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Bulgaria’s Royal Palace

On the outskirts of Varna, visible only from the sea, the 19th-century former summer residence of Bulgarian royalty lies tucked away behind small woodland on the main coast road. There is no pomp and ceremony here; no changing of guards or viewing areas; the palace entrance from the main road can be recognised by a barrier and a couple of soldiers. Yet the palace itself is incredibly beautiful, built as a near replica to the right hand wing of France’s Chateau de Saint-Cloud it is equally worthy of a place as one of Bulgaria’s most aesthetic monuments.

Palace History

Alexander of Bulgaria received the land outside of Varna as a gift from Greek bishopric in 1882. Prior to the construction of the palace, two small monasteries, St. Demetrius and St. Constantine occupied the land, but they were converted into residences. Originally the place, which was constructed in 1885 by the renowned Austrian architect, Viktor Rumpelmayer, was called Sandrovo, the Italian name for Alexander's nickname, Sandro. The grounds of the estate were extended to 80 hectares and when Alexander’s son Tsar Ferdinand succeeded him, he commissioned Swiss architect, Hermann Mayer to work alongside a Bulgarian architect Nikola Lazarov to design something akin to the French Chateau de Saint-Cloud. Ferdinand’s first wife, Marie Louise insisted the palace be renamed Evksinograd in 1893 after the Greek name for the Black Sea, which translated means ‘Hospitable Sea,’ ‘grad,’ the Slavic derivative for town was tagged onto the end.

In 1946, the Bulgarian monarchy was abolished and the palace became a summer abode for dignitaries from of the Communist party. When the Communist regime fell in 1989 the palace became a presidential and governmental residence. During the summer, cabinet meetings are held here and since 2007, it has played host to the Operosa annual festival of opera.

A Peek Inside

When Tsar Ferdinand acquired a part of the destroyed Chateau de Saint-Cloud his dream of a striking post-Liberation palace was realized. The architecture is so clearly French with steep metal-edged roofs, shaped brickwork and a clock tower. The palace consists of three storeys. The first floor is home to the official reception halls, the music chamber and the dining room. The second floor houses the private quarters of the former royals and the third floor was designated as staff quarters. The furniture left in the palace – a legacy from the Bulgarian royal family is made of walnut and mahogany. There is an enormous chandelier, a present from the royal House of Bourbon, which is gilded with gold lilies and a royal crown and gold lilies. Every door handle in the palace are engraved with Tsar Ferdinand’s coat of arms.

The palace houses a wine cellar covering two floors underground. It was constructed in 1891 to house the many bottles of royal wine. Today it still manufactures 12 varieties of top quality white wine and 7 different types of brandy and holds the reputation for producing the best wine in the country. The palace wine cellar also stores some priceless French wines, which were produced at the time of the Bulgarian Liberation.

The Grounds

The palace grounds are hidden from view but cover 550 decares and lead down to the Black Sea. It took several decades to complete the gardens and today they are home to more than 310 species of plants from Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the South of France, with over 50,000 trees imported from Marseille and planted in rich soil transported from the mouth of Bulgaria’s Kamchiya River and over 45 coniferous shrubs and 22 evergreens imported from Europe, Syria and Algeria. It is alleged that each species was chosen by the Tsar himself. The palace gardens are a combination of French and English design possible due to the influence of Edouard Andre. It includes two ornate bridges, one of which looks like a fallen tree; the small Kestrichka Bara River flows under them. There is also a sundial, which was a gift came from Queen Victoria, several French bronzes, a statue of Neptune and a lake filled with lilies. The garden is enveloped by the palace vineyards and there is also a former royal stable.

Pictures courtesy of Dimcho Panayotov (Benkovski)

For furthe reading about the Bulgarian Royal Family see our article.