Varna is the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and the third-largest city in Bulgaria. Commonly referred to as the marine (or summer) capital of Bulgaria, Varna is a major tourist destination, business and university centre, seaport, and headquarters of the Bulgarian Navy and merchant marine.
The region of ancient Thrace was populated by Thracians by 1000 BC. Miletians founded the apoikia (trading post) of Odessos towards the end of the 7th century BC (the earliest Greek archaeological material is dated 600–575 BC), or, according to Pseudo-Scymnus, in the time of Astyages (here, usually 572–570 BC is suggested), within an earlier Thracian settlement. The name Odessos was pre-Greek, arguably of Carian origin. A member of the Pontic Pentapolis, Odessos was a mixed community—contact zone between the Ionians and the Thracians (Getae, Krobyzoi, Terizi) of the hinterland. Excavations at nearby Thracian sites have shown uninterrupted occupation from the 7th to the 4th century and close commercial relations with the colony. The Greek alphabet has been applied to inscriptions in Thracian since at least the 5th century BC; the city worshipped a Thracian great god whose cult survived well into the Roman period.
Theophanes the Confessor first mentioned the name Varna, as the city came to be known with the Slavic conquest of the Balkans in the 6th–7th century. According to Theophanes, in 680, Asparukh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire, routed an army of Constantine IV near the Danube delta and, pursuing it, reached the so-called Varna near Odyssos and the midlands thereof: perhaps the new name applied initially to an adjacent river or lake, Roman military camp, or inland area, and only later to the city itself. By the late 10 century, the name Varna was established so firmly that when Byzantines wrestled back control of the area from the Bulgarians in the 970's, they kept it rather than restoring the ancient name Odessus.
|Remains of Roman Bath house|
By the late 13th century, with the Treaty of Nymphaeum of 1261, the offensive-defensive alliance between Michael VIII Palaeologus and Genoa that opened up the Black Sea to Genoese commerce, Varna had turned into a thriving commercial port city frequented by Genoese and later also by Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships. The city was flanked by two fortresses with smaller commercial ports of their own, Kastritsi and Galata, within sight of each other, and was protected by two other strongholds overlooking the lakes, Maglizh and Petrich. Wheat, animal skins, honey and wax, wine, timber and other local agricultural produce for the Italian and Constantinople markets were the chief exports, and Mediterranean foods and luxury items were imported. Fine jewelry, household ceramics, fine leather and food processing, and other crafts flourished; shipbuilding developed in the Kamchiya river mouth.
14th-century Italian portolan charts showed Varna as arguably the most important seaport between Constantinople and the Danube delta; they usually labeled the region Zagora. The city was unsuccessfully besieged by Amadeus VI of Savoy, who had captured all Bulgarian fortresses to the south of it, including Galata, in 1366. In 1386, Varna briefly became the capital of the spinoff Principality of Karvuna, then was taken over by the Ottomans in 1389 (and again in 1444), ceded temporarily to Manuel II Palaeologus in 1413 (perhaps until 1444), and sacked by Tatars in 1414.
On 10 November 1444, one of the last major battles of the Crusades in European history was fought outside the city walls. The Turks routed an army of 20,000 crusaders led by Ladislaus III of Poland (also Ulászló I of Hungary), which had assembled at the port to set sail to Constantinople. The Christian army was attacked by a superior force of 55,000 or 60,000 Ottomans led by sultan Murad II. Ladislaus III was killed in a bold attempt to capture the sultan, earning the sobriquet Warneńczyk (of Varna in Polish; he is also known asVárnai Ulászló in Hungarian or Ladislaus Varnensis in Latin). The failure of the Crusade of Varna made the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 all but inevitable, and Varna (with all of Bulgaria) was to remain under Ottoman domination for over four centuries. Today, there is a cenotaph of Ladislaus III in Varna.
The British and French campaigning against Russia in the Crimean War (1854–1856) used Varna as headquarters and principal naval base; many soldiers died of cholera and the city was devastated by a fire. A British and a French monument mark the cemeteries where cholera victims were interred. In 1866, the first railroad in Bulgaria connected Varna with the Rousse on the Danube, linking the Ottoman capital Constantinople with Central Europe; for a few years, the Orient Express ran through that route. The port of Varna developed as a major supplier of food—notably wheat from the adjacent breadbasket Southern Dobruja—to Constantinople and a busy hub for European imports to the capital; 12 foreign consulates opened in the city. Local Bulgarians took part in the National Revival; Vasil Levski set up a secret revolutionary committee.
