The city of Varna is the third largest in Bulgaria. Previously known as Odessos, it was also one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria. But how did it get to become the major economic, social and cultural centre that it is now?

Photo by Barbara Gobec.

Battle of Varna

In 1444, this was one of the last major battles of the Crusades in European history. The failure of this made sure that Varna (with all of Bulgaria) was to remain under Ottoman domination for over four centuries.

Ottoman Rule

During the 16th and 17th century Varna became a major port, agricultural, trade and shipbuilding centre for the Ottoman Empire, preserving a significant and economically active Bulgarian population.

International Connections

In 1866 the first railroad in Bulgaria connected Varna with the Rousse on the Danube, linking the city with Central Europe. The port of Varna also developed as a major supplier of food to Constantinople and became a busy hub for European imports to the capital. 12 foreign consulates also opened in the city.

World Wars

Varna became a front city in the First Balkan War and the First World War; badly damaging its economy. In the Second World War, the Red Army occupied the city in September 1944, helping cement communist rule in Bulgaria.

Cultural Development

As well as a centre of production and the main port of export, the city established itself as a popular venue for international events. For example in hosting the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in 1969 and 1987 and the 10th Olympic Congress in 1973 which took place in the Palace of Culture and Sports.

Varna also has some of the best and oldest museums. For example in 1888 the Varna Archaeological Museum was founded; its most celebrated exhibit is now the Gold of Varna. It shows the oldest gold treasure in the world, excavated in 1972 but dating back to 4600-4200 BCE, which occupies three separate exhibition halls.

Mass Tourism

Emerging in the late 1950s; this led to Varna becoming a popular resort for Eastern Europeans, who were barred from travelling to the west until 1989. It now attracts 2 to 3 a million tourists a year, as the holidaymakers may reach as many as 200,000 daily during the high season.

All this and more has led Varna to be named in 2007 as Bulgaria’s Best City to Live In and the 2017 Youth Capital.

It’s easy to see why Varna is a front-runner for the European Capital of Culture for 2019.