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Varna - The Black Sea Capital



Varna is among Europe's oldest cities and it has belonged to many great Empires in it's time. The Milesians who named it Odessos founded it as a trading colony in 570 BC. For centuries, it was a trade route for the Ionians and the Thracians and by the 4th century BC, it was predominantly a mixed Greco-Thracian community.

By 5 AD, the Romans inhabited the city. Odessos lost its political independence, preserving only an appearance of self-administration. It did however maintain its military, economic and cultural importance. The Roman legacy is still visible today in the ancient vestiges of the fortress wall of the city and impressive ruins of the Roman baths, the Thermae, the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria.


In the latter part of the 6th century the Slavs conquered the Balkans and the city was renamed Varna which means ‘Black One'. By the late 13th and 14th century, Varna had turned into a thriving commercial hub frequented by Genoese, Venetian and Ragusan merchant ships. Indeed Varna became the most important seaport between Constantinople and the Danube delta. Today, the Bulgarian Navy has it's headquarters in Varna.

The Russians temporarily took over the city in 1773 and again in 1828. The British and French campaigning against Russia in the Crimean War (1854-1856) used Varna as one of its headquarters and principal naval bases. In 1866, the first railroad in Bulgaria connected Varna with the port of Rousse on the Danube and linked the Ottoman capital Istanbul with Central Europe; for a few years, the Orient Express ran along this route.

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. A stone walled citadel surrounded it. It was surrounded by a moat with a vaulted stone bridge leading across the River Varna up to a pair of enormous ornamental iron gates, which were protected by towers. The place abounded in pre-Ottoman relics. Russia finally liberated the city on March 3rd 1878 and the Treaty of Berlin relinquished it to Bulgaria.