The “Tsari Mali Grad” fortress


The Tsari Mali Grad fortress holds the gold of Justinian. The village Belchin, near Samokov and Borovets, is well known for its mineral springs. In 2013, the village became even more popular with its unique historical complex- a fully restored fortress from the IV-V century and a church from the XVII century. Buried under the dust of time, the hill of St. Spas was hiding for millennia a centuries old secret. For centuries, under the layers of forgetfulness, stood tucked in pieces of an ancient knowledge and dramatic events; evidence of the emergence and demise of empires and small stories of ordinary people who lived in these places.


In 2013 the hill was seething with construction, unparalleled even compared to the days of the emperor Justinian, for in his days the fortress was restored for the last time. Back then no one worked during the night. Today our craftsmen worked hard on three shifts so that on the 20th of July 2013, the site could be formally opened.


The investment in Belchin is worth 5.58 million leva, awarder to the Samokov municipality by the operational program “Regional Development” of the EU. The ancient name of the castle is unfortunately unknown. Today it is called "Tsari Mali Grad" due to its size. With an area of 10 acres it can equal even the fortress of Tzarevets.


According to archeologist Veselin Hadzhiangelov, head of the excavations and restoration, the fortress had great importance in the ancient times. It was here where the Roman roads crossed, between today’s Kyustendil, Sapareva banya, Samokov, Plovdiv and Sofia.


In 2007 archaeological excavations on the hill began, provoked by the endless treasure-hunter interest and signals of the destruction of historical monuments.


It turns out that the Roman Empire has left a lasting imprint on these lands. The foundations of a majestic fortress and three temples were found, built one atop another, throughout the ages. According to the leading archeologist, Veselin Hadzhiangelov, the fortification of the hill next to Belchin began in the III century. In 285 AD, during the time of the emperor-reformer Diocletian, the village of Belchin became part of the Roman province of Inner Dacia with its capital- Serdika. A period of dynamic changes in the economic, religious and political aspect follows. A migration process during the IV-VI century known as the “Great Migration” changed the political map of Europe. A period of political instability, of devastating military attacks and one that required the construction of reliable defenses with massive walls to assure the safety and security of the local population.


Within the fortress are found precious golden coins of Justinian, bronze one of Galla Placidia, coins of Trajan, Theodosius, Valens, Valentinian, Gratian and Maximilian. Among the findings are medieval applications, fibulae from the VI century and numerous arrows from the Dark Ages. Archeologists have discovered that around that time the fortress was destroyed.


Centuries after the Huns’ and Avars’ hordes destroyed its walls, the fortress gets a chance for a new life. Its towers and parts of its walls can already be seen in their fullest height. The northwestern tower will be home to the museum exhibition and the Northeast will be used as a site for visitors. The eastern, southern and western parts of the wall have been, only partially, restored.


During the archeological excavations of the fortress, the remains of two early Christian churches and one medieval one were discovered.


The foundations of three temples overlap one-another, which according to Veselin Hadzhiangelov is proof that Christianity has existed in this region throughout the centuries uninterrupted. In order to show this tradition, in addition to the conservation of the two main temples, a total reconstruction of the medieval church has been done. However it will not be operational. A multimedia system and photo boards along its walls will tell of the history of Christianity in the entire Samokov region.


In the courtyard of the fortress, which is now shaped into a beautiful park, are exposed ancient war machines and the armor of warriors from the turbulent era when Tsari Mali Grad had to wean the attacks of the barbarians.


The “St. Petka” church holds icons from the XVII century. Before getting up to the fortress, the visitors of Belchin will certainly have something to see in its foothills. It’s the church of “St. Petka”, built in its final look during the XVII century on top of the pillars of an older temple from the XIII-XIV century. In 2006 began its restoration with the money and will of the local people. On the 14th of October 2007 it was blessed personally by the late Patriarch Maxim.


Many valuable icons are held in the church, the oldest of which were made in 1653. These are rare pieces of art from the school of Pimen Zografski. The icons “Jesus on a throne with the apostles”, “Virgin Mary with baby Jesus on a throne with the prophets”, “Saint Nichola” (XVII century) and “The three Saints” are particularly noteworthy. The iconostasis is also among the unique monuments found- a monumental woodcarving of the late XVIII and early XIX century. The church is operational and in it is a collection of icons and manuscripts, as well as well as samples of the first church antiquarian books.


The “St. Spas” and “St Ivan” hills are situated on the ridge of Mount Verila. They can be reached through the exit points of Belchin village and Belchin hut on a number of eco-roads built in the area. Nearby is also the large trans-European tourist route E4, which starts from the Pyrenees in Spain, follows the Alps and Carpathians in Central Europe and goes all the way to the Peloponnese in Greece. Within the borders of Bulgaria, the route goes through the ridge parts of the Vitosha, Verila, Rila, Pirin and Slavyanka mountains.