Authors: Lyuben Stoychev and Kolyu Kolev
Vrana Palace (Bulgarian: Dvorets „Vrana“) is a former royal palace, located on the outskirts of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It is today the official residence of the deposed Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria and his wife Tsaritsa Margarita. While the royal palace in the centre of Sofia (today the National Art Gallery and National Ethnographic Museum) served representative purposes and the Euxinograd palace near Varna was a summer residence, Vrana was the palace where the royal family of Bulgaria spent most of their time.
The extensive lot was bought by Tsar Ferdinand I in 1898 and is situated just outside Sofia. There is a park and two buildings, the first one built in 1904 as a two-storey hunting lodge commissioned to Georgi Fingov, and the second constructed mainly between 1909 and 1914 as a palace, both with money from the state budget.
Three rooms of the three-storey palace commissioned to the noted architect Nikola Lazarov were later furnished in the Baroque style, one in the style of the Austrian royal palaces and one in a Bulgarian national style, while the study was designed in a Venetian style. The palace features a carved wooden ceiling, oak wainscoting, built-in metal plates and Delftware. The interior columns are made of Carrara marble and an old Schindler lift is still in use.
The Karelian Hall is a gift from Alexander III of Russia, and all of its furniture (the table, the chairs and the dressing table) are made of Karelian birch by master woodworkers specially sent from Russia. The first storey also has a cinema hall and tea halls, the second storey is where the apartments are located, and the third one used to be allocated to the servants and the court.
In 1918 Vrana passed from Tsar Ferdinand to Boris III. In 1943, it became the property of Simeon II. The main palace was bombed by the RAF in World War II and was subsequently restored in 1947. After the abolition of the monarchy, Vrana was taken by the communists and became a residence of Georgi Dimitrov.
After the fall of the communist regime, Vrana was returned to the last tsar, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his sister Princess Maria Luisa, by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court in June 1998, and the park was donated by the royal family to the city of Sofia in October 1999, making it possible for the former royal park, arranged in 1903 by Ferdinand, to be opened to the public. Simeon moved with his wife Margarita into the renovated old hunting lodge in 2001. As of February 2006, the 0.968-square-kilometre park is expected to be opened to the public as soon as funds are found to finance its preparation for public use (construction of a car park, toilets and stalls, hiring of guides, etc.). The park is home to over 400 plant species and has been declared a national monument of landscape architecture.
The palace, along with the other properties given back to Simeon II, has been the subject of much controversy in the Bulgarian media and society in the 2000s, as many argue they are in fact supposed to be public property.
There are several royal residences:
— The main one is the Royal palace in Sofia. Now it is a National Art Gallery;
— Vrana palace is located outside Sofia. It was build by Tsar Ferdinand as a summer residence. Its much bigger then the one inside Sofia. In 1998 it was returned to the Royal family and now Tsar Simeon II lives there;
— Exksinovgrad palace is located outside Varna. It was build by Prince Alexander Battenberg. Now it is an official government residence;
— Battenberg palace is located in Ruse. It was build by Prince Alexander Battenberg. Now it is a Historical Museum;
— Tsarska Bistritsa is located in Rila mountain. It is big and beautiful palace. It was returned to the Royal family and the wedding of Princes Kalina (Tsar Simeon II daughter) was there in 2002;
— There are other two residences in Rila mountain. One was build by Tsar Ferdinand and the other by his son Prince Kyril, both of them were returned to Simeon II but I do not think he uses them. During the winter its almost impossible to reach them because they are high into the mountain. In one of them there are pictures drown by Princesses Eudoxia and Nadejda (Ferdinand I daughters);
— Another palace was Krichim palace. It is located outside Plovdiv and it was the favorite one of Queen Giovanna. The palace was also returned to the Royal family;
— The last palace is located in Banya. It was build by Tsar Boris III. It is really small, its more of a big house then a palace. It was returned to the Royal family. And as long as I know, on the Simeon II Bulgarian passport it says that this is his permanent address, not the palace outside Sofia.
A list with all the Royal properties was made in 1946 initiated by Prime Minister Kimon Georgiev. The list included 17 Royal properties. Some of them were returned to the Royal family based on the decision taken by the Constitutional Court in June 1998.
It said that the following properties had been returned to the Royal family:
— “Vrana Palace” - out of 3500 acres only 980 acres were returned. Approximately 920 acres of them were donated to the City of Sofia.
— “Tsarska Bistritsa”
— “Sarugiol” and “Sitniakovo” in Rila mountain.
— “Bania Palace”
— Forests around the town of Samokov and Beli Iskar.
Tsar Ferdinand I build both the hunting lodge and the palace. He first build the hunting lodge and would go there to hunt, while living in the Royal palace in Sofia (Now a National Art Gallery). Later on Ferdinand I build Vrana palace.
In 1999 Simeon II donated Vrana park to the city of Sofia. He also said that he wanted to make the main palace a school for hotel workers - just like the one in Switzerland. However, this was the first and last time he said what he plans to do with the main palace. In 2000 he announced he was coming back to Bulgaria and the hunting lodge was adopted for living. Since then many monarchs came to Bulgaria and all of them were greeted in the main palace. I remember when King Juan Carlos I of Spain came he was grated in front of the main palace and then the reception continued inside. King Albert II of Belgium and Prince Albert II of Monaco were also guests at Vrana palace and they were welcomed at the main palace. So even though Simeon II lives in the hunting lodge, he welcomes his guests in the main palace.
Pictures 1 & 2: As a matter of fact, a small part of the clandestine beauty of this project is preserved by now. The natural reservation park is almost non-existent — viz., many rare floral specimens are extinct, plus their natural habitat is damaged beyond recognition. This should be taken into account if future regeneration efforts are being taken. On the architectural side of the project, we should beware — as have been practice in other former royal possessions, like France, Spain, etc. — that cultural assets like this cost more than its formal value and they should be managed in the hands of those who really have the capability to do it, ditto.
(i). These photographs on the Vrana palace are taken in the 1960s and now-a-day. Both show evidence in variegated degree of neglect.
(ii). This is aerial photo taken from the satellite. We see here that 2/3rd is cultivated land belonging to roundabout villages of Gorubliane, German and Kazichane; only 1/3rd of the land is residency proper.
Copyright © 2008 by the author.