From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Varna (Bulgarian: Варна, IPA: /ˈvar.nə/) is the largest city and seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast and in Northern Bulgaria, third-largest in Bulgaria after Sofia and Plovdiv, and 78th-largest in the European Union, with a population of 353,292.[1]

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, as well as the centre of Varna Province and Bulgaria's North-Eastern planning region (NUTS II), comprising also the provinces of Dobrich, Shumen, and Targovishte.

In April 2008, Varna was designated seat of the Black Sea Euro-Region (a new regional organization, not identical to the Black Sea Euroregion), by the Council of Europe.[2]

Geography, climate, and transportation

Varna occupies 205 km²[3] on verdant terraces (Varna monocline of the Moesian platform) descending from the calcareous Franga Plateau (height 356 m) on the north and Avren Plateau on the south, along the horseshoe-shaped Varna Bay of the Black Sea, the elongated Lake Varna, and two artificial waterways connecting the bay and the lake and bridged by the Asparuhov most. It is the centre of a growing conurbation stretching along the seaboard 20 km north and 10 km south (mostly residential and recreational sprawl) and along the lake 25 km west (mostly transportation and industrial facilities). Since antiquity, the city has been surrounded by vineyards, orchards, and forests. Commercial shipping facilities are being relocated inland into the lakes and canals, while the bay remains a recreation area; almost all the waterfront is parkland.

The urban area has in excess of 20 km of sand beaches and abounds in thermal mineral water sources (temperature 35-55° С). It enjoys a mild continental climate influenced by the sea with long, mild, akin to Mediterranean, autumns, and sunny and hot yet considerably cooler than Mediterranean summers moderated by a breeze and more regular rainfall. Although Varna receives about two thirds of the average rainfall for Bulgaria, abundant groundwater keeps its wooded hills lush throughout summer. The city is cut off from north and north-east winds by hills along the north arm of the bay, but January and February still can be bitterly cold at times, with blizzards. Black Sea water has become cleaner after 1989 due to decreased chemical fertilizer in farming; it has low salinity, lacks large predators or poisonous species, and the tidal range is virtually imperceptible.

The city lies 470 km north-east of Sofia; the nearest major cities are Dobrich (45 km to the north), Shumen (80 km to the west), and Burgas (125 km to the south-west). Varna is accessible by air (Varna International Airport), sea (Port of Varna Cruise Terminal), railroad (Central Train Station), and automobile. Major roads include European routes E70 to Bucharest and E87 to Istanbul and Constanta, Romania; national motorways A-2 (Hemus motorway) to Sofia and A-5 (Cherno More motorway) to Burgas. There are bus lines to many Bulgarian and international cities from two bus terminals and train ferry and ro-ro services to Odesa, Ukraine, Port Kavkaz, Russia, Poti and Batumi, Georgia.

The public transit system (map) is extensive and reasonably priced, with over 80 local and express bus, electrical bus, and fixed-route minibus lines; there is a large fleet of taxicabs. In 2007, a number of double-decker buses were purchased; the mayor vowed that by summer 2008, all city buses would be retrofitted with air conditioners and later fueled by methane. Timetables for the city's bus services can be found here.

There is a plethora of Internet cafes and many places, including parks, are covered by free public wireless internet service. Varna is connected to other Black Sea cities by the submarine Black Sea Fiber Optical Cable System.



See also: Varna Necropolis

Prehistoric settlements best known for the eneolithic necropolis (mid-5th millennium BCE radiocarbon dating), a key archaeological site in world prehistory, eponymous of old European Varna culture and internationally considered the world's oldest large find of gold artifacts, existed within modern city limits. In the region of the Varna lakes (then freshwater) and the adjacent karst springs and caves, over 30 prehistoric settlements have been unearthed with the earliest artifacts dating back to the middle paleolithic or 100,000 years ago.

Antiquity and Bulgarian conquest

Varna is among Europe's oldest cities. Thracians populated the area by 1200 BCE. Miletians founded the apoikia (trading colony) of Odessos towards the end of the 7th century BCE (the earliest Greek archaeological material is dated 600-575 BCE), or, according to Pseudo-Scymnus, in the time of Astyages (here, usually 572-570 BCE is suggested), within an earlier Thracian settlement. The name Odessos, first attested by Strabo, was pre-Greek, perhaps of Carian origin. A member of the Pontic Pentapolis, Odessos was a mixed Greco-Thracian community—contact zone between the Ionians and the Thracians (Getae, Crobyzi, 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 BCE; the Hellenistic city worshipped a Thracian great god whose cult survived well into the Roman period.

