The imposing Byzantine fortress at Mezek in the very southeast of Bulgaria was not taken for several centuries and is today the best preserved medieval fortress in the Rhodopes.
The village of Mezek is located in the southeast of Bulgaria near the town of Svilengrad and already almost on the border with Greece. It was an important point on the way to Constantinople (today's Istanbul) already in ancient times. The strategic importance of this place is still evident today through several fortresses built by the Thracians, the Byzantines and the Bulgarians.
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PICTURES: Neutsikon Fortress near Mezek
Centuries old Byzantine fortress
One of the most outstanding examples of these fortifications is the 11th-12th century Byzantine fortress of Neutsikon (or Versinikia, experts disagree here), located on the outskirts of the village of Mezek.
The huge quadrangle extends on the Kaleto hill over an area of about 7000 square meters. It was intended to protect the area between the two rivers Maritsa and Arda and also got its name from this function, because "Mezek" in Greek roughly means "space between".
The mighty walls, reinforced by 9 round towers and equipped with embrasures, were built under the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. The fortress was constantly occupied, as evidenced by the findings of charred food remains, as well as numerous arrowheads, spurs and horseshoes.
Stone mills and tools of daily use indicate that not only soldiers but also ordinary people lived behind the walls. Until the Ottoman invasion in the late 14th century, the fortress was a well-functioning military bulwark. However, even the mighty walls of the Mezek fortress did not stand a chance against the artillery guns used at that time.
In the second half of the 20th century, work began on restoring the fortress and preserving the existing remains. A tourist center was also created, where brochures and information folders tell about the history of the Mezek Fort. The last major renovation took place in 2013 and since 2009 the fort has also been included in the list of Bulgaria's 100 National Tourist Sites.
Tour of the fortress at Mezek
The entire complex can be explored on your own for a small entrance fee and even the towers may be climbed. A small parking lot is available from which visitors walk to the fortress.
The entrance is still through the castle gate in the west wall. This was deliberately sited to lure the approaching enemy onto a plateau where they could be fired upon from two sides. There is almost nothing left of the northern wall, which was demolished almost to the ground at the beginning of the 20th century. The southern wall, more than 2.5 meters thick, was the most fortified and was immediately equipped with 5 of the 9 defense towers.
Sensational panoramic view from Mezek Fortress
Thanks to its robust construction of hewn boulders, reinforced on the outside with three rows of bricks, the fortification wall is still preserved today in amazingly good condition. The once over 10 meter high defense towers can still be easily seen. Until around 1900, even the battlements of the castle wall were still present, but then parts of the complex were destroyed to obtain building material for the Turkish barracks in Svilengrad.
On clear days, the view from the highest tower between the west and south walls falls all the way to the Aegean Sea. The view of Mezek and the surrounding landscape is also impressive.