Balchik is a lovely small town situated on the Black Sea Coast. Because of its beautiful situation it is being developed as a seaside resort.
It is an ancient town and its history begins from the remotest past. The town of Balchik was founded by Ionian Greek colonisers from Miletus in the 6-th c BC on the site of a Thracian settlement. The town was given the name of Krunoi (Kruni), meaning “springs” on account of the coast springs on this site. Later, in the 1-st c AD the name was changed into Dionysopolis, the city of Dionysus, in honour of its patron, the gay god of wine and joy. According to a legend his wooden statue was washed ashore by the sea waves, which the locals took as a sign to build a temple. The colony thrived during the 3rd-2nd centuries BC; it became a brisk trading town and struck its own gold and silver coins, mainly with the image of Dionysus.
Under the Romans the place became a military base and a bastion for their defense of the northern empire until overrun by Barbarians.
The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC - 17 AD), exiled here by Augustus Caesar, wrote: “Hail, whitestone city and thy unique beauty.”
Destroyed by a tidal wave in the 6th century, the inhabitants rebuilt the settlement - and constructed a fortress - almost 200 m above sea level. The fortress did not deter the Bulgarians, who subsequently occupied the town and kept it for 400 years. They built a fortress of their own on nearby “Echo Hill”.
There are different opinions about the origin of its present name - Balchik. Some historians consider that it comes from the name of Bulgarian boyar Balik, who ruled over this area in the 14th century, or from the Turkish word “balik” meaning “fish” because the town is a fishing center; others derive the name from “balchik”, the Turkish for “mud, clay” as the sea-bottom here is covered with mud.
During the mediaeval era, Balchik was of secondary importance to nearby Kavarna. It achieved more prominence when regional Turkish administrators allowed the port to begin exporting Dobrudzha grain. Balchik’s harbour was favoured due to its protection from the prevailing north winds. Trading houses and other businesses run by Christians from Constantinople, Genoa, and Greece were founded and soon became numerous. The town developed considerably during the 19th century and managed to restore some of its former prosperity. At the beginning of the century, it was a thriving grain port with eight daily newspapers.
After the Balkan Wars (1912-13) Balchik, along with the rest of the Dobrudzha, was ceded to Romania by terms of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest which marked Bulgaria’s ignominious defeat in the Second Balkan War. Queen Marie of Romania built her summer residence here. The place attracted the Romanian aristocracy. The town began to develop as a resort area and many rich summer houses were built. The region was reverted to Bulgarian rule again in September, 1940 under the Treaty of Krajova. Following liberation, 67000 Bulgarians relocated from the northern Dobrudzha to the south, making the economic situation difficult as the south was poor and undeveloped.
Today the town is the main port of a grain-growing area, a fishing center and various industries are growing up here. Steep, cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed, red-tiled houses are tucked amidst the terraces and ravines which dominate the landscape and give the town a distinctive skyline. It is the favourite place for numerous artists and musicians during the summer.
Balchik occupies a succession of sandy chalk cliffs. It is built on a landslide and today the main efforts are aimed at solidifying the ground.
The former summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania, situated in the vicinity of the town, has much appeal for visitors.
THE SUMMER RESIDENCE
Marie was born in 1875. She was daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh, son of Queen Victoria, and granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Marie married King Ferdinand I of Romania and gave birth to the last Romanian king Carol. In 1938 the Queen was mortally wounded at Sinai while trying to prevent her sons Carol and Nicholai from fighting a duel over a woman.
In 1924 Queen Marie of Romania and her retinue came to visit the place. She found a few half-ruined water-mills, whose restless song had long been forgotten. At this time Marie was 47 years old and she started dreaming of owing this unearthly place.
When she returned to Bucharest she asked her aide-de-camp to contact the Minister of Public Property who thereafter started purchasing small plots, desolate water-mills and stone fountains, the charm of the Quiet Nest. Only two years after Marie’s visit she already owned the corner. Architects and builders Augustino and Amerigo came all the way from Italy together with the florist Jules Jany of Switzerland. The three of them and many local workers started building up the Queen’s dream. Queen Marie called the residence Tenha Yova (or the Quiet Nest). She summered here from 1931 to 1938.
