On the territory of present-day Veliko Tarnovo around 5 -7th century rose the city of Zikideva, the largest city of the Byzantine Empire in the province of Moesia Inferior. Its citadel was situated on the strongly fortified Tsarevets Hill.
In the 9th century a medieval Bulgarian settlement was founded on the ruins of the early Byzantine citadel on Tsarevets Hill. It gradually extended during the period of the First Bulgarian Kingdom and especially during the period of Byzantine rule.
During the 12th century the settlement was already fortified and a nobleman’s castle and several Christian religions buildings were erected.
For over 200 years the city thrived as the center of political, economic and cultural life of the great Bulgarian state. The capital city expanded on the well fortified walls of Tsarevets and Trapezitsa. Suburbs grew on the slopes leading down to the Yantra River. By its area and population the city was one of the biggest in the European South-East.
The citadel rose on the Tsarevets Hill. It used to hold the Palace of Bulgarian kings. Within the Palace were the representative and administrative buildings related to the functioning of the state and the King’s private chambers. The same area also held the palace church “Sveta Paraskeva” where some representatives of the ruling dynasty were buried.
For 2 centuries Tarnovgrad was the major economic and spiritual centre.
The economic advancement resulted in the minting of Bulgarian coins. It was in the capital city’s mint that King Ivan Assen II /1218-1214/ struck his first gold coins with Bulgarian inscriptions. Bulgarian coins were gradually established as the legal tender in the international market and during the second half of the 14th century they began to be used in Serbia, Bosna, Wallachia and Venice.
During its period as a capital city /12-14 c./ Tarnovgrad turned into a major center of arts and letters, indeed important to the entire Slav world.
Since the late 15th century up till the 17th century a great number of churches and monasteries were renovated or constructed – the strongholds of spirituality and religious faith, not just in Tarnovo but also around it; temples, murals, icons and iconostases have survived to this very day.
On 17.07.1393 the capital city was conquered and ravaged. This marked the beginning of its long decline into the bleak years of Ottoman rule. And yet, under foreign statehood and the influence of a foreign culture Tarnovgrad managed to survive and be resurrected five centuries later into a symbol of statehood and cultural tradition; it is still seen as the stronghold of Bulgarians’ historic memory.