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Varna – one of the most attractive and beautiful Bulgarian cities – is chosen for the second consecutive time to be “the best town for living in Bulgaria” according to a national research. Its tempting location, job opportunities and beautiful nature draw here both Bulgarians and foreigners, especially during the summer period. But along with its outside advantages, this city has rich historical past. Because of it’s strategically location, this city was many times a casus belli. Now, in Varna there are many signs of its rich archeological and cultural heritage from the remote past.
Varna of the Prehistoric Age
During an archeological excavation in October 1972 by excavator operator Raycho Marinov, an ancient Necropolis (burial place or cemetery) was accidentally discovered. The site was about four kilometers from Varna’s city center and about half a kilometer from Lake Varna. It turned out to be one of the most important archeological finds dating back to prehistoric times. Using radiocarbon dating, archeologists estimate the graves to be in the 4600 – 4200 BC period. These graves are considered to be the burial sites of people belonging to the Eneolithic Varna culture, which was a transitional period spanning the Stone Age and the Bronze Age when stone implements were used alongside metal tools.
Almost 300 graves were found in the Necropolis which contained metal artifacts of gold and copper, pottery, high quality flint, blades and beads. The culture seemed to have sophisticated religious beliefs about life after death. There was also evidence of the presence of a hierarchical social order among the people. From a historic point of view, Varna is a very ancient city with people having lived within its borders from prehistoric times.
Varna before the Middle Ages
Varna is one oldest cities of Europe. The ‘Thracians’ occupied the area by 1200 BC. Towards the end of the seventh century BC, the ‘Miletians’ founded what is known as the ‘apoikia’ of Odessos which was a trading colony. Archeological excavations indicate that the area was occupied from the seventh to the fourth centuries BC without any interruption. Thracian inscriptions using the Greek alphabet have been found dating back to the fifth century BC. One of the gods worshipped by the Romans can be traced directly back to the Thracian culture.
The region fell into the hands of Alexander the Great in 335 BC. After his death, when Lysimachus ruled over the region, the city rebelled against him. The Roman city of Odessus was situated in 47 hectares of land that is located in present-day central Varna. It had prominent public baths, the most famous being Thermae which was erected in the late 2nd century AD. The building is 25 meters tall, 70 meters wide and 100 meters long and is considered the largest Roman remains in Bulgaria. Every five years, athletic games were held in this city.
Christianity flourished in Odessus. Saint Theophanes Confessor who was a member of the Byzantine aristocracy, was a monk and historian. He was the one to first mention the name Varna in his writings about the Slavic conquest of the Balkans in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. The name is probably derived from the Proto-Indo-European root word ‘we-r-’ which means water. A water body adjacent to Odessus was referred to as Varna and probably the city inherited the name as time went by. Theophanes wrote that in 681, Constantine IV’s army was routed by Asparukh who was the founder of the first Bulgarian Empire in the Varna region. It is also believed that the first Bulgarian capital could have been Varna during those times.
Varna in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, the control of the region frequently shifted between Byzantine and Bulgarian hands. Varna was also the site of a scriptorium in the late 9th century where the Cyrillic alphabet was developed by Bulgarian scholars. By the late 13th century, Varna became a thriving commercial port. The crusaders fought one of their last losing battles outside the city walls of Varna. At the Battle of Varna, the whole of Bulgaria came under Ottoman rule which lasted for more than four centuries.
The first railway line in Bulgaria built in 1866 which reached up to Istanbul ran through Varna. The port at Varna became a hub for trade and imports. Varna was economically affected by the First World War. The Second World War brought communist rule to Bulgaria.
The History of Modern Day Varna
Varna became a tourist center by the late 1950s. From December 20 1949 to October 20 1956 the city was renamed as Stalin. Heavy industry and trade with the Soviet Union flourished in the 1950s and continued till the 70s. The 15th Chess Olympiad took place in Varna in 1962. Varna also hosted the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in 1969 and 1987.