See also: Derzelas

Odessos presumably was included in the assessment of the Delian league of 425 BCE. In 339 BCE, it was unsuccessfully besieged by Philip II (priests of the Getae persuaded him to conclude a treaty) but surrendered to Alexander the Great in 335 BCE, and was later ruled by his diadochus Lysimachus, against whom it rebelled in 313 BCE as part of a coalition with other Pontic cities and the Getae. The Roman city, Odessus, first included into the Praefectura orae maritimae and then in 15 CE annexed to the province of Moesia (later Moesia Inferior), covered 47 hectares in present-day central Varna and had prominent public baths, Thermae, erected in the late 2nd century CE, now the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria (the building was 100 m wide, 70 m long, and 25 m high) and fourth-largest known Roman baths in Europe. Major athletic games were held every five years, possibly attended by Gordian III in 238 CE.

Odessus was an early Christian centre, as testified by ruins of ten early basilicas, [5] a monastery, and indications that one of the Seventy Disciples, Ampliatus, follower of Saint Andrew (who, according to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church legend, preached in the city in 56 CE), served as bishop there. In 442, a peace treaty between Theodosius II and Attila was done at Odessus. In 536, Justinian I made it the seat of the Quaestura exercitus ruled by a prefect of Scythia and including Moesia, Scythia, Caria, the Aegean Islands and Cyprus. The Jireček Line, or the approximate linguistic frontier between Latin and Greek linguistic influence, ran through the Balkans from Odessus to the Adriatic.

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. The name may be older than that; perhaps it derives from Proto-Indo-European root we-r- (water) [6] (see also Varuna). According to Theophanes, in 681, Asparukh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire, routed the army of Constantine IV in the Danube delta and, pursuing it, reached the so-called Varna near Odessos (perhaps the new name applied initially to the adjacent river or lake and only later to the city as well). It has been suggested that the 681 peace treaty with the Byzantine Empire that established the new state was concluded at Varna, and that the first Bulgarian capital may have been provisionally located in its vicinity before it moved to Pliska 70 km to the west.[7] Asparukh fortified the Varna river lowland by a rampart against a possible Byzantine landing; the Asparuhov val (Asparukh's Wall) is still standing. Several 7th-century Bulgar settlements have been excavated in various city districts.

Middle Ages

Control changed from Byzantine to Bulgarian hands several times during the Middle Ages. In the late 9th and the first half of the 10th century, Varna was the site of a principal scriptorium of the Preslav Literary School at a monastery endowed by Boris I who may have also used it as his monastic retreat. The scriptorium may have played a key role in the development of the Cyrillic alphabet by Bulgarian scholars under the guidance of one of Saints Cyril and Methodius' disciples. Karel Škorpil has suggested that Boris I may have been interred there. In 1201, Kaloyan took over the Varna fortress, then in Byzantina hands, on Holy Saturday using a siege tower, and secured it for the Second Bulgarian Empire.

See also: Siege of Varna (1201)

By the late 13th century, with the Treaty of Nymphaeum of 1261, the offensive-defensive alliance between Michael VIII Palaiologus 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 by Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships. The first two maritime republics held consulates and had expatriate colonies there (Ragusan merchants remained active at the port through the 17th century operating from their colony in nearby Provadiya). 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, wax, and other local agricultural produce for the Italian and Constantinople markets were the chief exports, and Mediterranean foods and luxury items were imported. Shipbuilding developed in the Kamchiya river mouth.

14th-century Italian portolan charts showed Varna as perhaps 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 Palaiologos in 1413 (perhaps until 1444), and sacked by Tatars in 1414.

Battle of Varna

Main article: Battle of Varna

On November 10, 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[8] 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 as Várnai 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.

Late Ottoman rule

Varna was made one of the Quadrilateral Fortresses (along with Rousse, Shumen, and Silistra) severing Dobruja from the rest of Bulgaria and containing Russia in the Russo-Turkish wars. The Russians temporarily took over in 1773 and again in 1828, following the prolonged Siege of Varna, returning it to the Ottomans two years later after the medieval fortress was razed.

See also: Siege of 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 Istanbul 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 Istanbul 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.

Liberated Bulgaria

With the national liberation in 1878, the city, which numbered 25 thousand inhabitants, was ceded to Bulgaria by the Treaty of Berlin; Russian troops entered on July 27. 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.

Over the first decades after liberation, with the departure of most ethnic Turks and Greeks and the arrival of Bulgarians from inland, Northern Dobruja, Bessarabia, and Asia Minor, and later, of refugees from Macedonia, Eastern Thrace and Southern Dobruja following the Second Balkan War and the First World War, ethnic diversity gave way to Bulgarian predominance, although sizeable minorities of Gagauz, Armenians, and Sephardic Jews remained for decades.

One of the early centres of industrial development and the Bulgarian labor 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 December 20 1949 to October 20 1956 the city was renamed by the communist government Stalin after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. [5]

In 1962, the 15th Chess Olympiad, also known as the World Team Championship, was here. In 1969 and 1987, Varna was the host of the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships. From September 30 to October 4, 1973, the 10th Olympic Congress took place in the Sports Palace.

Varna is running for European Capital of Culture for 2019.


