Varna – 100-Year Long History as a Resort City

Prehistory – the Roman Thermae – the Legacy of the Roman Empire

The history begins with the rule of the Roman Emperor – Antoninus Pius (138–161). It was then the Odessos city council built a water pipeline connecting the thermal springs along the Black Sea coastal line with the largest thermal baths on the Balkan Peninsula, the third largest in the Empire preceded only by the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. The baths remained operable until the end of the 3rd century AD, and then their history is lost to be once again revealed by archaeologist in the 1950s and became one of the prominent historic landmarks in tourist Varna. But the Roman heritage related to the connection between people and sea and thermal waters started coming to life once again in the late 19 th C, when Varna took its first timid steps towards modern tourism.

Bulgaria’s First City and Seaside Resort 1921

The major turning point in the history of Varna came after a series of hard for Bulgaria wars ended with the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, resulting in the decline of the city as a commercial port. But there were visionaries in the local government who managed to foresee a different, bright future of the seaside town. They decided that the city would overcome its economic difficulties by transforming into a modern seaside resort. Until then, wealthy Bulgarians recognized as a seaside resort only the surroundings of the Monastery of Sts. Constantine and Helena. Varna was announced a seaside resort on June 10, 1921 by a three-member committee, headed by Yordan Pekarev, which then functioned as a municipal council. Here are the sacred words that changed the city’s fate: Nature itself with its splendours best shows and commands a firm and appropriate route – turning Varna into a special seaside resort city, and being so transformed, it will provide its citizens with a means of securing their necessities of life. The city will become the glory of Bulgaria, its name spread wide on a par with Nice and Monte Carlo. So we’ve decided – we hereby proclaim Varna a special seaside resort with a hinterland, including the area between the villages of Kestrich, Golyama Franga, Adzhemler, Belovo and Galata. In 1925, a decree was issued by Tsar Boris to officially declare Varna a seaside resort.

The First Sea Baths of Varna 1926

The city council took the task to build the resort city in its hands. There was a lot of enthusiasm and things were happening really quickly. Those to be credit for the achievement were the mayor, Petar Stoyanov, and his assistants – Bogdan Elefterov and Ivan Varbanov, the engineer Yanko Mustakov, the architect Dabko Dabkov and the engineer Yosif Stoyanov. The modern sea baths were constructed under the design of engineer Mohachek and the supervision of architect Zhelyazko Bogdanov. The Baths were built in just a year and on August 1, 1926 their inauguration became a joyous celebration. In the first years of their functioning they were visited by an average of 24,000 people per season. In 1928, the Northern Sea Baths and the water slide as well as the mixed beach were opened. Thus, the sea baths acquire the appearance of their European rivals and started attracting even more sunbathers. Varna established itself as a modern seaside resort and the title the Queen of the Black Sea started appearing on Varna’s postcards. In the 1930s the number of tourist visiting Varna has already exceeded 30 to 50 thousand per season.

Second Half of the 20 th Century: Varna and the Saints Constantine and Helena and Golden Sands

Recovering from the Second World War, Varna once again became a magnet for tourists from all over Europe. Between 1950 and 1960 the Saints Constantine and Helena and Golden Sands Resorts were constructed in their today’s appearance. The magnificent beaches and modern hotels attract tourists form the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain. Their unified infrastructure with the parent city make the renowned resorts even more attractive, because Varna has an international airport, all modern communications, excellent cultural opportunities and a wide range of entertainment and summer attractions available to choose from.

Cultural Tourism: Varna – Bulgaria’s Capital of Festivals

The inauguration of the Sea Baths in 1926 marked the beginning of the history of Festival Bulgaria. Then were the first Folk Music Celebrations, which set the foundation of the first Bulgarian festival – Varna Summer International Music Festival – one of the earliest and most respected festivals of cultural Europe. In the 21st century three more events were added to the family of Varna Summer – the major international theatre event in Bulgaria as well as a folklore festival and a jazz festival. The festival events in the city are over 50.

In 1964, Varna became the first once again– this time in the world. The Varna International Ballet Competition was established in the Sea Capital of Bulgaria and it was going to alter the history of world ballet forever. All these cultural events attract to Varna participants, admirers and tourists tempted by art, who, with their colourful personalities, add further to the vividness of the Bulgarian seaside resort.

The Call of Civilizations

Varna is the keeper of the world’s oldest processed gold /dated closer to 5000 BC/ exhibited in the city’s Archeological Museum. Legends and traditions drape in mystery nearby places amazing with their natural beauty and history. Dating back to prehistoric times, there is the natural phenomenon known as Pobiti Kamani – a stunning rock formation, a real magnet for tourists around the world. Those who prefer religious sightseeing always visit the carved in the rock Aladzha Monastery – an imperishable testimony on the indomitable tenacity of the human spirit, surviving even in the darkest of times.

The Future. Varna at Four Seasons

Tourism is the most important sector of the city’s economy. Varna has a well-developed tourist infrastructure with over 60,000 beds, nearly 300 hotels in the city and nearby resorts, 90 of them are 4 and 5-star ones. They welcome 2 million tourists all year round. Varna is, however, much more than a beach holiday destination. The city itself and the Saints Constantine and Helena and the Golden Sands Resorts offer perfect opportunities for year-round health and medical tourism. There are more than 10 healing mineral springs in Varna and they are fundamental for the boom of SPA and Wellness tourism, which are not affected by seasonality.

Congress tourism further expands the activities of luxury hotels in the wings of the season, turning Varna and the resorts surrounding it into traditional locations for holding international conferences, congresses and business events.

Thus, in the dawn of its new tourist century, Varna – the Summer Capital of Bulgaria, takes its first steps towards becoming the country’s largest centre, welcoming guests regardless of the season, throughout the year. This is the trend of development followed by Varna Municipality – a contemporary approach to the development of the tourism industry, modern marketing concept, active promotion of Varna as a destination, with the purpose to establish the city as one of the prestigious European destination for year-round tourism.

Author: Nina Lokmadjieva

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