A Celebration of Varna, Bulgaria

Ahead of Varna Day, celebrated on 15 August, 3Seas Europe talks to four local residents about what makes their city so special.

Dragons in Love sculpture in the Sea Garden at the coast of Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria.
Dragons in Love sculpture in the Sea Garden at the coast of Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria. Photo: Mikhail Markovskiy / stock.adobe.com

Varna, aka Bulgaria’s sea capital, has been around for almost three millennia. The city in northeastern Bulgaria, the country’s third-largest by population, is not going anywhere. For decades, known as a favorite Black Sea summer spot for vacationers behind the Iron Curtain, Varna continues to charm visitors and residents alike. So what do Varna locals think about their city?

Doroteya Petrova, a Varna-born painter living in Vienna

Doroteya Petrova
Doroteya Petrova. Photo: courtesy of Doroteya Petrova

What does Varna mean to me? Let’s try answering this question with a fast game of associations. Here we go. You say Varna; I think ambivalence, childhood, painting people in the sea garden, acacias, limes, fish, summer cinema, roses, ballet, seagulls, and the Seagull residential district, family, lilacs, me in the water, me seeing nothing underwater, the big city fountain, sculptures in the dark, and two of the places to eat and get a drink in my very late teenage years, Godzilla and Daphne.

Mikhail Mutafov, actor, honorary citizen of Varna

Varna is a special city for me. Years ago, my teacher from the Theatre Academy in Sofia invited me to perform at the Varna Drama Theatre. I didn’t hesitate for a moment. At the beginning of my life in Varna, I often went to the sea. Years later, Varna and the sea have not left me. I realized that there is an incredible connection between me and this city, the sea. So strong that I couldn’t leave. I’ve been living here since 1975. As people say, it was meant for me. My sign is Cancer, so living by the water is part of who I am, at least according to my sign. The sea is not only something I live next to. The sea is an inspiration to me.

Mikhail Mutafov
Mikhail Mutafov. Photo: courtesy of Varna Drama Theatre “Stoyan Bachvarov”

Besides the sea, my favorite place in Varna is the house of the painter Georgi Velchev (1891-1955), which he bequeathed to the city. I feel very calm in this space. I can stay for hours on end here. The house, now an art museum, celebrates the work of an artist who was an innovator in Bulgarian art in the 1920s. For me, Georgi Velchev is also one of the greatest masters of seascape in classical painting. The museum has five exhibition halls and a collection of 239 works. Make sure to see them all!

Pavlina Ruseva, teacher of Bulgarian language and literature

I am proud to have grown up in Varna. For me, the symbol and the glory of the city is the Sea Garden. I feel amazing when I walk in the spacious alleys with a variety of rare trees, bushes, and flowers. Only a few cities in Bulgaria can boast a similar space. To enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants by the sea is not only to be satisfied with the local dishes, and they can be excellent. But to feel the sea in all its beauty… it inspires a sense of freedom and inspiration. If you have time, why don’t you visit the Naval Museum, the Aquarium, and the Dolphinarium? Then your walk will be complete.

But my city is more than a place on the sea. Varna is also known for its old and beautiful architecture. The preserved buildings make Varna truly stand out, especially when the flowers are in full bloom. Add to that the rich cultural offerings, especially in the summer months, and it’s easy to understand why Varna is called Bulgaria’s sea capital. For me, attending performances at the Summer Theatre is a feast. Come visit our unique city; you will love it, I promise.

Mikhail Georgiev, retiree, worked for decades in the field of culture

It is not by chance that Varna has inspired many singers who have dedicated songs to the city where I was born more than 80 years ago. For me, Varna remains a city of culture. And today, as before, I am excited by cultural events. I love to attend opera performances, ballet, and the theatre. As every resident of Varna would tell you, walking in our beautiful sea garden with friends or grandchildren is a holiday for us. And so is reading outdoors, with the sound of the sea in the background.

I love Varna and everything that gives me pleasure. Of course, there is much more to be desired. But the future is in the hands of the young, of our children, grandchildren. I am sorry that much has passed and less remains. I say this with a smile. I am a happy person who looks at life with a good eye and affection.

Galina Ganeva

a journalist with experience working for some of the most influential Bulgarian publications. She mostly writes about the intersection of society and culture

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