Historical Palace, Botanical Garden in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Balchik Attracted over 200,000 Tourists in 2015

Historical Palace, Botanical Garden in Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Balchik Attracted over 200,000 Tourists in 2015

The Balchik Palace is main building of a complex of nearly 200 buildings and sites, and a large Botanical Garden, in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik; the Palace itself is located right on the beach. Photo: Dvoretsa (official site)

The Balchik Palace is main building of a complex of nearly 200 buildings and sites, and a large Botanical Garden, in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik; the Palace itself is located right on the beach. Photo: Dvoretsa (official site)

One of the best known landmarks on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, the complex of the so called Balchik Palace and the Balchik Botanical Garden, was visited by more than 200,000 Bulgarian and international tourists in 2015.

The Balchik Palace (“Dvoretsa" in Bulgarian) is an Architectural and Park Preserve in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik, a successor of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city Dionysopolis and the medieval Bulgarian city Karvuna. (Learn more about the Balchik Palace and the ancient and medieval city of Dionysopolis in the Background Infonotes below.)

Bulgaria’s region of Southern Dobrudzha was part of Romania in 1913-1916 and between 1919-1940, conquered as a result of the Second Balkan Wars of 1913 and World War I. The Palace itself was built between 1924 and 1934 as a maritime residence of Queen Marie of Romania (Princess Marie of Edinburg) (1875-1938), the wife of King Ferdinand I of Romania (r. 1914-1927).

The Balchik Botanical Garden was established by Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski" in the part of the Palace back in 1955, while the entire complex was developed as a major cultural tourism site starting in the 1970s.

In the first 11 months of 2015, the Balchik Palace welcomed almost 202,000 visitors, Zheni Mihaylova, Director of the Dvoretsa Cultural Institute, an institution of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, has announced, as cited by local daily Dobrudzhanska Tribuna.

While the number of tourists declined by about 30% year-on-year, the Balchik Palace generated 10% more revenue in 2015 amounting to BGN 1.2 million (app. EUR 600,000).

Mihaylova says the good financial results are due to the Dvoretsa Cultural Institute expanding its tourism portfolio to include activities such as hosting congresses and conventions, and holding six international art and music festivals.

In 2015, the number of Romanian visitors of the Balchik Palace surpassed the number of Bulgarians viewing the cultural site, with over 70,000 Romanians paying a visit. The Bulgarian visitors were 56,000.

The third largest group of tourists visiting the landmark in Bulgaria’s Balchik still comes from Russia even though in 2015 the number of Russian visitors dropped by about 30% compared with 2014.

The fourth and fifth largest groups of visitors come from Germany and Poland, respectively, with the number of both German and Polish tourists increasing year-on-year.

Mihaylova has noted that while in the summer, the Balchik Palace and Botanical Garden are visited primarily by local and international tourists from Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts, during the rest of the year the site is a preferred destination for gatherings and conventions of Bulgarian archaeologists, historians, and archaeologists.

The Balchik Palace is also a wedding destination: it hosted a total of 59 weddings in 2015, with the wedding couples coming from all over Europe: Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, the UK, and Russia; and even one couple from Singapore. A higher number of weddings is expected in 2016.

One of the most preferred places for weddings in the Balchik Palace is the park’s replica of a nymphaeum (an Ancient Thracian nymph shrine) which has a beautiful sea view.

In 2016, the management of the Balchik Palace plans to restore the building of the smoking room of the complex where in the Interwar Period European diplomats would get together for secret talks to discuss and make decisions on international politics.

The smoking room building was designed by one of the first and most popular female Romanian architects, Henrieta Delavrancea (1897-1987).

The two-story building was affected by a landslide 50 years ago, and the second floor was completely destroyed. The first floor, however, has survived.

In 2016, the management of the Dvoretsa Cultural Institute is going to draft a project for the building’s restoration.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Balchik is also known for the well preserved Temple of ancient goddess Cybele discovered there by accident in 2007, for the ruins of the Early Byzantine fortress Dionysopolis / the medieval Bulgarian fortress Karvuna, the Old Mill located near the Port of Balchik, which was built in 1909, and the joint Christian and Muslim shrine Ak Yazala Baba – St. Athanasius near the town of Obrochishte.

