The Baba Vida Fortress is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in southeastern Europe. Located along the banks of the Danube, this strategic location has been fortified and fought over since Roman times. While not as large as some of other old fortifications in the region, it is historically the most important castle in Bulgaria. Its excellent state is due both to its superior masonry as well as the fact that it has not been threatened since the 14th century. Today it is maintained as a museum and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria outside of the capital.
The history of Baba Vida dates back to the Roman Empire. It was the site of one of many watchtowers and military outposts that guarded the empire from the barbarian tribes living just across the river. According to local legend, at some point in the Middle Ages, what is now Bulgaria was divided up between three sisters, daughters of the king. The oldest, Vida, was the wisest, and built the mighty fortress of Baba Vida to protect her realm, which in the end stood the longest.
The actual fortress of Baba Vida was first constructed in the 10th century. One of the mightiest fortifications in southeastern Europe at the time, it helped the Bulgars, descendents of the Huns, retain independence from the Byzantine Empire for a brief period. Unfortunately, though it withstood a nearly year-long siege, Baba Vida was sacked by the Byzantines in the 11th century. It remained used but in a state of severe disrepair for over three hundred years following this event.
In the mid-1300s, the castle and city were completely rebuilt by one Ivan Stratismir. After its completion, the site was fought over and changed several times between the Bulgarians and Hungarians. Eventually, the threat of a mutual enemy forced an agreement in which the Bulgarians retained control of the castle as quasi-vassals of the Hungarian ruler. The two nations, along with other local kingdoms, formed a great alliance in an effort to stave off the relentless advance of Ottoman armies from Asia.
In 1396 the armies of the kingdoms of southeastern Europe met disastrous defeat at the Battle of Nicopolis, and the Baba Vida Fortress came under the control of the Ottomans. It spent the next four centuries serving a variety of purposes, including use as an armory and as a prison. By the time of Bulgarian independence in 1878, the Baba Vida Fortress was still magnificently intact but militarily irrelevant. It became and important symbol of the Bulgarian Nation in the 20th century, and was converted to use as a museum after World War II.
The Baba Vida Fortress crowns a low hill immediately alongside the western bank of the Danube River. Constructed with thick, earth-backed walls and squat, blocky towers, the structure looks less like a medieval castle and more like a cross between an ancient Roman garrison and a gunpowder-age fortification. Despite appearances, it is a classic, concentric medieval fortress, albeit filled with grass-overgrown earth. This made it one of the strongest castles in the Balkans, and one of the reasons it has survived so well over the centuries.
The most intact portion, and by far the most impressive, is the dual-level inner keep. Although not particularly large, it is enclosed by powerful walls and guarded by square towers and a deep moat. The castle interior was remodeled during the Ottoman era with gunpowder weapons in mind, as is evident by the reinforced casements facing in every direction. It is now home to a small museum with exhibits on the history of the castle and region.
The Baba Vida Fortress is located just outside the town of Vidin, approximately 85 miles north of the capital of Sofia and 140 miles west of Bucharest. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: http://bulgariatravel.org/BabaVida (official website).
Northwestern Bulgaria is dotted with historic castles. Not too far from Baba Vida is Bulgaria’s second most popular castle, the Belogradchik Fortress. Further down the Danube River, closer to the Black Sea, is the Cherven Fortress. The Tsarevets Fortress closer to Central Bulgaria was once the nation’s royal capital.