Holy Forty Martyrs Church

Layers of history and culture are carved into the honey-colored walls of Holy Forty Martyrs Church.

visit Veliko Tarnavo

As an effort to commemorate his victory over the Byzantine Empire, Bulgarian Tsar Asen II built the Holy Forty Martyrs Church at the heart of Veliko Tarnovo. Today, this quaint basilica sits peacefully on the banks of Yantra. It lures visitors with its old-world charm. Time and a devastating earthquake may have given it a hard time—still, the church retains its integrity thanks to several reconstructions. Stop by as you take a stroll down the river, and observe the traces of history.

Inside, you will find paintings and murals depicting the holiest scenes in Christianity. During Ottoman rule, most of the murals and the iconostasis were destroyed, and the remaining ones await the admiration of visitors in the northern section. Although bearing the burden of neglect and damage, the murals still carry their authentic beauty. The paintings of St. Elizabeth with baby John the Baptist are the ones you shouldn’t miss. Other treasures worth seeing are the royal burials and tombs of medieval Bulgaria’s rulers and their families.

Apart from immeasurable cultural value, the church boasts austere architecture characteristic of 12th century Bulgaria. The basilica is relatively small in size, which lends an intimate feel to the overall ambiance of the nave. If you are visiting during the holidays, prepare to witness heartfelt moments, as the church is a popular pilgrimage site for modern-day believers. 

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