Varna is the second most important economic centre for Bulgaria after Sofia, [9] the country's foremost trade link to Russia, and one of the major hubs for the Black Sea region.

The economy is service-based, with 61% of net revenue generated in trade and tourism, 16% in manufacturing, 14% in transportation and communications, and 6% in construction [3]. Financial services, particularly banking, insurance, investment management, and real-estate finance are booming. As of December 2008, the fallout of the global financial crisis has not yet been hard. The city is the easternmost destination of Pan-European transport corridor 8 and is connected to corridors 7 and 9 via Rousse. Major industries traditionally include transportation (Navibulgar, Port of Varna, Varna International Airport), distribution (Logistics Park Varna [4]), shipbuilding (see also Oceanic-Creations), ship repair, and other marine industries.

In June 2007, Eni and Gazprom disclosed the South Stream project whereby a 900-km-long offshore natural gas pipeline from Russia's Dzhubga with annual capacity of 31 cubic kilometers is planned to come ashore at Varna, possibly near the Galata offshore gas field, en route to Italy and Austria.

With the nearby towns of Beloslav and Devnya, Varna forms the Varna-Devnya Industrial Complex, home to some of the largest chemical, thermal power, and manufacturing facilities in Bulgaria, including Varna Thermal Pover Plant and Sodi Devnya, the two largest cash privatization deals in the country's recent history. There are also notable facilities for radio navigation devices, household appliances, security systems, textiles, apparel, food and beverages, printing, and other industries. Some manufacturing veterans are giving way to post-industrial developments: an ECE shopping mall is taking the place of the former VAMO diesel engine works and the Varna Brewery is being replaced by a convention centre.

Tourism is of foremost importance with the suburban beachfront resorts of Golden Sands, Holiday Club Riviera, Sunny Day, Constantine and Helena, and others with a total capacity of over 60,000 beds (2005), attracting millions of visitors each year (4.74 million in 2006, 3.99 million of which international tourists [5]). The resorts received considerable internal and foreign investment in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and are environmentally sound, being located reassuringly far from chemical and other smokestack industries. Varna is also Bulgaria's only international cruise destination (with over 30 cruises scheduled for 2007) and a major international convention and spa centre.

Real estate boomed in 2003-2008 with some of the highest prices in the nation, by fall 2007 surpassing Sofia (this still holds true in December 2008). Commercial real estate is developing major international office tower projects [6], [7], [8].

In retail, the city not only has the assortment of international big-box retailers [9] now ubiquitous in larger Bulgarian cities, but boasts made-in-Varna national chains with locations spreading over the country such as retailer Piccadilly, restaurateur Happy, and pharmacy chain Sanita.

In 2008, there were three large shopping malls operating and another four projects in various stages of development, turning Varna into an attractive international shopping destination (Pfohe Mall, Central Plaza, Mall of Varna, Grand Mall, Gallery Mall, Cherno More Park, and Varna Towers) [10], plus a retail park under development outside town. The city has many of the finest eateries in the nation and abounds in ethnic food places.

Economically, Varna is among the best-performing and fastest-growing Bulgarian cities; unemployment, at 2.34% (2007), is over 3 times lower than the nation's rate; in 2007, median salary was the highest [11], on a par with Sofia and Burgas. Many Bulgarians regard Varna as a boom town; some, including from Sofia and Plovdiv, or returning from western countries, but mostly from Dobrich, Shumen, and the greater region, are relocating there.

In September 2004, FDI Magazine (a Financial Times Business Ltd publication) proclaimed Varna South-eastern Europe City of the Future [12] citing its strategic location, fast-growing economy, rich cultural heritage and higher education. In April 2007, rating agency Standard & Poor's announced that it had raised its long-term issue credit rating for Varna to BB+ from BB, declaring the city’s outlook "stable" and praising its "improved operating performance" [13].

In December 2007 (and again in October 2008), Varna was voted "Best City in Bulgaria to Live In" [14] by a national poll by Darik Radio, the 24 Chasa daily and the information portal


The first population data date back to the mid-1600s when the town was thought to have about 4,000 inhabitants [15]. After the liberation in 1878, the first population census in 1881 counted 24,555 [16] making it the second-largest in the principality. With unification, Varna became Bulgaria's third-largest city and kept this position steadily for the next 120 years, while different cities took turns in the first, second, and fourth places.

Since 2006, various sources, including the Bulgarian National Television, national newspapers, research agencies, the mayor's office, and local police, claim Varna has a population by present address of over 500,000 (considerably more with the seasonal workers in summer [17]), making it the nation's second-largest city. [9] [10] Official statistics according to GRAO and NSI, however, have not supported these claims yet.

