Black Sea Cruise -- Varna

Varna, Bulgaria
Visited August 12, 2008
Our last stop was at Varna, the largest Bulgarian city on the Black Sea. Its got beaches and industry as well as universities but only about a third of the population of Odessa. Over 60% of its revenue comes from trade or tourists. It's original Greek name was Odessos and in more recent times (1949) was named Stalin.

The Roman Baths

Varna's Roman baths (thermae) were once the largest public building in Bulgaria. For Romans, the Thermae were the center of their social life, occupying them for hours daily before they got digital cable and broad-band access. With slaves in tow, they would move from one room to another through water of different temperatures. Once clean, they would exercise. Then their slaves would scrape off the oil and dirt. Besides exercising and getting scrubbed, Romans used the baths to shop and eat and drink.

Based upon its construction and coins found here, Varna's thermae appears to be a late 2nd century AD building constructed along the lines set out by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius who inspired much Renaissance and neo-Classical architecture.

Today we pretty much see a few bricks left from  this place although the overall footprint occupies most of its original 75,000 square feet. Posted drawings help modern tourists envision the roofs, walls, columns, and statues now mostly stolen from this site.

St. Atanassiy Church

Adjacent to the Thermae site is the very modest 1838 building which houses the icons of the St. Atanassiy church.  This building replaced an earlier church which burnt down.  This site has had religious building back at least to the 10th century.
  St Athanasius Icons
The iconostasis of St Athanasius or St. Atanassiy Church
The building became an icon museum in 1961.  After the iron curtain fell, it returned to being a church and the icon collection moved to the to the secondSt-Athanasius icons floor of the Archeology Museum with reproductions left in their place here.

Many of the icons sport a large picture of the saint above, with a set of cartoons featuring the scenes from his life below --an Orthodox graphic novel..

Until the much fancier Assumption Cathedral opened in 1886, St. Atanassiy served as Varna's cathedral even though it was an understated building, perhaps deliberately so as supposedly the Ottomans would not let a church be built higher than a warrior on horseback.

Archaeological Museum

After the visit to the old cathedral and the Roman baths, we spent time in the archaeological museum. This neo-Renaissance building was originally a girls' school and has been in use since 1895.

Archeology Museum

Varna's Archaeological Museum
The museum's key exhibit is that of the Gold of Varna, the oldest gold in the world (4600-4200 BC). It came from a necropolis found in 1972 about 2.5 miles from Varna's center. About 2/3rds of the graves have been excavated. The 294 graves analyzed so far have yielded over 3000 artifacts. One grave alone stored more gold by weight than every other site found to date from this era! This time period may have been the turning point when primarily female-dominated matriarchal societies were shifting to male dominance.

Click here to see more Varna pictures from this trip

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Created on September 15, 2008

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Varna Map from Wiki