Places to visit in Varna`s region
by dok in Tips and tricks on 2013-03-22


It was the main political, military, economic and cultural centre from the foundation of the Bulgarian State in 681 to 893. Pliska is also among the most impressive monuments of Medieval European town-planning. Situated at a crossroads amidst a vast plain of rolling hills, the first capital of the Bulgarian State was protected with strong fortress walls.

The location of the city was not left to the blind chance. Being a people of the steppes, the ancient Bulgarians preferred level terrains to put up their camps and settlements. The defense fortifications comprised tree rings. The outermost was a deep and wide moat, the middle one – a rampart whose thick stone walls once rose up to 12 meters in some places, and the innermost – a fortress built up of clay bricks. Researchers have found tree stages in the development of the ancient Bulgarian capital.


The Madara Horseman

One of the most remarkable monuments of history is located some 16 km east of Shoumen. A bas-relief of a man on horseback piercing a lion with his spear is chiseled into the vertical rock 25 meters above ground. He is followed by a dog. The inscriptions around the composition relate it to the time of the Bulgarian khans Tervel, Kormisosh and Omourtag. This monument is unique in Europe and for this reason it was included in the UNESCO list of world cultural monuments. The locality around the Madara Horseman is immersed in mystery and mysticism. Here was the main sacred place of worship of the First Bulgarian Kingdom.


Khan Kroum’s Palace was built on an area of 500 square meters is a remarkable architectural monument of the first stage. There were secret passages and tunnels for the inhabitants to leave the town in case of emergency. The Palace had its own big water reservoir and public baths. The second stage marked the peak of town design and construction. That was the time when Khan Omourtag ruled. Dating back to that period are the fortress walls, the so-called Little Palace with houses for the members of the royal family, the new baths with an intricate heating system, two pagan shrines and the richly decorated Throne Hall. The third construction stage includes early Christian buildings of worship with impressive architectural monument of that time is the Grand Basilica. With its 2920 square meters it was the largest Christian church on the Balkan Peninsula for its time. The imposing three-nave basilica was a 100 meters long and 30 meters wide. It was in the centre of a monastery complex. Pliska is the town where the Christian faith was adopted as an official religion of the Bulgarian people in the 9th century. In the year 886 Prince Boris I received the disciples of the creators of the Slav Alphabet the brothers Cyril and Methodius.



An inscription chiseled into an ancient stone column reads that the town was founded by Khan Omourtag. It reached its heyday when King Simeon the Great ruled the country. The year 893 marked important events in the history of the Bulgarian State. A Council was held in Preslav at which they decided to adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Bulgarian State and the Old Bulgarian as the official language. The Council also decreed thet the Bulgarian church was no longer subordinate to the Byzantine church. They encouraged education and literature, elected Prince Simeon I to reign and moved the capital from Pliska to Preslav.

So Preslav was the second Bulgarian capital city. While Pliska’s lay out resembles a military camp Veliki Preslav was designed and built as a typical Medieval town. Even its ruins today look impressive. They take up an area of 3.5 square kilometers. The building workers of Preslav were the first in Europe to put up two concentric rings of fortress walls. Even today you can see remains of the fortress wall, the round Eastern tower, the North and the South Gates, the Palace and its adjacent buildings. Written documents and fragments of the interior decoration reveal that the Grand Throne Hall and the royal apartments made visitors to marvel at the grandeur and splendour of the Palace.


The Round (Golden) Church was awe – inspiring too. Its gold plated dome was richly decorated with a fantastic mosaic on a background made of gold. It rested on12 marble columns. The church was built on top of a hill outside the city walls so that citizens and travelers could enjoy the view. Veliki Preslav was the centre of the flourishing Medieval Bulgarian literature and culture and its Golden Century. It was the Preslav Literary School that had a strong influence on the cultural development of Eastern Europe. When Preslav was the capital of Bulgaria, the country had the political authority, economic power and military might to make other European rulers, Buzantium and barbaric tribes conform to it. Proof of past riches and grandeur of the city is the Preslav Treasure. It consists of 150 objects of exquisite craftsmanship. Preslav’s decline started at the time of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom when the capital was moved to Turnovo.