In the summer of 2008, deputy mayor Venelin Zhechev estimated the actual population at 650,000 [18]. In December 2008, Mayor Kiril Yordanov claimed the actual number of permanent residents was 970,000 [19], or that there were 60% unregistered people according to him. In January 2009, the Financial Times said that "Varna now draws about 30,000 new residents a year." [20]

The metro area (including Varna municipality and adjacent parts of Aksakovo, Avren, Beloslav, and Devnya municipalities, and excluding adjacent parts of Dobrich Province) population is estimated by official data at about 420,000.[1] Here, the "Varna-Devnya-Provadiya agglomeration" is not considered identical to the "Varna metro area". The agglomeration itself is said by the mayor's office to have a population of 716,500.

Varna is one of the few cities in Bulgaria with a positive natural growth and new children's day care centers opening (6 scheduled for 2009).[21] .

Ethnic composition

Most Varnians are ethnic Bulgarians (85.3% in the province, but perhaps a higher percentage in the city[22]). Turks traditionally rank second (8.1% in the province, perhaps less than that in the city); by 2009, Russians and other Russian-speaking recent immigrants, estimated at over 20,000, perhaps have long outnumbered them. There is a comparable number of Roma mostly in three distinctive and largely impoverished ethnic neighborhoods: Maksuda; Rozova Dolina in the Asparuhovo district; and Chengene Kula in the Vladislavovo district. Varna is spearheading several programs on Roma integration. Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and other long-standing ethnic groups are also present in much smaller numbers, plus a growing number of new Asian and African immigrants and corporate expatriates.

City government

The municipality (община, obshtina, commune) of Varna comprises the city and five suburban villages: Kamenar, Kazashko, Konstantinovo, Topoli, and Zvezditsa, served by the city public transit system.


The municipal chief executive is the mayor (кмет, kmet: the word is cognate with count). Since the end of the de facto one-party communist rule in 1990, there have been three mayors: Voyno Voynov, SDS (Union of Democratic Forces), ad interim, 1990-91; Hristo Kirchev, SDS, 1991-99; Kiril Yordanov, independent, 1999-present. Yordanov was reelected for a third consecutive term in 2007. [23]


As of January 2009, the city council (общински съвет, obshtinski savet, the 51-member legislature) is composed as follows: centre-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), 9 council members; centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), 9; Dvizhenie Nashiyat Grad (Our Town Movement, a local group supporting mayor Yordanov), 6; Red, Zakonnost i Spravedlivost (Order, Rule of Law, and Justice, another local group), 5; the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), 4; coalition of SDS and Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB), another centre-right party, 3; other groups and independents, 15. Borislav Gutsanov (BSP) is council chairman. [24]

Party politics

The largest political parties in the city are BSP and SDS, with the National Movement for Stability and Progress (NDSV) as a distant third; the Bulgarian Democratic Party and the IMRO (VMRO) are also active. Local business groups formed political parties for recent local elections, setting a national trend. Varna is currently represented by 4 ministers in Sergey Stanishev's cabinet: Nikolay Vasilev (NDSV, State Administration), Daniel Valchev (NDSV, Education and Science), Miglena Tacheva (BSP, Justice), and Petar Dimitrov (BSP, Economy and Energy). Among other noted Varna politicians are Ilko Eskenazi (SDS), Aleksandar Yordanov (SDS), Borislav Ralchev (NDSV), and Nedelcho Beronov (independent).


The city is the seat of a regional, district, administrative, and military court, and a court of appeal; regional, military, and appellate prosecutor's offices. [25]


There are consulates of the following countries: the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom [26].

Boroughs and urban planning

The city is divided by law into five boroughs (райони, rayoni), each with its mayor and council: Asparuhovo, Mladost, Odessos (the historic centre), Primorski (the largest one with population of 93,000 also comprising the seaside resorts north of the city centre), and Vladislav Varchenchik. The boroughs are composed of various districts with distinctive characters and histories.[11]. The villages too have а mayor or a mayoral lieutenant (кметски наместник, kmetski namestnik).

As of January 2009, a heated public discussion of a new draft general plan has been under way for a few months; it is expected to be passed by the city council later this year. [27] According to the Financial Times, "A new city master plan, due to be launched this year [2009], will be a 21st-century take on King Ferdinand's grand scheme. Among other projects, the commercial port will be moved to a new site on an inland lagoon to the west of the city, opening up space for what would become the Black Sea's largest and best-equipped marina. The plan will allow for a major redevelopment of the port site [with] luxury homes, hotels, restaurants." [28] The quay streets of the new waterfront are deemed important for opening the urbanscape to the sea as most of the coast is framed by parks.


City landmarks include the Varna Archaeological Museum, exhibiting the Gold of Varna, the Roman Baths, the Battle of Varna Park Museum, the Naval Museum in the Italianate Villa Assareto displaying the museum ship Drazki torpedo boat, the Museum of Ethnography in an Ottoman-period compound featuring the life of local urban dwellers, fisherfolk, and peasants in the late 19th and early 20th century.

