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VRATSA

Vratsa is the largest town in Northwestern Bulgaria. It is situated on both banks of the Leva River, on the northern foothills of the Vrachanski mountains.

The first long-term settlers amid these inaccessible cliffs of the Vratsata Gorge were the Thracians. The Romans also appreciated the defensive possibilities of the gorge. The medieval Bulgarian town of Vratitsa was built here. Later, during the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, it became an important fortified centre and spread across both banks of the Leva River. Remains of the medieval fortress have survived until today. During the time of the Ottoman rule it was the arena for destructive engagements as a garrison and roadside town, which protected the passes and routes to the Danube ports of Vidin, Lom and Oryahovo as well as the interior of the country. It established itself as a large crafts, trade, administrative and cultural centre by the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Cathedrals, schools and beautiful houses were built. The patriotic deeds of Sofroniy Vrachanski left a lasting mark on the history of the town; he was ordained as a bishop here in 1794. He is the second key figure in the early stage of Bulgarian National Revival after Paisiy of Hilendar - the author of Slavo-Bulgarian History, which resurrected the glorious history of the Bulgarians and aimed to awaken the national conscience. He made a large contribution to the creation and development of neo-Bulgarian literature.

LANDMARKS
• The Town Historical Museum, where the extremely valuable Thracian gold treasure and original samples of the famous Vratsa School of goldsmiths are preserved.
• The Town Art Gallery.
• The residential defense towers of the Kurtpashovtsi and Mezhchii families.
• The National-Revival Ethnographic Complex, which includes several houses - architectural, ethnographic and historical monuments, The Assumption of the Lord's Church (18th century) and the oldest school in the town - Vaznesenskoto (Assumption) School (1822).
• The Mogilanska Mound (4th century B.C.) with rich finds of gold and silver.
• Thracian stone tombs (4th century B.C.).
• The Nikola Voyvodov Ethnographic and Historical Complex.
• Monument to the revolutionary and educator Nikola Voyvodov in the Garov Square.
• The home of Gen. Kiril Botev, where the mother and brother of the revolutionary and poet Hristo Botev lived from 1900 to 1903.
• The childhood home of Prof. Andrey Nikolov, the patriarch of Bulgarian sculpture.
• The Messenger of Freedom monument, where the sound of the battle horn - the signal given by Petlak the Cossack on November 9, 1877 heralding the liberation of the town from Ottoman rule - can be heard every Sunday.
• Kemera Quarter in the south end of Vratsa - the old section of the town for craftsmen with their old-time workshops and shops.
• The beautiful Hristo Botev Tourist Centre on the Kaleto Hill.
• St. Ivan Kasinets' Monastery (15-16th century) 8 km (5 miles) northwest of Vratsa with murals
from 1540. According to legend, St. Ivan of the Rila Mountain lived here for a short time.
• Vratsata Gorge south of the town, attractive to rock climbers and campers.
• Ledenika Cave 16 km from Vratsa, one of the most interesting Bulgarian caves. There are several halls with amazing formations - The Antechamber, the Crawling Thing, The Concert Hall (with rock formations: the crocodile, giant's head, the falcon, Santa Clans, the cottage of Granny Yaga (a fairytale witch) and many others), and The White Hall (where one can see the mother-in-law's tongue, the giant s wife, the elephant, and the bathing maiden. The highest point is called Seventh Heaven - it is accessible to only the most enthusiastic of tourists. The cave is lit by electric lights.
• The natural landmark known as God's Bridge in the Chipensko-Lilyashki karst region to the north of Vratsa, near Zhabokrek. The entrance to this natural arch is 20 m (65 feet) high and 25 m (80 feet) wide. At its main axis, the tunnel is approximately 125 m (400 feet) long where there are three small ponds. Close to the bridge, in the locale of Borovanska Mogila, there are the remains of an ancient Roman fortress. God's Bridge is comparable to the Wondrous Bridges of the Rhodope Mountains and the region has been shaped into an attractive zone for relaxation and tourism. The fact that the Chipensko-Lilyashki karst region is one of the most important and interesting speleological sites in Bulgaria only contributes to this status.

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