Varna is the largest city on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, third-largest in Bulgaria after Sofia and Plovdiv, and 93rd-largest in the European Union, with a population of 350`000.

 Commonly referred to as the marine capital (or summer capital) of Bulgaria, Varna is a major tourist destination, 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 the provinces of Dobrich, Shumen, Targovishte, and Varna.
Varna occupies an area of 205 km² on verdant terraces descending from the calcareous Frangen Plateau (height 356 m) along the horseshoe-shaped Varna Bay of the Black Sea, the elongated Lake Varna, and two waterways bridged by the Asparuhov most. It is the centre of a growing conurbation stretching along the seaboard to the north and south (mostly residential and recreational sprawl) and along the lake valley to the west (mostly transportation and industrial facilities).
The urban area has in excess of 20 km of sand beaches and abounds in thermal mineral water sources. It enjoys a mild continental climate influenced by the proximity to the sea with long, mild, akin to Mediterranean, autumns, and sunny, yet considerably cooler than typically in the Mediterranean, summers moderated by a breeze. January and February can be bitterly cold at times. Black Sea water actually became cleaner after 1989 due to decreased chemical fertilizer usage in farming; it has low salinity, lacks large predators and poisonous species; 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 (130 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 and E87 and national motorways A-2 and A-5; there are bus lines to many Bulgarian and European cities from two bus terminals.
The public transit system is extensive and reasonably priced, with dozens of 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 and the mayor promised that by summer 2008, all city buses would be retrofitted with air conditioners.
Antiquity and Bulgarian conquest

Varna is among Europe's oldest cities. Miletians founded the apoikia (trading colony) of Odessos in 570 BCE (in the time of Astyages) at the site of an earlier Thracian settlement. The name Odessos, first mentioned by Strabo, was pre-Greek, perhaps of Carian origin. Long before the Thracians populated the area by 1200 BCE, several prehistoric settlements best known for the eneolithic necropolis, eponymous site of the Varna culture and the world's oldest large find of gold artifacts (mid-5th millennium BCE radiocarbon dating), existed within modern city limits. Odessos was a contact zone between the urban Ionians and the Thracians (Getae, Crobyzi, Terizi) of the hinterland, essentially a mixed Greco-Thracian community (see also Darzalas).