See also: Sea Garden (Varna)

The Sea Garden is the oldest and perhaps largest park in town containing an open-air theatre (venue of the International Ballet Competition, opera performances and concerts), an aquarium (opened 1912), a dolphinarium (opened 1984), the Nicolaus Copernicus Observatory and Planetarium, the Museum of Natural History, a terrarium, a zoo, an alpineum, a children's amusement park with a pond, boat house and ice-skating rink, and other attractions. The National Revival Alley is decorated with bronze monuments to prominent Bulgarians, and the Cosmonauts' Alley contains trees planted by Yuri Gagarin and other Soviet and Bulgarian cosmonauts. The Garden is a national monument of landscape architecture and is said to be the largest landscaped park in the Balkans.

The waterfront promenade is lined by a string of beach clubs offering a vibrant scene of rock, hip-hop, Bulgarian and American-style pop, techno, and chalga. In October 2006, The Independent dubbed Varna "Europe's new funky-town, the good-time capital of Bulgaria"[29]. The city enjoys a nationwide reputation for its rock, hip-hop, and other artists, clubs, and related events such as July Morning and international rock and hip-hop (including graffiti[30]) venues.

The city beaches, also known as sea baths (морски бани, morski bani), are dotted with hot (55° С = 131°F) sulphuric mineral water sources (used for spas, swimming pools and public showers) and punctured by small sheltered marinas. Additionally, the 2.05 km long, 52 m high Asparuhov most bridge is a popular spot for bungee jumping. Outside the city are the Euxinograd palace, park and winery, the University of Sofia Botanical Garden (Ecopark Varna), the Pobiti Kamani rock phenomenon, and the medieval cave monastery, Aladzha.

Tourist shopping areas include the boutique rows along Prince Boris Blvd (with retail rents rivaling Vitosha Blvd in Sofia) and adjacent pedestrian streets, as well as the large mall and big-box cluster in the Mladost district, suitable for motorists. Two other shopping plazas, Piccadilly Park and Central Plaza, are conveniently located to serve tourists in the resorts north of the city centre, both driving and riding the public transit. ATMs and 24/7 gas stations with convenience stores abound.

Food markets, among others, include supermarket chains Piccadilly and Burleks. In stores and restaurants, credit cards are normally accepted. There is a number of farmers markets offering fresh local produce; the Kolkhozen Pazar, the largest one, also has a fresh fish market but is located in a crowded area virtually inaccessible for cars.

Like other cities in the region, Varna has its share of stray dogs, for the most part calm and friendly, flashing orange clips on the ears showing they have been castrated and vaccinated. However, urban wildlife is dominated by the ubiquitous seagulls, while brown squirrels inhabit the Sea Garden. In January and February, migrating swans winter on the sheltered beaches. [31]


Notable old Bulgarian Orthodox temples include the metropolitan Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral (of the diocese of Varna and Veliki Preslav); the early 17th-century Theotokos Panagia (built on the site of an earlier church where Ladislaus III was perhaps buried); the St. Athanasius (former Greek metropolitan cathedral) on the footprint of a razed 10th-century church; the 15th-century St. Petka Parashkeva chapel; the seamen's church of Saint Nicholas; the Archangel Michael chapel, site of the first Bulgarian secular school from the National Revival era; and the Sts. Constantine and Helena church of the 14th-century suburban monastery of the same name.

The remains of a large 4th-5th-century stronghold basilica in Dzhanavara Park just south of town are becoming a tourist destination with some exquisite mosaics displayed in situ. The remains of another massive 9th-century basilica adjacent to the scriptorium at Boris I's Theotokos Panagia monastery are being excavated and conserved. A 4th-5th-century episcopal basilica north of the Thermae is also being restored. There is also a number of newer Orthodox temples; two, dedicated to apostle Andrew and the local martyr St. Procopius of Varna, are currently under construction. Many smaller Orthodox chapels have mushroomed in the area. In early 2009, Vasil Danev, leader of the ethnic Organization of the United Roma Communities (FORO), said local Roma would also erect an Orthodox chapel.

There is an old Armenian Apostolic church; two Roman Catholic churches (only one is now open and holds mass in Polish on Sundays), a thriving Evangelical Methodist episcopal church offering organ concerts, active Evangelical Pentecostal, Seventh-day Adventist, and two Baptist churches.

Two old mosques (one is open) have survived since Ottoman times, when there were 18 of them in town, as have two once stately but now dilapidated synagogues, a Sephardic and an Ashkenazic one, the latter in Gothic style (it is undergoing restoration). A new mosque was recently added in the southern Asparuhovo district serving the adjacent Muslim Roma neighborhood.

There is also a Buddhist centre.

On a different note, spiritual master Peter Deunov started preaching his Esoteric Christianity doctrine in Varna in the late 1890s, and, in 1899–1908, the yearly meetings of his Synarchic Chain, later known as the Universal White Brotherhood, were convened there.


