The Sea Garden (Bulgarian: Morska gradina) is the Bulgarian port city of Varna's largest, oldest and best known public park, also said to be the largest landscaped park in the Balkans. Located along the city's coast on the Black Sea, it is an important tourist attraction and a national monument of landscape architecture. In the part bordering Breeze neighborhood is built with houses and more recently with blocks and is defined as one of the districts of Varna.
The site where today the Sea Garden is located was until the middle of the 19th century a bare field outside the city walls. In 1862 a small garden was arranged on the orders of the city's Ottoman mayor. After the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 mayor Mihail Koloni suggested the arrangement of a city garden and a seaside park in 1881, and despite suspicions a small sum was granted. As a result the Sea Garden was expanded to 26,000 m² and further developed according to the plan of French engineer Martinice.
The person primarily associated and regarded as having done most for the garden's modern appearance is the Czech gardener Anton Novák, who had specialized at the Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. He was invited to work in Varna by his compatriot Karel Škorpil at the request of the municipality in 1894 and arrived in 1895, at the age of 35. One of Varna's best known buildings, the Varna Aquarium, was constructed in the garden in 1906–1911.
During his time in Varna Novák did an immense work: he radically rearranged the garden and ordered the planting of valued plants from the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. His contract with the municipality was extended in 1899, when he was built a house still standing next to the entrance to the garden. The garden gradually grew to reach 90,000 m² in 1905. Several fountains were added in 1912–1913, as well as partially electric lighting. The central alley was decorated with monuments of prominent Bulgarians by a special committee. The seaside casino was built in the 1930s and acquired its modern appearance after a reconstruction in 1960–1961.
The 1930s saw the planting of species from the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and France, as well as the construction of nursery gardens. The garden was expanded to the south to reach the house of the Italian consul Assaretto, today the Varna Naval Museum. The garden reached its present borders in the 1950s and the trees in the centre of the central alley were substituted with flower beds in the 1960s, which thus reached 20,000 m² in the entire Sea Garden. In 1939, the architect Georgi Popov designed the garden's modern central entrance with a wide plaza and tall columns.
An Alley of Cosmonauts was arranged in the 1960s, with the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin planting the first plant, a silver fir, on 26 May 1961 before a large crowd. The Pantheon of the Perished in the Fight Against Fascism was erected in the same year. The Observatory and Planetarium were opened in 1968 on the site of the old open-air theatre and the Varna Zoo was inaugurated in 1961. A swan-shaped sundial was installed in front of the main entrance. The present open-air theatre, flanked by the Alpineum and the children's amusement park, is the venue of the Varna International Ballet Competition since its inception in 1964, and the dolphinarium was erected in 1984. Recently, the Exotic Zoo terrarium was added, and plans for expansion of the Natural History Museum and the Aquarium were announced.
Today in the Sea Garden there is an amphitheatre, an astronomical complex - the first of its kind in the country - with an observatory, a planetarium and a tower, many entertainment playgrounds and a small rowing channel for children, a water-pedalo lake and a zoo. The Central Sea Baths and the beach are located right next to the Sea Garden. They were built in the beginning of the centuer and include a poly-clinic, a SPA complex for water and mud procedures, two bays, an abundance of restaurants and few discoteques. The alley by the sea with the beaches alongside and the many cafes is a very attractive place for both the locals and the guests of the city. This is where one could watch the sea and enjoy all kinds of gourme temptations and fruit of the sea.
In the area near the entrance to the Sea Garden the infrastructure is very well-organized. There is: the College of Tourism, the School of Arts, a kindergarten, a day-care for children under the age of 3, a community center, a diagnostic-consultative medical center, a division of Varna municipality, Festival and Congress Center, consulate of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Conulate of the Republic of Poland, many, shop, cafes and restaurants, hotels.
The buildings in the area near the entrance to the Sea Garden are mainly houses built in the 20th century with specific architectural elements, 4-5 storey residential buildings. Along the Sea Garden are also the quarters Chayka and Briz where the buildings are predominantly multi-storey and brand new 3-5 storey residential buildings.
The Aquarium was built in Varna in 1912 by the idea of Tzar Ferdinand.
Its exceptionally original façade combines the bas-relief of a huge shell and some of the most popular representatives of the Black Sea fauna.
The Central Hall of the Aquarium reveals a magnificent collection of freshwater and marine fauna, represented in their natural environment. In separate halls nearby there are expositions representing the flora, the fauna and the unique characteristics of the Black Sea.
The only Dolfinarium on the Balkan peninsula is one of the funniest attractions Varna can offer to its visitors. Built in 1984 it has 1134 sitting places.
The show continues 30 min and the visitors may witness the incredible intelligence and quick wit of the sea mammals. Intersting is also the fact that in 1992 the first baby dolphin was born in the Dolphinaruim and it sure wasn't the last one! It was considered a good sign that the dolphins feel comfortable in their new home.
The Summer Theatre is the venue for many cultural events, most significant of which are Varna Music Days, the world famous International Ballet Competition and the International Festival Varna Summer.
The Festival and Congress Center (the FCC) or as it is known by the locals "The Festival Complex" is one of te symbols of the city. It is located in the very heart of the city of Varna right next ot the main entrance to the Sea Garden.
Text and pictures: Mirela - Varna office