The Palace in Balchik and the Botanical Garden

All tours of Balchik inevitably include a visit to the Quiet Nook Palace and its magnificent park on an area of 35 hectares. Over 3 000 plants grow here and this is proof that the climate in this part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is suitable not only for the flora of Mediterranean plants but also for rare plant species from all corners of the earth. Among the masterpieces of the art of garden designing is the Rose Garden and the Garden of Cactus which is the second largest collection of cactus in Europe. It has over 250 different species.

The former summer residence of the Romanian Queen Maria has a striking effect on the visitor for its unique romantic design and atmosphere. The Italian architects Americo and Augustino created a genuine legend matching the beauty of nature with the materialized visions of dreaming poets. Thus, in 1926 they created one of the unique architectural ensembles along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The park of the palace was designed as a replica of the famous labyrinth on the island of Crete. The little church is a copy of a Cretan shrine and an elegant detail that complements the architectural ensemble. Its wall paintings depict the queen and her daughter, and saints following the strict Eastern Orthodox traditions. The alleys in the park will lead you to the world’s only palace with a minaret and a dome of a Christian church, a marble throne brought over from Florence, the Bridge of Sighs, large earthen jars from Morocco, a deep draw well in a Mediterranean style, and a pool, combining the Roman with the Moorish style in decorative art. A legend says that Queen Maria was so strongly attracted to this place that she wished to remain here even after her death. When she died, her heart was placed in a special container and put in one of the clocks in the park, guarded round the clock.


Cape Kaliakra

This is one of the most charming places along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Jutting out for 2 km into the sea, Kaliakra is the longest cape along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Its name means “beautiful cape”. They gave it that name because of the crimson colour of its cliffs. Put up in the Hellenic era, the Kaliakra fortress was at its heyday in the 14th century when it became the stronghold of the Bulgarian nobleman Balik. During the Turkish invasion it was subject to an extremely cruel siege. All warriors and citizens of the fortress were murdered. Only 40 young maids were left alive. They decided to choose death to life in disgrace. When no one was watching them they plaited together their long hair, held their hands and jumped into the sea from the high cliffs.


Stone forest

They are some of the most incredible freaks of nature in Bulgaria. Natural stone pillars – some 6 meters high, some up to 12 meters across at their base can been admired in a locality 18 km west of Varna. People call it “the petrified forest”. Some columns look like animals, others will remind you of frozen fountains or cascades. Several rows of columns create the impression that each is made up of two cones balancing on their points. The prevailing theory is that the “stone forest” near Varna was formed some 50 million years ago. At that time it was part of the sea bottom. Later the water receded, the nonorganic deposits were exposed to the elements and they adopted these singular forms which we marvel at today.


The Aladzha Monastery

It is the best known rock monastery along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, 14 km away from Varna. The cells of the monks and the chapel were carved into the soft sandstone into a group of caves. The predominating opinion of scholars is that the monastery was under the influence of a religious teaching that was in circulation in Byzantium and Bulgaria at that time. It taught about the energy of God – “isichasm” or “hesychasm”. Visitors today can see in the 40-odd meter high rock separate rooms of the monastery complex the place of worship, the chapel, a special church for requiescat (mass for the dead), tombs, the kitchen, the dining room, the cells of the monks and work rooms. They all are situated on two natural terraces, one above the other. In the past, the church was richly decorated with wall paintings. Probably that is why the monastery was called Aladzha. It means “motley, multi-coloured”. In the 17th – 18th century, the monastery was no longer inhabited by monks.


The Longoza Nature Reserve

The Longoza Nature Reserve covers an area of 842 hectares on the low banks of the Kamchia River as it empties into the Black Sea. It is 30 km south of Varna. Creepers some of which are up to 50 meters long form a green “curtain” that is difficult to pass through. High century-old trees stoop over the ricer. Sunshine seeping through the branches creates a singular feeling of mystery. What you see there will remind you of a tropical forest. In fact this is the last representative of a longoz (swamp forest) in Europe. Over 40 tree and plant species thrive in this nature reserve. Some rare plants – the swamp snow drop, squill and goldilocks grow there too.