By 1878, Varna was an Ottoman city of mostly wooden houses in a style characteristic of the Black Sea coast, densely packed along narrow, winding alleys. It was surrounded by a stone wall restored in the 1830s with a citadel, a moat, ornamented iron gates flanked by towers, and a vaulted stone bridge across the River Varna. The place abounded in pre-Ottoman relics, ancient ruins were widely used as stone quarries.

Today, very little of this legacy remains; the city centre was rebuilt by the nascent Bulgarian middle class in late 1800s and early 1900s in Western style with local interpretations of Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, Neoclassicism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco (many of those buildings, whose ownership was restored after 1989, underwent renovations).

Stone masonry from demolished city walls was used for the cathedral, the two elite high schools, and for paving new boulevards. The middle class built practical townhouses and coop buildings. Elegant mansions were erected on main boulevards and in the vineyards north of town. A few industrial working-class suburbs (of one-family cottages with small green yards) emerged. Refugees from the 1910s-1920s' wars also settled in similar poorer yet vibrant neighbourhoods along the city edges.

During the rapid urbanization of the 1960s to the early 1980s, large apartment complexes sprawled onto land formerly covered by small private vineyards or agricultural cooperatives as the city population tripled. Beach resorts were designed mostly in a sleek modern style, which was somewhat lost in their recent more lavish renovations. Modern landmarks of the 1960s include the Palace of Culture and Sports (1968).

With the country's return to capitalism since 1989, upscale apartment buildings mushroomed both downtown and on uptown terraces overlooking the sea and the lake. Varna's vineyards (лозя, lozya), dating back perhaps to antiquity and stretching for miles around, started turning from mostly rural grounds dotted with summer houses or vili into affluent suburbs sporting opulent villas and family hotels, epitomized by the researched postmodernist kitsch of the Villa Aqua.

With the new suburban construction far outpacing infrastructure growth, ancient landslides were activated, temporarily disrupting major highways. As the number of vehicles quadrupled since 1989, Varna became known for traffic jams; parking on the old town's leafy but narrow streets normally takes the sidewalks. At the same time, stretches of shanty towns, more befitting Rio de Janeiro, remain in Roma neighbourhoods on the western edge of town due to complexities of local politics.

The beach resorts were rebuilt and expanded, fortunately without being as heavily overdeveloped as were other tourist destinations on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, and their greenery was mostly preserved. New modern office buildings started reshaping the old centre and the city's surroundings.[12] [13]


Higher learning institutions

The University of Economics, founded in 1920 as the Higher Business School, is the second oldest Bulgarian university, the oldest one outside Sofia, and the first private one—underwritten by the Varna Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Prof. Tsani Kalyandzhiev, who was educated at Zürich and made a career as a research chemist in the United States, was its first Rector (President).

The Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy is successor to the nation's oldest technical school, the Naval Machinery School, established in 1881 and renamed His Majesty's Naval Academy in 1942. Other higher schools include the Medical University, the Technical University, the Chernorizets Hrabar Varna Free University—the first private university in the land after 1989, three junior colleges, and two local branches of other Bulgarian universities.

There are four Bulgarian Academy of Sciences research institutes (of oceanology, fisheries, aero and hydrodynamics, and metallography), a government research institution (shipping), and a now-defunct naval architecture design bureau. The Institute of Oceanology (IO-BAS) has been active in Black Sea deluge theory studies and deepwater archaeology in cooperation with Columbia University, MIT, UPenn, and National Geographic.

In 2007, Varna was home to a total of 2,500 faculty and researchers and over 30,000 students.

Local universities:

University of Economics and College of Tourism

Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy

Technical University and Varna College

Prof. Paraskev Stoyanov Medical University and Medical College

Chernorizets Hrabar Varna Free University

Other universities' local branches:

New Bulgarian University Local Centre Varna

Bishop Constantine of Preslav University of Shumen Teacher Information and Qualification Centre (graduate)

Noted high schools (gymnasia)

First Language School (English and German)

Dr. Petar Beron Second High School of Mathematics

Acad. Metodi Popov Third High School of Science and Mathematics

Frédéric Joliot-Curie Fourth Language School (French and Spanish)

John Exarch Fifth Language School (English, German, and French)[32]

Constantine of Preslav National High School for the Humanities and Arts

Dobri Hristov National School of Arts (instrumental and vocal music, dance, and visual arts)

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry private gymnazium (IT, languages, and PR)


Pencho Slaveikov Public Library


Varna has some of the finest and oldest museums, professional arts companies, and arts festivals in the nation and is known for its century-old traditions in visual arts, music, and book publishing, as well as for its bustling current pop-culture scene. Over the past few decades, it developed as a festival centre of international standing. Varna is a front-runner for European Capital of Culture for 2019, planning to open several new high-profile facilities such as a new opera house and concert hall, a new exhibition centre, and a reconstruction of the Summer Theatre, the historic venue of the International Ballet Competition.


