor was forced to sign a peace pact, thus recognizing the renewed Bulgarian state.
Second Golden Age and Religious movements
After the Assenevtsi dynasty recovered the Bulgarian state, there still were battles with Byzantium that went on, but Bulgaria was slowly returning to its past glory. The capital was moved to Veliko Tarnovo – the fortress was made on Tsarevets hill, which is naturally protected from all sides by river Yantra and the height of the hill itself.
During the reign of Tsar Kaloyan (1197-1207) and Ivan Assen II (1218-1241) Bulgaria reaches the peak of its military and political power. At the same time Constantinople is taken over during the Fourth Crusade and a Roman Catholic emperor, Baldwin of Flanders, is enthroned. The Crusaders establish The Latin empire in Byzantium and soon declare that the lands of Bulgaria are an integral part of the Eastern Roman empire and this became a reason for a new war on the Balkans. In their first military campaign the Latins took over a large part of Thrace, but Bulgaria managed to stop their expansion on the Balkans. In the battle of Adrianople in 1205 emperor Baldwin I was captured and taken as hostage to Veliko Tarnovo, where he was incarcerated in the famous Baldwin’s Tower on the royal hill. Тhanks to the great military success of Ivan Assen II, Bulgaria soon got further stabilized, while Veliko Tarnovo was becoming a religious and cultural center.
Following concept of the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos, Greece, one of the hills in Veliko Tarnovo was populated with monasteries and named Sveta Gora (literally Holy Wood). This is where the major cultural reforms occurred – all holy books were re-translated – their language was polished to absolute perfection. In the time of Patriarch Euthymius of Tarnovo is the so called Second South-Slavic influence – Bulgarian books again were brought into the entire Slavic world. The impact of the Old Bulgarian language and culture is so strong that it can be compared to the influence of Latin and Greek classical culture in entire Europe. The manuscripts from medieval Bulgaria that have survived until today are mostly with religious content, but among them we find scientific studies and even translated novels and short stories. In the culture of the late Second Bulgarian Kingdom there is evidence of an early Renaissance, identical to the cultural movement which started in Italy in the 14th century.
Decline of the empires
Bulgaria and Byzantium were greatly weakened by the ongoing wars in the end of the 14th century. After the death of Ivan Alexander (1371) Bulgaria fell into a deep political crisis and in the decades when the Turks were on their way to Europe, became divided into three kingdoms by the inheritors of the Tsar – Kingdom of Tarnovo, Kingdom of Vidin and the Dobruja Despotate (state). A foreign traveler tells us about this:
I was in three regions, and all three were called Bulgaria. The first Bulgaria extends there, where you pass from Hungary through the Iron Gate. Its capital is called Vidin. The other Bulgaria lies opposite Wallachia, and its capital is called Tarnovo. The third Bulgaria is there, where the Danube flows into the sea. Its capital is called Kaliakra.
Meanwhile Byzanitium also was in chaos – it was weakened by the Fourth Crusade that conquered Constantinople, by misrule and the establishment of separatist and Latin states like the Nicaean empire. In 1355 Byzantium has lost all its cities in Asia Minor and most of its territories on the Balkans.
Ottoman Conquest of the Balkans
The formation of the Ottoman empire is related to the Mongol invasions in Asia Minor and the new migration of Turks. The Turkish state that founded in the 13th century by Osman I (Ottoman is an anglicized pronunciation of his name) became increasingly powerful and started conquering territories in the north.
The Ottomans reached Bulgaria in 1369 after conquering Adrianapolis (Edirne) and soon took over all the lands south of the Balkan. The attempts to establish a union and peace between Bulgarians and Turks failed and in 1372-1373 was started a military campaign against the Kingdom of Veliko Tarnovo. A fragile peace followed after a royal marriage – the Bulgarian Tsar’s daughter was married to Sultan Murad I, but after 1377 the final period of Ottoman conquest begins. The Turks had gotten a sea corridor, which allowed them to transfer large armies easily and ignoring the peace treaties start to slowly conquer all Bulgarian territories. After a long siege, on the 17th of July 1393 the capital, Veliko Tarnovo, is taken by the Ottomans; the Kingdom of Vidin exists as a vassal state until about 1422.
The Second Bulgarian kingdom ends with the fall of Vidin and Veliko Tarnovo and this conquest is followed by 5 centuries under Ottoman rule. This a period of hard years and supression for all Christians on the Balkans.