In 339 BCE, the city was unsuccessfully besieged by Philip II but surrendered to Alexander the Great in 335 BC, and was later ruled by his diadochus Lysimachus. The Roman city, Odessus (annexed in 15 CE to the province of Moesia, later Moesia Inferior), occupied 47 hectares in present-day central Varna and had prominent public baths, Thermae, erected in the late 2nd century, now the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria (the building was 100 m wide, 70 m long, and 20 m high) and fourth largest known Roman baths in Europe.
Odessus was an early Christian centre, as testified by ruins of perhaps ten early basilicas, a monastery, and indications that one of the Seventy Disciples, Ampliatus, follower of Saint Andrew (who, according to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church's 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 including Moesia, Scythia, Caria, the Aegean islands and Cyprus.
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) [2]. In 681, Asparukh, the founder of the First Bulgarian Empire, routed an army of Constantine IV north of the Danube delta and reached the so-called Varna near Odessos. Recent scholarship has suggested that the first Bulgarian capital was perhaps located around Varna before it moved to Pliska. Asparukh fortified the Varna river lowland by a rampart against a possible Byzantine naval landing; several 7th century Bulgar settlements have been excavated.
Middle Ages
Control changed from Byzantine to Bulgarian hands several times during the Middle Ages. In the late 9th and the 10th century, Varna was the site of a principal scriptorium of the Preslav Literary School in a monastery founded by Boris I who may have used it as his monastic retreat. In 1201, Kaloyan took over the fortress on Holy Saturday using a siege tower, and annexed it to the Second Bulgarian Empire.
By the late 13th and 14th century, it had turned into a thriving commercial hub frequented by Genoese, Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships (the three republics held consulates and had expatriate colonies there) and flanked by two fortresses, Kastritsi and Galata, within sight of each other and each with a smaller port of its own. Wheat 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 surrounding land Zagora (Bulgaria). The city was unsuccessfully besieged by Amadeus VI of Savoy in 1366; in 1386, it 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
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 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
The Russians temporarily took over the city in 1773 and again in 1828, following the prolonged Siege of Varna, returning it to the Ottomans in 1830 after its medieval fortress was razed. 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. In 1866, the first railroad in Bulgarian lands connected Varna with the port of 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 region of Southern Dobruja—to Istanbul, and as a busy hub for European imports to the capital; 12 foreign consulates opened in the city.
Liberated Bulgaria
With the national liberation in 1878, the city, which numbered 25-26 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 suffered much damage. Its economy was badly affected by the temporary loss of its agrarian hinterland Southern Dobruja to Romania (1913-1940). In the Second World War, the Red Army occupied the city in September 1944, helping cement communist rule in Bulgaria.
Over the first decades afer the 1878 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 sesions there). Mass tourism emerged since the late 1950s.
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 the second most important economic centre for Bulgaria after Sofia 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. 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 (Navigation Maritime Bulgare—Navibulgar), Port of Varna, Varna International Airport), distribution (Logistics Park Varna), shipbuilding, ship repair, and other marine industries (see also Oceanic-Creations).
With the nearby towns of Beloslav and Devnya, Varna forms the Varna-Devnya Industrial Complex, home to some of the largest chemical, power, and manufacturing facilities in Bulgaria, including the two largest cash privatization deals in recent history, Varna Pover Plant and Sodi Devnya.
In June of 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 30 cubic kilometers is planned to come ashore at Varna, possibly near the Galata offshore gas field, en route to Italy and Austria.
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 (2006), attracting millions of visitors each year (4.74 million in 2006, 3.99 million of which international tourists). 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 is booming, with some of the highest prices in the nation, in the fall of 2007 surpassing Sofia.
In retail, the city not only has the assortment of international big-box retailers 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.
Currently, there are four malls approaching completion and another three projects in development, turning Varna into an attractive international shopping destination (Pfohe Mall, Mall of Varna, Central Plaza, Grand Mall (formerly Orchid Mall), Gallery Mall, Cherno More Park, and Varna Towers), plus a major retail park under development outside town.
The city has several 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%, is 4 times lower, per capita income is higher than the national average (2007). Many Bulgarians regard Varna as a boom town; some, including from Sofia and Plovdiv, but mostly from Dobrich and the greater region, are relocating.
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".
In December 2007, Varna was named "Best City in Bulgaria to Live In" in a national inquiry by Darik Radio, 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. After the Liberation in 1878, the first population census in 1881 found 24,555 people in Varna. In the next century the town grew rapidly, remaining the nation's third largest city.
Currently (2007), Varna is still officially (according to NSI and GRAO) third-largest city by permanent address but other sources, including local government, show it as the second largest one with a daily population (including commuters) of more than 500,000 (in the high summer months, 700,000 or even up to one million).
Varna is one of the few cities in Bulgaria with a positive natural population growth, the number of births being higher than the number of deaths (by about 7000 in 2007) and new children's day care centers opening. In 2006, the majority of the inhabitants were ethnic Bulgarians (85.3% in the province but possibly slightly more in the city). Turks traditionally used to rank second (8.1% in the province, perhaps less in the city), however, by 2007, Russians and other post-Soviet Russian speakers (estimated at over 20,000) may have outnumbered them as permanent residents. There are smaller numbers of Roma, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, and other traditional groups, plus a growing number of new Asian and African immigrants. Western corporate expatriates are reckoned to be about 1,000 but the number is quickly growing.
Historical population
Year 1852 1878 1887 1896 1910 1920 1926 1946
Population 16,000 24,555 24,830 33,687 41,419 50,810 60,536 76,954
Year 1956 1965 1975 1982 1990 2001 2007
Population 120,345 180,110 251,654 295,038 314,913 344,910 348,279
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.
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, 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 cosmonauts in the 1960s. The Garden is a national monument of landscape architecture.
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. It enjoys a nationwide reputation for its rock and hip-hop artists and related events such as July Morning, international rock and hip-hop (including graffiti) venues.
The city beaches, also known as sea baths (морски бани, morski bani), are dotted with hot sulphuric mineral water sources (used for spas, swimming pools and public showers) and punctured by small sheltered marinas. Additionally, the 2.05 km long, 50 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
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 site of a razed 10th century church; the 15th century St. Paraskeve chapel; the seamen's church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker; the Archangel Michael's chapel, site of the first Bulgarian secular school of the National Revival era; and the Sts. Constantine and Helena church of the 16th century suburban monastery of the same name. The remains of a large 4-5th century basilica in Dzhanavara just south of town are becoming a tourist destination with some exquisite mosaics displayed in situ. Currently, the remains of another massive 9th century basilica adjacent to the scriptorium at Boris I's Theotokos Panagia monastery are being excavated and conserved. There is also a number of newer Orthodox temples; two are currently (2007) being erected, dedicated to apostle Andrew and the local martyr St. Procopius of Varna.
There is an old Armenian Apostolic church; two Roman Catholic churches (only one is 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. A new mosque was recently added in the southern Asparuhovo 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 with a citadel, a moat, ornamented iron gates protected by towers, and a vaulted stone bridge across the River Varna. The place abounded in pre-Ottoman relics.
Today, very little of this legacy remains; the downtown was rebuilt by the nascent Bulgarian middle class in late 19th and early 20th century 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 extensive renovations).
Stone masonry from demolished medieval city walls was used for the neo-Byzantine 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 but 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).
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 into affluent suburbs sporting opulent villas and spacious houses, 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, a stretch of shanty town, more befitting Rio de Janeiro, remains in a Roma neighbourhood 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 lush greenery was mostly preserved. New modern office buildings started reshaping the old city centre and the city's surroundings.
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 the 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 nation opened 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 institute. Varna is home to a total of 2,500 faculty and researchers and over 30,000 students.
Local universities:
  • University of Economics
  • Nikola Vaptsarov Naval Academy
  • Technical University and Varna College
  • Prof. Paraskev Stoyanov Medical University and Medical College
  • Chernorizets Hrabar Varna Free University
  • College of Tourism


