Vratitsa Fortress is located 1.5 km west of Vratsa, in the gorge of Leva River, just before the Vratsata limestone gorge. The fortress is presumably a remnant of the ancient city that gave birth to today's Vratsa. Its foundation is associated with the valuable copper deposits near the fortress.
The earliest findings discovered by archaeologists hail from the Thracian period, dating back to the 6th century BC. These are coins from Greek cities along the Aegean coast. In the period around the 6th - 7th centuries BC the territory of present-day Vratsa saw Triballi incursions and settlement, with Triballi lands stretching east all the way to the Iskar River. Their capital is also supposed to have been here. The Triballi were a proud and belligerent tribe; they got famous in the antiquity for their victories over the Odrysians (425 BC) and even over the army of Philip II. In 335 BC they also battled against his son Alexander the Great, but subsequently became his allies.
The Triballi suffered serious defeat by the Celts, and later in 179 and 168 BC were ravaged by the German Bastarni tribe. In 29 BC some of the local Thracian rulers made alliances with the Romans to consolidate their own regimes, but this generally weakened the Triballi's resistance power, and before long the Roman emperor Mark Licinius Krasus Jr. succeeded in defeating them (29-27 BC).
After the Moesia province was established, a Roman mining settlement with a mint for bronze coins emerged here. The Romans erected a robust fortress guarding the copper mines from invaders. The region's heyday came in Byzantine times under Emperor Justinian, when an early Christian church was built in the vicinity. a lead seal of Justinian was found during archaeological excavations.
One of the interesting finds is a Roman Republican coin dating from the 1st century BC. Others include the counterfeit gold coins of Emperor Zeno, as well as a bronze coin from the time of Emperor Claudius. According to archaeologist Narcis Torbov who oversees the archaeology works in the area, there is enough evidence that this is precisely the place where the Valve Roman fortress, mentioned by the well-known ancient historian Procopius of Caesarea, was lost.
During the First and Second Bulgarian kingdoms the settlement played a strategic role for the region. In the 13th century the whole hill was developed and the settlement already had the name Vratsa as corroborated by the stone inscription exhibited at the Vratsa Museum. Also dating back to that period are a few mysterious burials found near the excavations of a medieval 13th century church, e.g. a skeleton with a severed head and a stone placed near the heart, and another one, beheaded and facing down. Similar practices obtained during the Bulgarian Middle Ages and were intended to ward off potential vampires, experts say. Another interesting find from the Middle Ages is a 14th-century silver coin of the Bulgarian king Michael III Shishman.
According to legend, during the Ottoman invasion, the fortress was for a long time defended by chieftain Radan (Radan voyvoda) and his troops. The legend tells the story of the tragic end of the voyvoda and his daughter, Elitsa, who jumped off a cliff not far from the fortress to save their honour. Today, the place where they both died is known as the Red Rock.
When the area was conquered by the Ottomans, the fortress and its churches were destroyed.
Remains of this place, so emblematic for Vratsa, can be seen while walking along the so-called Heritage Trail, built within the Vratsa Mountain Nature Park.
The Heritage Trail leading to the fortress remains meanders through a sheer mountain side scree. Trail information panels tell the story of the castle and show the most interesting bits in pictures and diagrams.
The trail starts from a wooden sign board. There is a small parking lot opposite to it. The Chaika restaurant-cum-hotel, favourite with the locals, is situated nearby and is open Sundays as well. A small picnic area is situated next to the compound.