Varna Archaeological Museum (founded 1888)

Naval Museum (founded 1923)

Roman Baths

Aladzha Monastery

Battle of Varna Park Museum (founded 1924)

Museum of Ethnography

National Revival Museum

History of Varna Museum

History of Medicine Museum

Health Museum (children's)

Puppet Museum (antique puppets from Puppet Theatre shows)

Bulgar Settlement of Phanagoria ethnographical village (mockup, with historical reenactments)

Aquarium (founded 1912)

Nicolaus Copernicus Observatory and Planetarium

Naval Academy Planetarium

Museum of Natural History



Dolphinarium (founded 1984)


Boris Georgiev Art Gallery

Georgi Velchev Gallery

Modern Art Centre

Print Gallery

Numerous smaller fine and applied arts galleries

Performing arts professional companies

Opera and Philharmonic Society (opera, symphonic and chamber music, ballet, and operetta performances; earliest philharmonic society founded 1888)

Stoyan Bachvarov Drama Theatre (founded 1921)

Puppet Theatre (in Bulgarian, founded 1952; often cited as the finest one in the nation, performances for children and adults)

Varna Ensemble (traditional folk music and dance)

Other performing arts groups

Morski Zvutsi Choir School (academic choirs)

Dobri Hristov Choir School (academic choir)

Notable bands and artists

Lot Lorien (Ethno-Art/Indie)

Deep Zone (Tech House/Euro)

DJ Balthazar (Tech House/Euro)

Big Sha and the Gumeni glavi (Rubber Heads) (Hip Hop)

100 Kila (Hip Hop)

Indignity (Hardcore)

Outrage (Hardcore)

One Faith (Hardcore)

Crowfish (Progressive/Punk/Indie)

Maniacal Pictures (Alternative/Rock/Post Punk)

Minddread (Metal/Thrash/Progressive)

ClearLand (Rock/Classic Rock/Progressive)

Pizza (Punk/Ska/Rock)

A-Moral (Punk/Hardcore)

On Our Own (Hardcore)

Cold Breath (Hardcore)

Sealed In Blood (Hardcore/Metal)

ENE (Alternative/Folk/Other)

EASTRIBE (Metal/Hardcore/Alternative)

Zayo Bayo Gives Me The Creeps (Metal/Grunge/Comedy)

Other institutions

Festival and Congress Centre (in Bulgarian, 1986; concerts, film, theatre and dance shows, exhibitions, trade shows)

Palace of Culture and Sports (1968; sports events, concerts, film shows, exhibitions, trade shows, sports classes, fitness)

International arts festivals

International Ballet Competition, founded 1964 (biennial)

Varna Summer International Music Festival, founded 1926 (annual)

Varna Summer International Jazz Festival (annual)

International May Choir Competition (annual)

European Music Festival (annual)

Operosa Euxinograd opera festival (annual)

Sea and Memories international music festival devoted to popular sea songs (annual)

International Folk Festival (annual)

Discovery International Pop Festival (annual)

Song on Three Seas pop and rock competition (annual)

Varna Summer International Theatre Festival (annual)

Golden Dolphin puppet festival (triennial)

Love is Folly film festival (annual)

International Festival of Red Cross & Health Films (biennial)

World Animation Festival (founded 1979, to resume in 2009)

International Print Biennial (founded 1981)

August in Art festival of visual arts (annual) (in Bulgarian)

Videoholica international art festival (annual)

product Festival of Contemporary Art (annual)

Slavic Embrace Slav poetry readings (annual)

Fotosalon (annual)

National events

Golden Rose Bulgarian Feature Film Festival (biennial)

May Arts Saloon at Radio Varna

Bulgaria for All National Ethnic Festival (annual, minority authentic folklore)

Navy Day (second Sunday of August)

Urban Folk Song Festival

Christmas Folk Dance Competition

Local events

Easter music festival

Classical guitar festival

Golden Fish fairy tale festival

Kinohit movie marathon

Crafts fair

Dormition of the Theotokos festival, cathedral patron, Varna Day (August 15)

Beer Fest

Saint Nicholas Day (December 6)

Christmas festival

New Year's Eve concert and fireworks (Independence Square)


As early as the 1880s, numerous daily and weekly newspapers were published in Bulgarian and several minority languages. Radio Varna opened in 1934. Galaktika book publishing house occupied a prominent place nationally in the 1970-1990s, focusing on international sci-fi and marine fiction, contemporary non-fiction and poetry.

