The town was founded decades before it was declared for a capital – probably in the beginning of the ІХ-th century during the reign of the Khans Krum or Omurtag. Even in the time before it became a capital, Preslav was heavily fortified and developed. It guarded the near passages in Stara Planina Mountain and served as a residence for the Khan. Following the official Christianisation (in 864) many Orthodox churches were built in Preslav, which bespeaks about the vast number of the population and the gradual growth of the town. The massive fortifying walls, the important place of the town in the military and administrative system of the state and also the Christian tradition that was present in those places during the late Antiquity are the most important reasons that account for the choice of Preslav as the new capital of Christian Bulgaria.
In 893, Boris І gathered the council and declared the moving of the capital from Pliska to Preslav and placed Simeon on the throne (893-927), whom the Byzantine historians considered to be one of the most knowledgeable rulers of its time. According to the third decision of the council, Bulgarian language was proclaimed the official language for liturgies and in state offices. This served as the basis for all necessary prerequisites for all the events, processes and phenomena called today “The Golden Age” of the Bulgarian spiritual and material culture to happen.
Tsar Simeon the Great
Artist: Dimitar Gyudzhenov
When the Bulgarian apocrypha talks about Tsar Simeon, his name is always related to the large construction activities: “…after that Simeon accepted the Bulgarian kingdom…and the great town of Preslav….he built and made in 28 years…” This is also confirmed by the archaeological excavations. Probably even in the early years of Simeon’s rule (or in the last decades of the reign of Boris I) the former fortress was enlarged to the north and a second one was built around it – an outer fortress wall that encompassed an area of 3.5 km2. By doing that, the enlarged space of the earlier aul became a citadel also called the Inner Town that served as the centre of the secular and spiritual authorities. The area between the two fortified walls (Outer City) and the surrounding area were the very town territory. There the boyars’ estates and monasteries were erected; some artisan and commercial zones were established as well as the houses of the common people. The monasteries’ scriptoriums were the places for intense literary work where translations from Greek language were made and original books in Bulgarian language were written. Skilful masters created fine examples of the famous Preslav painted ceramics, jewellery, carvings in bone, wood and stone in the workshops of some aristocratic estates, monasteries and industrial regions. The archaeological excavations prove that the town continued to develop and reached its magnificence during the reign of Tsar Peter (927-969).
In less than a century, Preslav turned into one of the most beautiful and prospering cities in then Europe. The Bulgarian capital could have been a rival of Constantinople with its magnificent palaces, temples and impressive buildings, linked with streets, squares and covered passages.
The magnificence of Preslav was lost after the death of Tsar Peter in 969 when the Bulgarian capital was occupied by prince Sviatoslav I of Kiev. Two years later, in 971 on Easter Day, Preslav was captured by the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes and called Ioanopolis. During the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire after the Bulgarian state system was restored, the town was an important administrative and metropolitan centre and the adjoining territory was referred to as “Peter’s land” as it became the home of Tsar Peter II who left the throne and lived there. In 1388 Preslav was occupied by the troops of the Ottoman general Ali Pasha.
Today, part of the brilliance of the former capital is preserved in Veliki Preslav Archaeological Museum. The fine examples of Preslav painted ceramics, the marble architectural details and the tens of inscriptions in stone and ceramics tell us about the literary and educational activities there; about the splendour of Preslav palaces and the fine taste of the town’s population. In the treasury of the museum you can enjoy the exceptional Preslav golden treasure that remind us of the words of John the Exarch: „...with your own eyes only you can really be astonished at this beauty...”.