Silistra – the oldest city garden in Balkans and flora heart of Bulgaria

Bulgarians take pride in their magnificent green spaces

Photo: Youtube screenshot / Milcho Yovchev

Bulgaria – Despite the hectic everyday life and the prevailing concrete buildings throughout Bulgarian towns and cities, a large part of the local citizens find peace and comfort in parks and various green spaces. In every place of residence, even the smallest village, there is a particular green place, decorated and organised for the tired to rest or children to play.

This is a national trait of Bulgarians – they all need to know there is a park nearby, even if they do not the time to go there. When buying a flat, the presence of an urban park is often a decision-making factor (and price-forming as well) and solves the dilemma “to buy or not to buy”. Some go as far as seeking jobs near parks as well, following the trend to eat outside during lunch breaks.

Ancient town at the river-bank with a well-preserved relic

One of the luckiest places, when it comes to city parks, is a town at the Danube river-bank – Silistra. Evidences of an ancient settlement in the same place date as far back as 5th century B.C. It has always been a strategic point for Bulgarian people at different times – starting from a Thracian village, later on the Roman emperor Trajan saw its military importance. Due to its functions, it became a city and in the 4th cent. B.C. it was the centre of Christianity in the region. Even today in the urban park one can see the well-preserved remains of the pearl of the ancient seat of the Christian bishopric – am impressively large basilica, just a few meters away from the river.

The seat of the first Bulgarian patriarch and a residence of Bulgarian Rulers

A legend has it, and archaeologists confirm that the basilica right there – in the present city park, was the seat of the first Bulgarian patriarch Damyan. Due to the military significance of the Danube fortress, in the 9th century it was proclaimed for the river capitol of the country. Khan Omurtag chose the place of the present garden for its palace, and it is believed that remains of this ancient building lie beneath a large tree on the very bank of the river.

This fact is a mere hint of the importance of the garden and its former beauty. It was a spacious place, generously decorated and densely built, and remains of these buildings have been unearthed by tedious archaeologists for the tourists who have the fantasy to imagine the glory of this once-popular city.

During the Middle Ages in Bulgaria the church was closely related to the institution of the Tzar. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Danube garden accommodated not only the first Bulgarian patriarch, but also the residence of Tzar Simeon I the Great – one of the most popular and praised Bulgarian rulers. Historians claim that the former palace of Omurtag later became a residence for the rulers from the Middle Ages.

Secrets of the park

During archaeological diggings it was discovered that a tunnel built during the Ottoman period connected the park with a nearby fortress. Locals claim that by the 1970s it was still possible to walk underneath the city from the fortress to the Danube garden. Unfortunately, the tunnels were closed for visitors in 1978 and later they were destroyed. Some sections of the tunnel were preserved and later became a bar and a restaurant, popular for its archaeological peculiarity.

The park today and the second tunnel

Today the place of former furious river battles and glorious rulers is a wonderful city park – a favourite place for rest and play. The locals started to organize it as a park 100 – 150 years ago and many of the trees are now unique for their age and variety. Some of them are endangered and the largest one (under which the Omurtag place is claimed to be) is attributed great significance. At the entrance of the park there are two lines of chestnuts along the alley, forming another “tunnel” – a wink to the ancient history. “Dunavskata gradina” (The Danube garden) thrives with life around the clock – during the day it is full of children of all ages, and t night it is a favourite place of romance for youngsters from the city.

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