The Sea Garden

Nicolaus Copernicus Observatory and Planetarium

City Hall

New housing in the Briz district

[edit] Local newspapers

Cherno More


Narodno Delo

Dialog - The free positive newspaper (weekly)


Varna (weekly)

Vlastta (online publication)

National newspapers' local editions

24 Chasa More

Morski Dnevnik

Morski Trud

[edit] Magazines

Morski Sviat


Publishing houses

Alfiola (New Age)

Alpha Print (advertising)



Liternet (poetry, fiction, non-fiction: electronic and print)

Обяви Варна (free classifieds)

Naroden Buditel (history)

Slavena (history, children's books, travel, multimedia, advertising)

Local radio stations

Alpha Radio

DarikNews (Varna)

FM+ Varna

Radio Bravo

Radio Varna

Local TV stations

BNT Varna


TV Varna

Web portals

Varna Info (general info, English) (general info, news) (general info, news)

ole-bg (sports) (sports)

Biznesa (business)

Programata (free cultural guide)

Parvi dubal (movies)

Liternet (books)

Varna na mladite (youth)

Travel and accomodation guide (travel guide)

Health care

Noted hospitals

Sveta Marina University Hospital for active treatment

Sveta Anna Hospital for active treatment

Navy Hospital

Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital

Dr. Marko Markov Interdistrict Dispensary for Oncological Diseases

Sveta Petka Ophthalmology Clinic

Kamee Clinic, plastic and reconstructive surgery

Valem, plastic and aesthetic surgery

Kibela Consultancy Centre, psychological consultancy

Universum Medical, alternative medicine and massage

Dentaprime Clinic, dental implants and aesthetic dentistry


A municipal sports field

A municipal swimming poolFootball is the biggest spectator sport with two rival clubs in the nation's top professional league, Cherno More (the Sailors), founded in 1913 and four times national champion, including the first championship in 1925, and Spartak (the Falcons), founded in 1918, one time champion and participant in the UEFA Cup in 1983, when it reached the second knockout round and played Manchester United.

In the late 1800s, Varna was considered the birthplace of Bulgarian football with a Swiss gym teacher coaching the first varsity team at the men's high school. In February 2007, the city decided to replace its antiquated 1950's municipal stadium with a new arena according to UEFA/FIFA specifications [34]. The new venue will seat 30,000 (40,000 for concerts including standing room). Another state-of the-art track-and-field stadium with a capacity of 5,000 seats and training halls for professional and public use will open in the Mladost district in 2009 to compensate for the lost track-and-field capacity of old Varna stadium[35].

Men's basketball, women's volleyball, gymnastics, boxing, martial arts, and sailing are also vibrant. The 4.5-km swimmimg marathon Cape Galata—Varna is a popular venue. Varna hosts international competitions, including world championships, and national events in several sports on a regular basis, including auto racing and motocross. Bulgarian national basketball and volleyball teams host their games, including Volleyball World Cup games, at the Palace of Sports, the country's largest arena. Currently (2007), three 18-hole golf courses of professional quality are being developed north of the city in the vicinity of Balchik and Kavarna, with more to come. A hippodrome with a horseback riding school is located in the Vinitsa neighborhood, and Asparuhov most is the foremost bungee jumping spot in the nation due to the local Club Adrenalin.

In early August 2007, a new municipal sports complex with fields for football, basketball and volleyball was opened as a part of a larger complex of sports facilities, mini-golf, tennis, biking alleys, mini-lakes and ice-skating rinks in the district of Mladost. Smaller municipal fields opened in the Sea Garden, Asparuhov Val Park, and elsewhere; the municipal Olympic-size swimming pool complex was rebuilt also in 2007, and the first segment of a bike lane to connect the Sea Garden with the westernmost residential districts was completed outside City Hall[36]. Paying tribute to the golf course development mania, the mayor vowed to build a free municipal driving range in the district of Asparuhovo[37]. The new urban general plan (under discussion in early 2008) envisages a large public amateur sports complex south of Lake Varna[38] and a ski run with artificial snow covering.

Varna athletes won 4 of the 12 medals for Bulgaria at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Organized crime

As in other Bulgarian cities, some sectors of the economy, including gambling, corporate security, tourism, real estate, and professional sports, are believed to be controlled in part by shady business groups with links to Communist-era secret services or the military; the TIM group [39] is one example.[14][15] In 2003, Iliya Pavlov, chairman of MG Holding (former Multigroup), owner of the posh St. Elias resort at Constantine and Helena and president of PFC Cherno more, was shot down in Sofia,[16] as was Emil Kyulev, chairman of DZI Financial Group and owner of the stylish Holiday Club Riviera resort at Golden Sands,[17] in 2005. The perpetrators are still unknown. Varna has also seen gangland- (mutri-) style bombings, and is believed to be a hangout for Russian and Chechen mafias.[18]

However, it is noted that in Varna, the mutri presence is by no means as visible as it is in smaller coastal towns and resorts. Over the last couple of years, crime has subsided, which is said to have contributed to Varna's naming as Bulgaria's Best City to Live In (2007)[40]; in 2007, the regional police chief was promoted to the helm of the national police service.

In January 2009, the Financial Times said that "communism [was] followed [by] a gritty transition period, including shootings of local mobsters in crowded seaside cafés. But, according to residents, a group of ex-Bulgarian marines nicknamed the Varna Seals eventually managed to expel members of the Russian, Chechen, Ukrainian and Georgian mafias vying for control of the port and the city's underground economy. And today 'you can stroll around the centre late at night without problems.'"

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