Tsarevets (Bulgarian: Царевец) is a mediaeval stronghold located on a hill with the same name in Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria. It served as the Second Bulgarian Empire's primary fortress and strongest bulwark from 1185 to 1393, housing the royal and the patriarchal palaces, and is a popular tourist attraction.
The earliest evidence of human presence on the hill dates from the 2nd millennium BC. It was settled in the 4th century and a Byzantine fortress was constructed near the end of the 5th century, on the grounds of which the construction of the Bulgarian stronghold was begun in 12th century. After the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion and the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire with its capital in Veliko Tarnovo, the fortress became the most important one in Bulgaria, often compared with Rome and Constantinople in magnificence. In 1393, the stronghold was besieged by Ottoman forces for three months before finally being conquered and burnt down on 17 July, which marked the fall of the Bulgarian Empire.
The restoration of the complex began in 1930, when the first of the three gates of the main entrance to the fortress was reconstructed.
The whole stronghold is girdled by thick walls (reaching up to 3,6 m) and was served by three gates. The main gate was at the hill's westernmost part, on a narrow rock massif, and featured a draw-bridge. The second gate is 18 m away from the first one and the third one, which existed until 1889, is 45 m further.
The palace is located on the hill's central and plain part, which was a closed complex encircled by a fortified wall, 2 towers and 2 entrances, a main one from the north and one from the south. It featured a throne room, a palace church and a royal residential part and encompassed 4872 m².
On the top of the hill is the patriarchate, a complex with an area of about 3000 m², whose church, built on the grounds of an Early Christian one, was reconstructed in 1981 and painted in 1985. The frescoes inside depict the glorious and tragic moments of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Baldwin's Tower (Балдуинова кула), a modern reconstruction of a medieval tower modelled after the tower in Cherven and built in 1930, is located in the southeastern part of the fortress. It is located at the place of the original medieval tower where Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople found his death as a prisoner of Kaloyan of Bulgaria.
During the Middle Ages, residential buildings, craftsman's workshops and numerous churches and monasteries were situated on the slopes of the Tsarevets hill. Archaeologists have discovered 400 residential buildings, differentiated in quarters, over 22 churches and 4 monasteries.
The Sound and Light (Звук и светлина, Zvuk i svetlina) audiovisual show is an attraction carried out in the evening that uses three lasers, variegated lights, dramatic music and church bells to tell the story of the fall of Tarnovo to the Ottomans, as well as other key moments of the history of Bulgaria. The large-scale show has been organized at Tsarevets since 1985, when the 800-year anniversary of the Uprising of Asen and Peter was celebrated. It was designed and planned by a Bulgarian-Czechoslovak team led by Valo Radev and Jaromir Hnik.