Assen Fortress is located in the Rhodope Mountains, 3 km south of the town of Assenovgrad. It is situated on a rocky ridge over the left bank of the Assenitsa River. The ridge rises 130m above the town level, about 100m above the river level and 30m from the road from Assenovgrad to the Bachkovo Monastery.
Асеновград е разположен в Южна България на 180 м надморска височина в долината на р. Чепеларска, извираща от Родопите. Намира се в Област Пловдив на 19 км южно от град Пловдив, 84 км северно от Смолян, 169 км североизточно от София. Той е втори по големина в областта и е административен център на община Асеновград.
Градът е известен с множеството църкви, манастири и параклиси, намиращи се на територията му (11 църкви и 53 параклиса) и често е наричан Малкия Йерусалим. В околностите му са разположени четири манастира. Друго известно наименование е Градът на булчинските рокли поради големия брой булчински магазини.
Според поверието Асеновград се закриля от Св. Богородица и в нейна чест се организират шествия два пъти в годината.
The earliest archeological finds in the area date back to the 5th-4th century B.C. In this period the Thracians built a military fortification on the inaccessible rockside. It was intended to protect the pass that linked ancient Thrace and the Aegean region. Almost a millennium after the settlement of the Thracians, during the great Slavic migrations in the Balkan region, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian erected a high fortress on the site to repulse enemy invasions. During the Middle Ages the stronghold retained its importance because of its strategic location.
The earliest mention of the Assen Fortress is found in the Statutes of the Bachkovo Monastery of 1083. There it is called “the fortified settlement of Petrich”. It becomes clear that the Assen Fortress had its own army and administration. It was situated in a rich agricultural area and gradually grew into its center whereas the adjacent village of Stanimachos became its suburb. During the 18th century the fortress and the village formed the medieval town of Stenimachos. From then on this was the name under which it was to appear in all written sources.
The medieval village of Petrich that existed from the 11th to the 14th century was located northwest of the fortress. The crusaders seized the fortress during the 4th Crusade. For the first time the fortification became part of the Bulgarian kingdom under Tsar Kaloyan in 1206. In 1207 it was added to the lands of Despot Alexius Slav. After the battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230, the fortress went back to the Bulgarian state then ruled by Tsar Ivan Asen II. The deteriorating relations with the Latin Empire in 1230 made Tsar Ivan Assen II strengthen and expand the stronghold. An eight-line inscription in Bulgarian over the entrance attests to the event. Because of this inscription, the Petrich Fortress was named after Assen whereas the near-by town was renamed from Stanimaka to Assenovgrad.
Under Ivan Assen’s successors the fortress again fell into the hands of the Byzantines. In 1344, however, during the reign of Ivan Alexander, it was permanently incorporated into the Bulgarian kingdom.
After Bulgaria’s fall under Ottoman rule, the fortress lost its strategic significance and was eventually destroyed. For the last time it is mentioned by Konstantin Kostenechki in 1410 when one of Sultan Beyasid’s sons hid in the fortress while fighting with his brother over the throne.
The structure and location of this historic monument make it a typical example of fortress construction during the 11th-14th century. It occupies an area of 3 hectares. The fortress walls follow the rock relief rising at the high points and getting wider or narrower in the more vulnerable spots. The walls are made of stone blocks bound by mortar. The steepest and most inaccessible slopes are not protected with walls. However, a high wall rises at the southwest side where the entrance was situated.
There is a citadel on the highest point of the terrain. It could be provisionally divided into three levels depending on the function of the objects located there. Archaeologists have found several buildings there: a tower, a water reservoir, a Boyar castle and a two-storied chapel. The buildings were linked with narrow and steep streets and lanes. The internal tower, the so-called donjon, was built on the highest part. It is a tall and fortified structure situated within a large fortress. In times of peace the donjon was the ruler’s residence. In times of war it was the best-protected place and served as a watchtower. Its base is an irregular quadrangle. Among the excavated fragments are potsherds, animal bones and other objects. This shows that the donjon was used as a residence by the fortress defenders as well. The preserved walls are over 2m high and about 3m wide at the base.
There are two water reservoirs at a lower level. They are situated in the best-protected section. Rainwater was poured and pumped from above.
The coin finds suggest that the fortress was not only a strategic but also a brisk economic center. It maintained trade relations with towns in the Balkan Peninsula and elsewhere. This is evidenced by the coin of the Venetian doge Theopolou dating back to 229-240.Among the finds are also Byzantine bronze coins of the 11th-12th century, a Roman bronze coin from the reign of Constantine the Great and a replica of an ancient coin from the 10th -11th century. Worth special attention is the lead seal belonging to the Byzantine ruler Alexius Comnenus as well as dozens of Byzantine coins from the times of the Comnenus dynasty. Another valuable find from the latter half of the 13th century is the Bulgarian bronze coin of Constantine Tikh.
It is the only Bulgarian coin that has been hitherto found there.
The Assen Fortress is one of the most interesting and popular medieval monuments in Bulgaria. It is a symbol of Assenovgrad and is a component part of the town’s coat-of-arms. Every year over 70,000 Bulgarian and foreign tourists visit the fortress.