Last Updated on August 23, 2023 by Ellen
An early morning walk turned into a treasure hunt in Varna, as I scouted out this Bulgarian seaside city. In fact, there are three treasure hunts featured in this post.
These three sites are somewhat off the beaten path for tourists, and they’re free. The spots all are within an hour’s walk or less from our Airbnb rental, which is in a Bulgarian working-class neighborhood about 10 minutes by bus from the coast, old town, and all the tourists.
I’ll start with the ‘sexiest’ treasure hunt in Varna because it’s a site of great international importance. It is where the world’s oldest known gold collection was accidentally discovered in the western part of the city. The site is only 30 percent excavated, and it was a bitch to find. This one is not listed on Varna’s tourism website.
Fifty years ago, a man dug a trench in the Western Industrial Zone a few hundred meters from Lake Varna and noticed a bunch of shiny objects. Someone recognized it might be a historic find. Archeologists unearthed the oldest gold crafting (and other artifacts) known to humankind — dating back to 4,600 B.C. to 4,200 B.C.! This predates Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The site was closely guarded.
The gold discovered from nearly 300 graves is on display at a museum in Varna: jewelry, tiaras, a penis sheath.
But what about the site itself? Where did this amazing find occur in the middle of the city?
Its location is not advertised. It took me a long time to find an old map of the site. Once I found one, I crossed it with a recent Google Earth image to approximate the spot of Varna Necropolis.
The problem is that the industrial zone is filled with long narrow roadways that lead to factories, warehouses, and parking lots filled with trucks. Oh the adventure!
Eventually, I asked a couple of businesses if I could wander back onto their property to have a peek. One politely told me they had no idea what I was talking about – and no.
An employee at another business also had no idea what I was talking about either, but allowed me to pass, and pointed the way to get close to the hearts on my map (see above).
Following her directions — I found the general area.
Treasure hunt success, kinda
The Varna Necropolis looked to be blocked off by a fence and thick brush. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still guarded. I thought maybe if I approached from the east instead, I might be able to get closer.
As I was navigated the maze of narrow roadways among warehouses, another worker in the complex asked if I needed help. I explained how I came to be on the property during my daily morning jaunt, and asked if he could point a way through the industrial maze to the east side.
This man also had never heard of the Varna Necropolis! I showed him Bulgarian News Agency reports within the last year about planned development for public entry for this historic site. He was stunned, and called his boss.
The boss confirmed I had indeed already found the spot behind the fence and brush! The site, said the boss, straddles two parcels and cannot be accessed by the public.
The Varna Necropolis eventually will open to the public. News reports say planners are working on designs, but there is no opening date, and I certainly saw no work in progress towards that goal.
One expert quoted in a news article talked about what the site has taught archeologists about the lives of people in 4,600 B.C.
“What is seen in the necropolis is a model of social justice, as apparently, no differences existed in the diet of the inhabitants of the area of the site in the fifth millennium BC,” (Chairman of Varna Necropolis I Association Yani) Yanev said, adding that people back then were nor divided into wealthy and poor while gold was only a mark of dignity. “These people lived in balance. This was a golden age for humankind,” he said.– Bulgarian News Agency
The Varna Monastery
Another treasure hunt yielded more than brush and fence. This destination features ruins and a great view. It’s the old Varna Monastery on a plateau over the city.
The Varna Monastery – or St. Mary the Virgin Monastery – was active from the 9th century for hundreds of years, then forgotten. It was ‘discovered’ in 1921. It was one of the biggest monasteries on the Balkan Peninsula, according to the tourism office.
Today Bulgarian archeology students come to the Varna Monastery to study.
It is a fantastic walk up from the city. There is a breathtaking view of Lake Varna and part of the city.
It’s peaceful up there, except the occasional barking guard dog or frolicking goat. No traffic or music or people sounds. I went on a Sunday morning and enjoyed the solitude as I wondered over how many people prayed to God at that very spot over so many years.
It’s interesting to see how the city thins out as you walk up. Eventually, however, these ruins will be encircled by development. I saw many apartment buildings and other new construction underway on my ascent.
The Varna Cemetery
Not to be confused with the Varna Necropolis from 6,000 years ago, this place holds the dead from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
It’s large and shaded, and quiet in the center. The Varna Cemetery features WWI graves of men who died in the UB-45 Black Sea blast, endless rows of Bulgarian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish monuments for lost loved ones. Photos on grave markers are big in Bulgaria, along with benches for loved ones to visit.
In fact, I saw several people sitting on benches at graves. One middle-aged woman sobbed, one man read the newspaper, another man ate a pastry and drank from a coffee cup.
Cemeteries are for the living. Life is Now and it’s a treasure. I love my morning walks – before it gets too hot, before the day gets away, before I’m on the hunt for something else to learn, do, or see.
Varna has many more treasures. From beaches to nature walks, old town shopping and dining, museums and archeological sites (there are several), I’m happy Theo picked Varna for a late summer four-week stay.