Pautalia's Acropolis

The Hissarluka fortress is a symbol of the medieval city's might

Photo: Adelina Lozanova Part of the fortification walls of Hissarluka are fully restored, others are partly renovated.

On a steep hill above the town of Kyustendil, amidst a dense pine forest there stands a magnificent fortress which the locals call simply Hissarluka (from the Turkish “hisar” - fortress). Built in the times of the Roman Empire, later the fortress was used by Byzantines and Bulgarians and was razed to the ground during the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans at the end of the 14th century.

Archaeological data shows that as early as Thracian times there was a fortification on the hill above the ancient Pautalia - a city which was especially important due to the abundance of mineral springs in the vicinity. In its present shape, the fortress was built at the end of the 4th - beginning of the 5th century, and in the following 10 centuries it was built further and expanded several times.

The first more significant changes were made in the 6th century during the rule of Emperor Justinian I (527-565) and there is a documentary record of it left by antique writer Procopius of Caesarea. In those times the fortress sprawled over nearly 2,000 sq m, its walls were rising to the height of about 10m and the towers were over 12m high.

Owing to the terrain, the fortress has a shape of an irregular polygon extended to southeast and northwest. There are fourteen circular, triangular and right-angled towers in different sectors of the fortification wall, two main gates and five auxiliary gates. The widest main gate was in the eastern wall, close to the main road.

The traditional ancient Roman technique “opus mixtum” was used for the construction of the fortress. It consists of mixed masonry with rhythmically interchanging stone and brick belts. The brick layers have four or five rows while for those of stone the builders used local medium-sized rubble stone. Both layers were joined with mortar mixed with crushed bricks. In the original construction, bricks were also used for filling out the sidings of entrances, gates, towers, vaults and niches.

Deserted for centuries after the Ottoman invasion, the fortress was overgrown with dense forest and the locals used its masonry as construction material. Archaeological studies and research started here in the second half of the 20th century. Recently, the fortress was fully restored and conserved, now it is converted into an original city park.

Along with the restoration of the fortification walls, a lapidary and an amphitheatre seating 300 people were built at its northern wall. Antique stones and bricks of the original complex were used during the restoration works. Today, a beautiful vista of Kyustendil opens from the top of the hill surrounded by splendid forests, mineral springs and historical monuments.

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