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A replica of a nymphaeum (a nymph's shrine) with a view of the Black Sea in the Balchik Palace complex. Photo: Dvoreca (official site)

A replica of a nymphaeum (a nymph’s shrine) with a view of the Black Sea in the Balchik Palace complex. Photo: Dvoreca (official site)

Background Infonotes:

The Balchik Palace (“Dvoretsa" in Bulgarian) is an Architectural and Park Preserve in the Bulgarian Black Sea town of Balchik, a successor of the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city Dionysopolis and the medieval Bulgarian city Karvuna.

The Palace itself was built between 1924 and 1934. Bulgaria’s region of Southern Dobrudzha was part of Romania in 1913-1916 and between 1919-1940, conquered as a result of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and World War I, as a maritime residence of Queen Marie of Romania (Princess Marie of Edinburg) (1875-1938), the wife of King Ferdinand I of Romania (r. 1914-1927).

While the Romanian Queen first visited Balchik in 1921 and like the nature, it is also believed that the construction of her royal residence in the Bulgarian town, which ended up being Romania’s southernmost outpost between the two World Wars, may have also had political motivation as solidifying the Romanian claims to the occupied region.

The main building of the Balchik Palace features a Christian chapel and a Muslim minaret demonstrating Queen Marie’s adherence to the Bahá’í religion professing the spiritual unity of all people. The property featured an entire ensemble of villas built by Italian architects Augustino and Americo, with a Swiss florist arranging the park, which also included a winery and old mills (the local Bulgarian population called the site “The Three Mills") of Southern Dobrudzha.

Romania returned the occupied region of Southern Dobrudzha to Bulgaria with the 1940 Treaty of Craiova. In 1955, at the initiative of Prof. Yordanov, the then President of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski", the Bulgarian authorities established the Balchik Botanical Garden as part of the part of the Balchik Palace. The Botanical Garden covers an area of almost 200 decares (app. 50 acres) and features some 2,000 plant species, including a large cactus collection which is the second of its kind in Europe after the one in Monaco.

The Balchik Palace and the Balchik Botanical Garden were turned into a major cultural tourism attraction in the 1970s and 1980s. The entire complex includes a total of 46 buildings, and 170 architectural, archaeological, and historical elements and monuments of culture whose architecture features Ancient Bulgar, Gothic, Oriental, and Moorish motifs.

The Balchik Palace and Botanical Garden and is managed by the Dvoretsa Cultural Institute, part of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture.

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Bulgaria’s Black Sea town of Balchik is the successor of a total of three ancient and medieval settlements. It first originated as an Ancient Thracian settlement which was later colonized by the Ancient Greeks, and was first named Krounoi and then Dionysopolis. Subsequently, it became an Ancient Roman, Early Byzantine, and Ancient Bulgar / medieval Bulgarian city Karvuna.

The Greek colonization of the Thracian settlement on the Western Black Sea coast most likely began in the 6th-5th century BC by Ionian Greeks, possibly from the city of Miletus on the Anatolian coast, or from Miletuss colonies Apollonia Pontica (today’s Bulgarian resort of Sozopol), or Histria (today on Romania’s Black Sea coast).

According to Herodotus, Dionysopolis was founded at the time of the reign of Astyages, King of the Median Empire (r. 585-550 BC). At first named Krounoi (meaning “springs") and inhabited by Thracians, Scytians, and Greeks, in the 3rd century BC the colony was renamed Dionysopolis after the sea washed ashore a wooden statue of god Dionysus. The Ancient Greek colony was located where today’s Balchik has its fishing port.

There are hypotheses that in the Antiquity period Dionysopolis was badly damaged by an earthquake, and that much of the ancient city might have sunk in the Black Sea. Dionysopolis was conquered by the Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom during the reign of King Sitalces (r. 431-424 BC), and began part of the Roman Empire after in 46 AD Rome conquered the Odrysian Kingdom and all of Ancient Thrace south of the Danube. Thus, in the 1st century AD, it was made part of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior. At the end of the 3rd century, it became one of the main cities of the province of Scythia Minor. During the Antiquity period, Dionysopolis had a temple of ancient goddess Cybele, which was found by accident during construction works in Bulgaria’s Balchik in 2007.

