The village of Arbanasi is located on a high plateau 4 km from the city of Veliko Tarnovo.
It is known that the village existed during the time of the Second Bulgarian State (1185 – 1393). At that time the Bolyari living in the capital Tarnovo used it as a summer residence. According to legend, the Tsar of Tarnovo minted coins here.
After the victory of Ivan Asen II (reign 1218 – 1241) in 1230 at Klokotnitsa over the forces of Episcope Teodor Komnin, the kingdom of Arbanasi (now Albania) became part of the Bulgarian Empire and many inhabitants of the new territories settled in the region. According to one account, the village was named after the homeland of the settlers.
The first written confirmation of the village’s existence, however, is in a decree by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. The main activities practiced by the residents of Arbanasi during the Ottoman rule were animal husbandry and trade. Some inhabitants bred silkworms.
During the 17th century, Arbanasi rose to prominence as a trading center. Traders from Arbanasi were renowned and traded throughout the Turkish Empire. The houses of wealthy traders from this period resembled small fortresses. They appeared severe and forbidding from the outside, without balconies or terraces, with bars on the windows and sturdy armored entrances. Within, however, they were richly appointed and most impressive. The entire interior was decorated with doors, windows, closets, floors with exceptionally ornate woodworking and plaster elements, all of which demonstrates the highly developed artistic skills of the builders.
Characteristic of the houses in Arbanasi is that because of the way they were built, it was possible to remain inside for long periods without going out, except to the well in the courtyard for water.
The most interesting museums in Arbanasi are the Konstantsaliev house, The Birth of Christ Church, and The Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
The Konstantsaliev house is among the largest of the richly decorated houses that have been preserved. It dates from the 17th century. At a later date Atanas Konstantsaliev purchased and restored the house, and it is known by his name to the present day. In 1913, it was leveled by an earthquake. After that it was again purchased and converted into a museum. In 1958, an exhibit of artifacts from the 19th century was held in the house.
The The Birth of Christ Church is among the oldest churches in Arbanasi. It is divided into a men’s section (the narthex) a woman’s section (the vestibule), and a galleries that enclose these areas on the north and west. To the east the church adjoins The Saint John the Baptist Chapel. The narthex that can still be viewed today at first stood alone as a church, and the murals on its walls were executed in 1597. Also from this period are the murals The Last Judgment and The Birth of Christ. The murals in the women’s section are on the walls and entrance. The theme of the murals in the chapel are dedicated to their patron saint, John the Baptist. The church was declared an architectural and artistic-cultural monument in the 61st edition of the State Records, in 1978.
The Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel Church was also declared an architectural and artistic-cultural monument in the 61st edition of the State Records, in 1978. The church is comprised of the men’s section (the narthex) and a woman’s section (the vestibule), The Saint Paraskeva Chapel and galleries. Two of the most interesting murals in the church are the Descent into Hell and The Birth of Christ.