In the late 19th century, the population of Varna was very multicultural. 21,000 people lived there and only 3,500 were ethnic Bulgarians. The rest were made up of Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Jews, and others. After Varna was incorporated into modern Bulgaria, many of the non-Bulgarians left, leaving just a handful of people from each ethnicity. The oldest part of Varna is the Greek quarter, where you’ll find the most historic parts of the city.
Varna has had a Greek population since antiquity, when the city was known as Odessos, a mixed Greek and Thracian city that was later annexed by the Romans. The Romans left behind a huge bath complex, which happens to be the biggest archaeological site in Varna. The baths were built in the 2nd century AD and covered over 7,000 m² of ancient Odessos.
The baths, which are open daily except Mondays, feature illustrations in each section to give visitors an idea of what they might have looked like in antiquity. The illustrations are labeled in both Bulgarian and English.
Near the Roman baths are two important churches. The original church of Sveti Atanas (St. Athanasios) dates back to the 17th century. It burned down and was rebuilt in 1836. It was first the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Church of Varna, then a Russian church, an icon museum, and now a Bulgarian church. It has a beautiful garden in the back overlooking the baths.
A block north of the baths is Malkata Presveta Bogoroditsa (Church of the Theotokos Panagia). It was built in 1602 below ground level according to Ottoman law, which stated that the church should be no higher than a man on horseback. The tower was added after liberation. The church contains the oldest icon in Varna, a 13th century depiction of the Virgin Mary, and a gorgeous iconostasis.
A bit south of the Roman baths is the Varna City History Museum. It was built in 1851 as the Belgian consulate but has also served as a hotel and prison. It’s an excellent museum chronicling the modern history of Varna from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. A wonderful English-speaking guide took me through the museum in about an hour and told me many interesting stories about the city. The first two floors had many tools used by various trades in the city, photographs, and more artifacts. The third floor was the most interesting for me. It covered the early 20th century of Varna as a seaside resort city, complete with storefronts and rooms in typical homes at the time.
Outside of the museum are more Roman baths and the ruins of Byzantine-era homes. There’s also an old rusted steam engine from England found at the bottom of Lake Varna.
Across the street from the museum is another church, Sveta Paraskeva Petka. It was originally built in 1485 and is the oldest church in the city.