  • 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
  • Terrarium
  • Zoo
  • Dolphinarium (founded 1984)
Football 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, once 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. The new venue will have seats for 40,000 people according to the project and a track for athletics as well. Another stadium with capacity of 5,000 seats for public use will be opened in Mladost district in maximum 3 years.
Men's basketball, women's volleyball, boxing, and sailing are also vibrant. The 4 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 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 sports complex with fields for football, basketball and volleyball was opened as a part of a larger complex with sports facilities, bars, mini-golf, tennis, biking alleys, mini-lakes and skating rinks in the district of Mladost. The complex will be completed by the end of 2007.
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 local TIM group is one notorious example. In 2003, Ilia 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 gunned down in Sofia, as was Emil Kyulev, chairman of DZI Financial Group and owner of the stylish Holiday Club Riviera resort at Golden Sands, 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. However, it is noted that in Varna, the mutri presence is by no means as visible as it is in some smaller coastal towns and resorts.
 Twin cities
Varna's twin cities are:
  • Flag of Denmark Aalborg, Denmark
  • Flag of the Netherlands Dordrecht, Netherlands
  • Flag of Ukraine Kharkiv, Ukraine
  • Flag of Jordan Aqaba, Jordan
  • Flag of Ukraine Odessa, Ukraine
  • Flag of Sweden Malmö, Sweden
  • Flag of Finland Turku, Finland
  • Flag of the United States Miami, United States
  • Flag of Germany Rostock, Germany
  • Flag of Russia Novorossiysk, Russia
  • Flag of Greece Pireus, Greece
  • Flag of the United States Memphis, United States
  • Flag of the Netherlands Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Flag of England Washington, England
  • Flag of Germany Karlsruhe, Germany
  • Flag of the United States Boston, United States
  • Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Wels, Austria
  • Vysoké Mýto, Czech Republic
  • Genoa, Italy
  • Lyon, France
  • Ningbo, China
  • Saint Petersburg, Russia

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