Driving north in the Asenitsa Valley, following the Chepelare River, we notice that the walls on both sides are rising straight up from the valley floor. Rain starts falling down when we take the left turn and we meet a lot of people walking up the mountain. When we park, we only have to wait a few minutes before the rain is down to a trickle. We walk down, buy our entrance ticket, and stand right under the top of the outcrop o which Asen's Fortress was built. We walk the stairs around the mountain, until we reach the backside where we find an Orthodox church. The views are outstanding, and we now realise the spectacular location of this fortress. The ridge on which rises vertically from below, making it impregnable. The perfect spot to build a fortification, and a formidable obstruction to any invaders.
We enter the Church of the Holy Mother of God, which is the only building that survives more or less intact. We even find some well executed frescoes on the walls. The church has two floors, the lower floor has several chairs, a low ceiling, and has rocks visible through the walls. The upper floor is the church proper. From the outside, we look up at the top of the rocky outcrop on which the fortress is built. Walking up, we are still able to distinguish the various buildings, rooms, and cells that made up the fortress. From the top, we get great views both into the valley and of the church we have just visited. Around the corner, we see high walls that helped making the fortress even harder to conquer. A remarkable job was done constructing this fortification, especially given the location.
We are the only ones around on this dark afternoon, and the ruins appear quiet. Yet, this place has a history going back to the 5th century BCE, when Thracians built their first fortification here. It was later used, rebuilt, and destroyed by Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Crusades, and Ottomans. Tsar Ivan Asen enlarged the fortress in the 13th century, which is why the fortress still carries its name. The nearby city of Stanimaka was renamed to Asenovgrad as recentyl as 1934 in his honour. We find several rocks bearing inscriptions, referring to the history of this impressively located fortress. We descend to the Holy Mother of God church again, and for the last time, enjoy the view of this typical Orthodox church and the backdrop of the Rhodopes Mountains before we walk down under a drizzle, leaving a shiny layer on the stones of this medieval fortress.
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