If you happen to visit Bulgaria, surely, your visit will start from the capital city of Sofia. But our country has another one which is our marine and summer capital and is situated at the Black Sea. As Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe, the city of Varna is also an ancient town which started as a Thracian settlement near which Miletian Greeks established Odessós (Odissopolis) at the end of the 7th century BC. The Greek polis turned into an important apoikia (trading post) at the Black Sea. Later on, Philip II of Macedon besieged the polis unsuccessfully and his son – Alexander the Great – conquered it. The city fell within the borders of three empires in the centuries to come – the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.
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That’s why today’s city of Varna is a place where you can have a journey through history. For sure, it will start from the Varna Necropolis that is a burial site situated only four 4 km from the city centre. This is a unique place and a key world’s archeological site where the world’s oldest golden treasure was discovered. Today the world’s oldest and largest find of golden artifacts dating from 4600 BC to 4200 BC (or 100 000 years ago) are on display at the Varna Archaeological Museum as well as in Sofia (at the National Historical Museum).
Leaving prehistory, another prominent site of the marine capital of Bulgaria is the Roman Thermae. The Roman baths occupy two sites known as Large and Small Roman Thermae. They were built approximately in the 2nd century AD and are known as the 4th largest public Roman baths in the world (after the Terme di Caracalla and Thermae Diocletiani in Rome, and the Trier Imperial Baths in Germany) as well as the biggest in the Balkans. The Baths of the Roman city of Odessus had all of the necessary premises. Ancient visitors enjoyed a complete range of facilities. They could spend time in three types of pools – a hot one (caldarium), a warm one (tepidarium) and a cold one (frigidarium). By the way, the first two pools were heated by a heating system of pipes placed under the floor, known as hypocaust (coming from the two words: hypo – “under” and caust – “burnt”).
After visiting the Roman Thermae of Varna, you have two options. The first one is to have a nice stroll along the city’s squares. You will reach the awesome building of the Stoyan Bachvarov Dramatic Theatre and the nearby city fountain. Going down the streets you will pass by other fountains, one of them being the Dolphin Fountain. After a short walk you will reach one of the landmarks of Varna, namely – the Cathedral “Sveto Uspenie Bogorodichno” (Cathedral “The Assumption of Holy Mother”). And if you take the opposite direction, you will go to the Palace of Culture and Sports which borders with the Sea Garden main gate.
Actually, the Sea Garden (or Morska Gradina in Bulgarian) is a favourite place for locals and tourists alike. Its well maintained and the long alleys offer plenty of places for recreation and fun. Restaurants and discos are a preferred spot for party-goers by night. And the curves of the Sea Garden follow the lines of the central beach of Varna. Amazing, isn’t it? Well, I am pretty sure you will like this place much more when you get to know that you might mix up sunbathing with cultural and entertaining attractions. You don’t believe me?!
When the Sun is at its peak on a hot summer day you might find out a shelter in the spacious and cool building of the Festa Dolphinarium in Varna. The dolphin home was opened in August 1984 and since then, people have been able to have fun with the most intelligent creatures in the world, i.e. dolphins. Nowadays the permanent residents of the Dolphinarium are 5 in number and stage shows every day except on Mondays. They are three gentlemen and two ladies. And who are the inmates exactly? They are a brother (Bimbo-boy) and a sister (Yoanna-girl) that were born there and are the youngest dolphins. Then come Kimbo and the lady of his heart – Dolly. They are from the Land of Eternal Spring. And the last, 5th dolphin is Poppy. Actually, this male dolphin has been an inmate of the Dolphinarium since my childhood and respectively, it’s the oldest resident there. I can assure you that dolphin daily shows are more than amazing. And it’s because you face dolphin’s natural intellect during the various performances. First of all, these sweet creatures talk to one another in their own language but they do establish and love the contact with people at the same time.
They play various roles starting from sports (they are athletes, footballers, volleyball players and figure skaters), going through art (they sing and dance) and ending with their water games with randomly chosen spectators. Soooo … if I have to make a recap, I will only tell you not to miss the visit at the Dolpinarium in Varna as it’s an amazing place for fun with the divine, beautiful, intelligent and a little bit mysterious dolphins.
Unlike the Dolphinarium as well as other European acqua worlds, the Varna Aquarium is very tiny and miniature. It houses few tanks with fish species and fauna from the Black Sea, the World Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and fresh-water rivers, placed in three halls. The building itself was built in 1912 but the aquarium itself was inaugurated much later, in 1932, because the edifice used to house naval and army units during the wars. Once again I am saying that our one and only maritime biological station is not enormous at all. It doesn’t possess tank-tunnels with swimming sharks from everywhere (like it is in bigger European aquariums) but the tiny tanks with almost decorative fish species give the feeling of coziness and home warmth. And above all, it’s our, Bulgarian aquarium.
The same could be said about the Varna Zoo. It’s also situated in the Sea Garden. The animals are not too many but the design of the zoo is nice. It’s like a park in the park, inhabited by deer, monkeys, a bear, ponies, goats from Cameroon, a lion, a wolf, a fox, a lama, peacocks, herbivores, etc. As to the artificial ponds, they are the place around which visitors can see various bird species. So, if you want to relax and learn about animals at the same time, the zoo is your place in the green and natural heart of the Sea Garden.
After seeing so many animals, fish and mammals, you might desire to have fun in a different field. Why not to see the stars and planets at daytime? Are you saying it’s impossible? No, you are not correct. It’s quite possible at the Astronomical Observatory and Planetarium “Nicolaus Copernicus” in Varna. The idea of the astronomical observatory was born in the era of astronautics and astronomy, and the achievements of the 1960s of last century. Step-by-step the Planetarium was developed and today it is a lovely place where you can learn much about the stars and planets through real demonstrations in the star hall. You will get to know that there are 88 known constellations in space, 66 of them being seen from Bulgaria as well. The rest 22 could be seen from countries situated on the Equator and in the southern hemisphere. Well, let me mention some of them. You have heard about the Great Bear (or Ursa Major), haven’t you? And do you know the Greek myth about the constellation of Orion (the Hunter)? If you haven’t here it is.
Orion was a hunter who was a son of Poseidon (the ancient Greek God of the Sea). He inherited the supernatural power and ability to walk on water from his father. The lad sailed to the Island of Chios. Unfortunately, he got drunk and he attacked the beautiful daughter of the ruler of the island. Revenge followed and the ruler blinded him. After this unpleasant incident the young man was healed by the Sun God Helios. Probably all this changed Orion greatly and he became an extremely cruel and arrogant creature wanting to kill any animal on Earth. That provoked Gaia’s (the Goddess of the Earth) rage at the lad and she responded back to his cruelty by sending a giant scorpion at him. Orion was killed and Zeus placed both Orion and the Scorpion in the stars. That’s why today Scorpius and Orion constellations cannot be seen together at the same time. Instead, Ophiuchus constellation is somehow Orion’s antidote and stands between the two constellations. And last thing here. There is one more prominent nearby constellation. It’s the constellation of Taurus who fights with Orion and the latter protects himself from the Bull in the sky every night.
Our journey in Varna is going to an end and here is the place to mention something about the city as our naval capital of the country. As such, it houses the Naval Museum that has both indoor and outdoor exhibitions presenting the history of maritime Bulgaria. Special attention is paid to one of the greatest feats of the Bulgarians – the victory of November 21, 1912, the Bulgarian torpedo boat “Drazki” torpedoed the cruiser “Hamidie” of Turkey in the Black Sea.