Everybody who comes to visit the place usually expects to see grand buildings. Actually much of the natural layout is preserved and some of the water mills are reconstructed and turned into villas or pavilions with their waterwheels and decorations preserved.
Besides the main building there are 18 smaller buildings in the park which were intended for the Romanian royal family and their guests. They have Oriental features in their style. The explanation of this mixture of styles is that Queen Marie belonged to a sect whose aim was to bring the Christian and Moslem religions together and their reconciliation. This conviction of hers has its political background - she ruled over Christian and Moslem subjects. It was also rumoured that the Quiet Nest was supposed also a love nest for the 60-year old monarch and her 20-year old Turkish lover, Hasan. Thus the Queen apparently practiced what she preached.
The newly constructed buildings correspond to the architectural style of the old ones. They are tiled with the same Turkish faded-with-time tiles. Parts of the buildings probably served as guards’ and servants’ premises.
1. The palace is entered through the hollow basement of a two-storey building with bay-windows, resembling a triumphal arch. Places for the guards had been delved in the very stone walls. Here, the guards, dressed in uniforms, kept watch round the clock.
2. A shady alley lined with poplars lead to the Bridge of Sighs. Here the river waters rush into a 9 m high precipice. Marie meant the bridge to remind visitors of the Venice bridges.
3. The “cave” villa (because its hall resembles a cave) used to be a small water mill, made at the Queen’s order for her guests’ summer rest.
4. One of the highest points of the estate, called the “Queen’s nest”. ?
5. The even site, on which a number of buildings were constructed, the flower beds, the low trees and bushes are really impressive. Ancient Thracian amphorae and Christian tombstones are spread all over the park as reminder of time’s eternity and human life’s fugacity. queen Maria showed her gratitude to the florist on a marble slate which read: “To Jules Jany who made this garden dream of mine come true - Maria.”
6. Queen Marie used to live in the “Quiet Nest” palace. It is comparatively small three-storey building, based over three subsequent terraces, by the very sea shore, topped by a distinctive spired minaret. This is the only palace combining minaret with an orthodox Christian cupola in such a close proximity. The villa architecture is primarily oriental, but includes old Bulgarian and gothic styles as well. Nearby, a series of six terraces represents each of Marie’s children, the smallest for the youngest who died in infancy.
The total of nine terraces are full of stone slates and tiny gardens, all of them overlooking the sea. Each flower garden is shaped on its own still remaining part of the rest. The separate gardens are connected by narrow winding stone steps. All this predisposes to intimacy. At every landing the architects have found a cozy nook for a stone bench, opening a fascinating view, and suitable for rest, meditation or conversation.
A small iron door now on the third landing writhed with bushes now, once led to the Queen’s smoking room. The building was massive and had only one room. An enormous glass door opened into it. Its walls became phosphorescent if electricity was on. The acoustic facilities in the smoking room made eavesdropping possible of most confidential conversations and even of the whisper between the ladies and their suitors. In the same hall the Queen received Mohammedan women residing in Balchik and treated them to coffee and opium. Marie herself was fond of coffee and opium.
The other two landings lead to the exquisite Roman colonnades, supporting lavish vines and writhing ivy.
The Queen was a well educated person and she had a rich library. There are no artistic collections in the palace, but her room presents some interest and it is open to visitors. The main floor of the palace has been turned into a contemporary restaurant and the upper two floors contain original furnishings.
The third floor was inhabited by Queen Marie, her little daughter Iliana and her closest retinue (assemblage). The premises are quite peculiar - small oriental windows, a porch with a south-east exposure, from whose ceiling torn anchor chains hung down, bespeaking of its owner’s philosophy of life. The atmosphere resembles a Mohammedan temple. Through a narrow corridor the entrance leads into a relatively spacious hall associated in one’s mind with the Mohammedan halls of prayer in mosques. This hall is surrounded by a number of other rooms and served as the Queen’s and her retinue’s dining room. The Queen’s bedroom, also furnished in oriental style, was situated next to it. (Turkish bath???)