With the national liberation in 1878, the city was ceded to Bulgaria by the Treaty of Berlin; Russian troops entered on 27 July. Varna became a front city in the First Balkan War and the First World War; its economy was badly affected by the temporary loss of its agrarian hinterland of Southern Dobruja to Romania (1913–16 and 1919–40). In the Second World War, the Red Army occupied the city in September 1944, helping cement communist rule in Bulgaria.One of the early centres of industrial development and the Bulgarian labour movement, Varna established itself as the nation's principal port of export, a major grain producing and viticulture centre, seat of the nation's oldest institution of higher learning outside Sofia, a popular venue for international festivals and events, as well as the country's de facto summer capital with the erection of the Euxinograd royal summer palace (currently, the Bulgarian government convenes summer sessions there). Mass tourism emerged since the late 1950s. Heavy industry and trade with the Soviet Union boomed in the 1950s to the 1970s.
From 20 December 1949 to 20 October 1956 the city was renamed by the communist government Stalin after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
- The Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral is the largest and most famous Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in the Black Sea port city of Varna, officially opened on 30 August 1886. It is the residence of the bishopric of Varna and Preslav and one of the symbols of Varna. The project for the cathedral, modelled after the temple in the Peterhof Palace, was by an Odessan architect by the name of Maas. Construction began immediately after the foundation stone was laid and took six years. Initially, the local government concluded a 6,000-leva contract with the architect, but he soon asked for more resources, so the commission decided to buy his plans but not engage him with the construction. Thus, the foundations were laid after the plan of Maas, whereas the building itself followed the plan of municipal architect P. Kupka. According to the project, the cathedral is a three-naved cross-domed basilica featuring two aisles and sized of 35 by 35 m, with the main altar being dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, the north one to Saint Alexander Nevsky and the south one to Saint Nicholas the Miracle Worker.
- Aladzha Monastery is a medieval Orthodox Christian cave monastery complex in northeastern Bulgaria, 17 km north of central Varna and 3 km west of Golden Sands beach resort, in a protected forest area adjacent to the Golden Sands Nature Park.
The monastery caves were hewn into a 25-m high vertical carst cliff near the upper edge of the Franga plateau on several levels. The complex also includes two small nearby catacombs. Dedicated to the Holy Trinity, it was an active hesychast monastic community of the Second Bulgarian Empire since the 12th century and perhaps survived until the early 18th century. Nearby, remains of a 5th-century cave monastery have also been found. A cave monastery may have existed not far from the modern monastery Aladzha, near Varna. Its early dating to the fourth century is secured by fragments of glassware, but coins of Justinian indicate that the complex may have still been in use during the 500s. As late as the early 20th century, the forested hills surrounding the monastery and known as Hachuka (Mount of the Cross) or Latin, were regarded by locals as sacred and inhabited by a mythical chthonic daemon treasure keeper, Imri Pop or Rim-Papa. Today, the grotto is a popular tourist destination. Its present name appeared in the late Ottoman period; Alaca (Turkish for motley) referred to its colourful murals, now almost destroyed. Thematic light shows are being staged in the summer.
- Varna Archaeological Museum has constantly carried out archaeological investigations and excavations on various sites all over Northeast Bulgaria. They now compose the Museum exhibition, more than 100 000 objects – monuments of past epochs from Varna, the Region and Northeast Bulgaria. The most important of them (one tenth of the whole Museum collection) are represented in the Museum exhibition halls. The Museum's arguably most celebrated exhibit is the Gold of Varna, the oldest gold treasure in the world, excavated in 1972 and dating to 4600-4200 BC, which occupies three separate exhibition halls. The museum also manages two open-air archaeological sites, the large Roman baths in the city centre and the medieval grotto of Aladzha Monastery at Golden Sands Nature Park.
- The Stoyan Bachvarov Dramatic Theatre is a theatre founded in 1921 as the Municipal Professional Theatre. It occupies a historic building in the centre of the city designed by Nikola Lazarov and built between 26 March 1912 and 5 June 1932. The building was finished by the architects Dabko Dabkov and Jelyazko Bogdanov. It is named after the prominent theatre actor Stoyan Bachvarov. The theatre has a main auditorium, a branch stage and a small auditorium.
- Euxinograd is a former late 19th-century Bulgarian royal summer palace and park on the Black Sea coast, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) north of downtown Varna. It is currently a governmental and presidential retreat hosting cabinet meetings in the summer and offering access for tourists to several villas and hotels. Since 2007, it is also the venue of the Operosa annual opera festival. The construction of the palace began soon after the land which it occupies was given to Knyaz Alexander Battenberg as a present by the Greek bishopric on 16 March 1882. There had previously been small monasteries called St. Demetrius and St. Constantine at that place, the buildings of which were subsequently converted into another small residence.