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Varna Cathedral - The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin, Varna, Bulgaria

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgini in Varna has become one of the most popular symbols of this picturesque Bulgarian city on the western Black Sea coast. Its copper domes with golden glitter can be seen from different points of the Bulgarian sea capital city and add even more to the church's elegance and beauty. It is the cathedral of the Varna - Preslav metropolitan of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Opened for visitors every day with free entrance. If you would like to take pictures of the beautiful frescoes inside you have to pay 5 lv.

After the adoption of Christianity as the official and sole religion in the First Bulgarian Empire (681-1018) during the reign of Khan Boris I (852889), Varna as an old Christian city became one of the most prominent religious centres in the large Bulgarian empire, spreading from the mouth of the River Dniester and the northern coast of the Black Sea to the present day Albanian city of Durres on the Adriatic Coast. In the end of the 14th century the Bulgarian lands were conquered by the Muslim Ottoman Empire and many churches in Varna were turned into mosques or just demolished. During the time of the Bulgarian National Revival (18th and 19th centuries) and the movement for reestablishing of the independent Bulgarian Orthodox Church a new Christian temple dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel? was built in Varna and the divine service in it was held in Bulgarian language only and not in Greek for a first time since medieval times.

The first stone of the foundations was laid down ceremonially by the Bulgarian Royal Prince Alexander I Batenberg in 1880. The monarch approved one of the two architectural plans given to him by the commission. This was the project of architect Ivan Petrovich Maas from Odessa, who was created following the example of the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Pavel in the Peterhof Palace of the Russian emperors in St Petersburg.

Prince Alexander I Batenberg suggested a new place for the church. Finally the empty space between the barracks of that time and what was then "the new quarter" was chosen, where the future temple would be more visible from more parts of the city. The new church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgini Mary in honor of the Russian Empress Maria (Mary) Alexandrovna, wife of Emperor Alexander II and aunt of the Bulgarian Prince Alexander I Batenberg.

The large sum of money needed for the construction of this magnificent cathedral were collected mainly by donation from all citizens of Varna and the entire eparchy of the Varna Preslav bishop. Among the biggest church donors were the Bulgarian Royal Prince himself, bishop Simeon and the more wealthy local citizens: Velichko Hristov, Perikli Havezov, Haralan Lefterov and Yanaki Zhekov. A special lottery with 150 thousand of lottery tickets sold in all Bulgarian lands was organized for collecting more money. According to the accounts more than 324.000 leva (Bulgarian currency) were spent for the construction of the entire cathedral.

A large number of builders took part in the construction works of the cathedral. Initially they were led by the local master builder from Varna - Yanko Kostandi. Later, in 1884 the famous master church builder from thecentral Bulgarian town of Tryavna - Gencho Kanchev completed the Cathedral of Varna. It is built mainly of hand-cut stones from the demolished Turkish fortification walls of the city. Its facade is faced with stone blocks from the quarries of the nearby villages of Kumanovo and Lyuben Karavelovo. The columns holding the dome inside the church area worked out of stone from the Tashla Tepe locality north-east of the city. The exterior columns are made of stone brought here from the surrounding of Ruse - a Blgarian city on the banks of the River Danube. The vaults are made of freestone. The cupola of the main dome and those of the side domes are covered by copper lists with a characteristic golden glitter.

The architectural plan of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgini in Varna is a Byzantine cross-domed church with an impressive size. The first divine service in the new temple was held in 1886. The work on the interior decoration and the wall painting continued for years after that. Many icons were ordered from popular work shops in Russia. The iconostasis and the bishop's throne were worked out by the Bulgarian artists Philip and Vasil Philipovi. The balcony inside the church was added in 1915. The Cathedral was officially inaugurated in 1919 by the Varna - Preslav metropolitan and two other Orthodox bishops. The belfry was completed in the early 1940s. In these years new frescoes were created by a group of talented Bulgarian and Russian artists lead by professor Nikolay Rostovtsev. The stained glass windows were added in the 1960s. They depict St Cyril and St Methodius on the northern wall, St Kliment and St Angelarius on the southern wall.