The first university outside the Bulgarian capital, with patrons the brothers Cyril and Methodius, was founded on the historical and picturesque hill of Sveta gora (Holy Mount) in Veliko Tarnovo in the fall of 1963. The University developed within the context of the educational and cultural tradition of the famous XIV century Tarnovo Literary School. It strengthened its position as an institution for higher education in the Humanities and the Arts and as a prestigious educational and scientific centre. It was originally founded as Brothers Cyril and Methodius Higher Institute of Education on 27 September 1962 by Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Council of Ministers. It first opened doors on 15 September 1963 and was established with by the Presidium of the National Assembly on 4 August 1964. The first 340 students studied four degree courses – Bulgarian philology, Russian philology, History and Fine Arts. 25 professors and assistants as well as 10-15 part-time lecturers and associate professors from universities in Sofia and institutes with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences taught classes at UVT during its first year.

Among the originators of the Veliko Tarnovo Alma Mater are the Rector Prof. Aleksandar Burmov and vice rector Prof. Penyo Rusev – two friends, associates and co-creators sharing the dream of a great and durable historic achievement – the founding of a new humanitarian university outside the capital. Distinguished scholars and administrators, ardent supporters and champions of any new and constructive long-term ideas, they carefully pick the first lecturers and assistant professors, they recruit Sofia colleagues for the “Tarnovo cause,” they manage and oversee the reconstruction of the former barracks on Sveta gora into offices and lecture and seminar halls, they create a curriculum and the first departments.

The first step is the most difficult. “It is important first to begin." (in Old Bulgarian) – the originators of the Veliko Tarnovo Alma Mater always used to say, repeating the words of the Bulgarian National Revival cleric and writer, Sophronius of Vratsa. Inspired to revive the old traditions of the former Tarnovgrad capital, they sought to rekindle the patriotic spirit of the Euthymius of Tarnovo reform in their keen students. Many established humanitarian scholars of the time aided Prof. Aleksandar Burmov and Prof. Penyo Rusev, in originating the university.

Rector and teaching staff faced two important tasks formulated by Prof. Aleksandar Burmov in his speech when the Higher Institute of Education opened on 15 September 1963: “1. The Institute must train highly qualified experts – teachers, scholars and artists; 2. The Institute must become a new hub for Bulgarian scholars and research.”

Establishing and developing the University of Veliko Tarnovo was a complicated and dynamic process in which teaching and acquiring the Humanities go hand in hand with active and productive research. Significant national and international contribution in the form of conferences, symposiums, seminars and student research expeditions complemented the accelerated growth of the young institute’s teaching work. The academic journal “Nauka i trud” (Science and Labour) was serialized right away and the first volume of “Trudove na Visshiya pedagogicheski institut” (Works from the Higher Institute of Education) was printed in 1964. Parallel to academic, research and teaching development were published the first scholarly publications, textbooks and monographs, the first doctoral theses were defended and the first of the young Veliko Tarnovo lecturers attained academic rank.

The number of degree courses at the Institute increased along with the number of students and lecturers, and departments; the first faculties were born and a material and technical foundation was created and brought up to date.

In only eight years, the Bulgarian public and government were convinced that the Institute in Veliko Tarnovo had the makings of a modern university. On 13 October 1971 the Higher Institute of Education was transformed into a university and on 14 October 1971 at an official ceremony the then first state leader Todor Zhivkov read the State Council’s decree and handed the rector, Prof. Zhelyo Avdzhiev, the symbolic key of the new Bulgarian university.  This memorable event intentionally coincided with the international symposium marking the 600th anniversary of the Tarnovo Literary School of which the University is a rightful and worthy heir.  It was meant to symbolise a revival of the Veliko Tarnovo Literary tradition – 600 years prior, Euthymius, the eminent cleric and writer, set up in the Holy Trinity monastery a seat of learning which spread the wealth of Bulgarian literary traditions far beyond the borders of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. Thus, the University of Veliko Tarnovo proved to be fatefully linked to the two crucial events in the spiritual life of medieval Bulgaria – the creation of the Slavic alphabet on the one hand and the work of the renowned Tarnovo Literary School on the other.

Today St Cyril and St Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, the largest Bulgarian university outside of Sofia, is a highly-respected centre for the Fine Arts and the Humanities, enjoying both a national and international reputation and maintaining a wide range of international contacts around the world. The highly qualified staff of scholars and lecturers, the wide variety of subjects and the developed and modern material and technical foundation makes the University eligible for the needs and tasks of restructuring higher education in Bulgaria – a step forward which is imperative both in the present and the future.