In 585 BC, Greeks from Miletus settled in the area of modern Varna, founding the city of Odessos, which thrived as a major commercial centre, taken over by the Romans in the 2nd century AD.
The city became a key port under the Byzantines, and gained its modern name of Varna (possibly derived from the word for ‘water’) during the period of the First Bulgarian Empire (681–1018). Varna was used by British troops as a port during the Crimean War (1853–56), after which Turkey allowed its allies Britain and France to sell their products throughout the Ottoman Empire, making Varna a great trading centre once more.
In 1866 a railway between Ruse and Varna was built, providing a direct route from the Danube to the Black Sea coast, and Varna became a major shipbuilding centre and port. In 1921 Varna was established as Bulgaria’s first seaside holiday resort, and its status as the country’s summertime playground was enhanced by the founding of the International Festival in 1926, which has been going strong ever since.