Varna

Varna's history goes back to the 6th Century B.C. when it was founded by settlers from the Greek city of Miletus in Asia Minor, and was called Odessos. There must have been an earlier settlement in the area, although it was not mentioned in written sources, as archeologists discovered nearby a Chalcolitic necropolis housing the world' oldest worked gold, now exhibited in the city's archeological museum. Soon Odessos became a lively Black Sea port and commercial center. From the 3rd Century B.C. it minted its own silver and gold coins. As part of the Roman Empire from the 1st Century A.D. it retained its role as economic and cultural center. The largest Roman baths in the Balkans were built there in the 2nd Century. (The baths are well preserved and open for visitors.)  In the 6th centurt came the Slavs, and in 681 Khan Asparukh's Bulgars. Byzantine, Bulgarian, Ottoman and again Bulgarian rule came one after the other, but the city invariably grew and prospered.

Much of Varna's center is pedestrianised, the broad streets are lined with shops, trees and benches, and open-air cafes and cozy restaurants cater for the tourist crowds. Old buildings have been beautifully restored, the facades of some of them are lit up at night, and so is the magnificent Assumption Cathedral, one of the city's symbols. Varna is a clean, friendly and relaxed city with lots of interesting sites to visit, and plenty of entertainment.

The Seaside Garden stretches along the vast beach. It is an oasis of greenery, flowers, fountains, open-air stages, monuments to prominent Bulgarians, playgrounds and cafes. The seaside promenade is lined with restaurants and discotheques. The garden contains the city's Planetarium, Aquarium and Dolphinarium. At its entrance stands the Festival and Congress Centre, a modern venue with halls of various sizes, a restaurant, a café and a market. The traditional film festival 'Love is Madness' is held there annually.

The Planetarium has 80 seats, a dome 10 metres in diameter, and modern visual and sound equipment. It is frequented by student groups. The Aquarium was built back in 1912 at Tsar Ferdinand's initiative. It exhibits a collection and fresh- and salt-water species, and shows the specifics of marine life in the Black Sea. The modern Dolphinarium is children's favourite. There are three shows a day, delivered by three adult dolphins and the Dolphinarium's pride, a cute baby dolphin.

The archeological museum has an interesting and rich collection but its real highlight is the oldest gold treasure in the world, dating back 4000 years B.C.   It consists of vessels and jewellery: necklaces, bracelets, breast plates, etc. In the summer of 2006, the museum will host a unique exhibition of gold treasures from different parts of Bulgaria - probably the richest such collection ever exhibited.

A park-museum dedicated to Wladyslaw III Warnenczyk [of Varna] commemorates the battle that the Polish-Hungarian king and Janos Hunyadi fought in 1444 against  the Ottomans in a last desperate attempt to stop their advance in Europe. Wladyslaw died in the battle.

The unique Aladja Rock Monastery lies 17 km north of Varna. It consists of a row of cells, two churches and a chapel dug into a steep cliff. If was probably founded in the 10th Century, and flourished in the 12th-14th Century. Its walls must have been richly decorated with murals as its very name means 'colourful'.