After the division of the Roman Empire in 396 AD, Dionysopolis remained in the Eastern Roman Empire known today as Byzantium. The construction of the Early Byzantine fortress of Dionysopolis is believed to have started during the reign of Emperor Anasthasius I Dicorus (r. 491-518 AD), and to have been completed during the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565 AD).

According to Byzantine historian Theophanes the Confessor (ca. 760-817/818), in 544-545 AD, the Black Sea rose and invaded the land up to a distance of 3-4 km at Odessos (Varna), Dionysopolis (Balchik), and Aphrodision, another ancient city on the Black Sea coast located 4 km north of today’s Balchik. It was this tsunami/flood that caused a landslide that sealed off the Cybele Temple discovered in 2007, and that also destroyed for good the neighboring city of Aphrodision.

After the devastating flood of 544-545 AD (possibly caused by a tsunami in the Black Sea), the population of the Antiquity city of Dionysopolis is believed to have moved to the fortress which was located about 1 km away from the Black Sea coast, on a plateau with an altitude of up to 220 meters, in today’s Horizont Quarter of Balchik. It has an area of about 150 decares (app. 37 acres), and the archaeologists have excavated fully the western, northern, and part of the southern fortress wall, with numerous fortress towers. The foundations of the Early Byzantine wall are 3.2 meters wide.

In the 7th century AD, the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) conquered the area of Dionysopolis from the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Khan (Kanas) Asparuh (r. 680-700/701 AD). The area was settled by Ancient Bulgars who called the city Karvuna – the name Balchik was known with until the 14th century (the medieval city of Karvuna must not be confused with today’s town of Karvuna, which is also located in Balchik Municipality). In the first 300 years of the First Bulgarian Empire, the area around Karvuna was a densely settled and heavily fortified to protect the Bulgarian capitals Pliska and Veliki Preslav located some 100 km to the east from Black Sea invasions.

In 2007, during excavations of the early medieval Bulgar city of Karvuna, archaeologists found six Ancient Bulgar graves from the end of the 7th century AD, which is believed to be the earliest known Ancient Bulgar necropolis on the territory of today’s Bulgaria. Karvuna was a major city during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) as well.

The city was mentioned in a certificate issued in 1230 AD by Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241 AD) granting trading rights to merchants from the Adriatic city of Dubrovnik, after the Battle of Klokotnitsa. An Italian naval map of the Black Sea from 1296 AD mentioned Karvuna as “Carbona". In the middle of the 14th century, Karvuna, today’s Balchik, became the capital of Bulgarian boyar Balik (r. ca. 1337-1366 AD), a powerful feudal lord who acquired independence from the Bulgarian Tsar setting up the so called Dobrudzha Despotate, also known as the Principality of Karvuna, in the region of Dobrudzha, today’s Northeast Bulgaria and Southeast Romania.

During his reign, Balik built another fortress which also falls within today’s town of Balchik. Its ruins are located in the Gemidzhiya Quarter. Thus, Balchik has a total of three predecessors – the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Dionysopolis, the early medieval Byzantine fortress later turned a medieval Bulgarian city, and Balik’s 14th century fortress. After Balik’s death, his son Despot Dobrotitsa moved his capital from Karvuna to the fortress of Kaliakra, on the Cape of Kaliakra, near today’s town of Kavarna (also not to be confused with Karvuna).

As one of several Bulgarian states in the Balkans mired in dynastic and feudal conflict at the end of the 14th century together with the Tarnovo Tsardom, the Vidin Tsardom, and the feudal states in the geographic regions of Thrace and Macedonia, the Dobrudzha Despotate was conquered by the invading Ottoman Turks by the turn of the century putting an end of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It is widely believed that the name of today’s town of Balchik is derived from the name of its feudal ruler Balik, while the name of Despot Dobrotitsa gave the name of the region of Dobrudzha.