In front of the villa is a stone throne with crescent moon and a star. Facing the sea, a sculpture of a young lady, holding a sailboat, with her eyes staring at the sea vastness, decorates the building.
7. An alley, lined with restored water mills on one side and gardens on the other (the rose garden), leads to the second Bridge of Sighs, a copy of the first one.
8. Right above the second Bridge of Sighs, perched on the steep sea shore and hidden in the shadow of old trees, is the villa of Nikolay - Marie’s younger son. The three-storey old building, made of stone and poles, covered with old tiles, is approachable from two narrow stone entrances from east and west. The house has small windows and a large awning (covering, sunshade). The interior design were meant to make the prince and his friends more comfortable.
9. The Roman bath is built on a separate terrace in the middle of a marvelous garden, decorated with amphorae, polyhedral stone vases, fountains and cascades. Religious motifs can be read on the bath’s walls.
10. A small Christian Orthodox chapel was built next to the Roman bath. It was constructed of local material, stone mainly, and covered with Turkish tiles. The iconostasis in the chapel is from Cyprus.
The church was painted by Romanian artists. Two naively executed frescoes, guarding the entrance of the chapel represent life-size portraits the Queen in a Byzantine garb holding a model of the church and her daughter Iliana.
There is a legend saying that a fearful storm began while the Iliana was sailing in the sea. Her life was threatened and a young fisherman saved her life. The Queen was ashamed to confess that her daughter’s saviour was a poor fisherman. Therefore she proclaimed Iliana the patron of the sea and ordered a big portrait, depicting Queen’s daughter holding a boat in her left hand as a symbol of her power over the sea.
Queen Marie left instructions for her heart to be buried within the chapel in a jewelled casket. In accordance with her last wish, her heart was buried in the chapel - in the niche on the left side of the entrance - where it remained until 1940. Then, guarded by soldiers it was removed to Romania.
Returning back through the Roman Bath, climbing the winding stone staircase leading to Nikolai’s villa, one reaches the Garden of Allah.
11. The “Garden of Allah” is decorated with bright flowers, ancient amphorae and a large collection of cacti.
12. The exit of the garden resembles chapel with three vaults. The iron door is decorated with tangles of flowers. Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus is portrayed on the wall surrounded by angels laying a wreath of flowers to Christ’s mother. In the middle of the building there is a draw-well. It is known as the silver-well pre wish-well where visitors throw coins so that they could come back again. There is a legend saying that if someone drinks water from that well soon will fall in love.
The palace is surrounded by beautiful park containing a variety of fountains, ponds, colonnades and water mills. There are a rose garden, a cactus garden, a garden of Allah and a garden of Gethsemane. There are 3000 species of plants including over 300 varieties of rare plants, from many parts of the world. There are lots of thrones hewn out of stone or marble, amphorae and earthenware pots from Spanish Morocco, old stone crosses and gravestones from Moldavia and Besarabia, a marble throne from Florence, and a whole church transferred from a Greek island.
The botanical gardens were begun in 1955 by horticulturist Daki Yordanov.
He was born in a poor family, one of the 10 children; took part in the Balkan Wars and First World War; examined the marshland and steppe flora in Bulgaria, Greece, Albania; discovered 11 new floral kinds and hundreds of new species - 2 species unknown for the European flora and 14 for the Balkans flora; worked as a lecturer and rector of the Sofia University; director of the park from 1955 until his death in 1978.
Originally the park was designed by the famous florist Jule Jany. The area turned out to be suitable for creating a botanical garden as it was rich in water, white soil and sandstone. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences took control of the palace and the park after it was returned to Bulgaria. Today the garden occupies 65 ha and it is the second largest of its kind in Europe (first being in Monaco). The collection of large-size cacti covering over 1000 m2.
The first exotic species in the botanical garden came from the garden of the Sofia University. Gingko biloba and метасеквоя - ancient in origin species - were brought from Asia. They were followed by many others from different parts of the world.