If you are Romanian and you spend your holiday in Bulgaria don't you dare to miss Balchik (part of Romania between 1913 and 1940) and Queen Marie Castle!
On the Bulgarian Coast deserted and alone, caressed by eternal waters, an ancient and nostalgic castle guards the shore. It's the beautiful Castle of a Romanian Queen, described as an oasis. It's an architectural monument that offers a wonderful insight into the designs of different cultures. Today “The palace” in Balchik is not deserted and crumbled, but a dazzling white, beautiful memory of the past, right on the sea shore, surrounded by an incredible Botanical Garden – the second important in Europe after the one in Monaco. The history of the castle and the garden, as well as that of their creator, Queen Marie, make me devote her an entire article on my blog.
As soon as I arrived in Balchik last year, I kept insisting to see the Queen Marie Castle. My reasons were simple: it's so magical and it's a historical treasure. History takes away so many lives and centuries later you realize that places like these are more or less the only reminder of our ancestors…It was so nice to spend a blissful afternoon walking around while admiring this gorgeous views.
The Castle is the former summer residence of the Romanian Queen Maria Alexandrina Victoria de Edinburg (1875 – 1938). It is situated approximately 2 km south-west of Balchik in a beautiful locality between the Balchik rocks and the sea. Queen Marie Castle is a designated archeological and constructional monument of culture and a monument of gardening and landscape art, declared by Statute No 09-128 of the Ministry of Culture dated 18 April 2002.
During the Second Balkan War the Romanian army occupied a part of Dobrudzha and the town of Balchik fell within the borders of Romania. Romanian intellectuals had appraised the beautiful landscape in the region and during the 1920's many prominent Romanian aristocrats and people of art purchased properties here. Queen Marie of Edinburgh, the wife of Ferdinand I of Romania, visited Balchik in 1921 and she was fascinated by the landscape and the spirit of the town. She decided to build her own summer residence here, and had a strict requirement for the designers so that the construction of the villa does not harm the natural environment, but rather complements its beauty. In fact the construction took more than 11 years to complete but it has worth the wait as the result is mesmerizing. Balkan and Oriental motives were used in the construction of the palace that was carried out by Italian architects Augustino and Americo, while a florist was hired from Switzerland to arrange the park.
Queen Marie Castle is an amazing place to visit in Balchik, with gorgeous surroundings as well, which are an intrinsic part of the castle. The estate contains, besides the main castle, several villas where the guests of the Queen could rest undisturbed, a botanical garden with waterfalls and streams, Roman baths and a chapel. Queen Marie wanted to create here a replica of the Holy Lands. The complex is composed of a few villas and buildings with characteristic emanation. The Blue Arrow villa was built in 1931 on the edge of a cliff, above the sea shore. The following people had lived in the house during various times – Prince Nikolay – the second son of Queen Marie and Princess Ileana – her youngest daughter.
The park along the sea shore was developed by the Swiss gardener Jules Gianni. The strip is 60-70 meters wide and more than 400 meters long. Christian and Muslim symbols intertwine in wells and gardens, and the flowers and decorative pots were bought from various parts of the world. The gardens descend in six beautiful threshold terraces along the steep sea shore, one for each of the Queen's children, through which the water from two springs flows along special stone channels and pours into water mirrors and waterfalls. A beautiful waterfall with 25 meters of height from the fall is found in close proximity to the terraces. Another smaller waterfall comes from the “Garden of Allah” through a thick wall along a three-flow fountain in a deep stone basin.
The cultural-historical value of the architectural complex is no doubt of huge significance. For me Queen Marie Castle is a combination of divine beauty, incredible atmosphere and a poetic sense of mystic. Each plant, hung, bridge, arch or vault suggests that this site was created by people of art for the people of art. Here Queen Marie held splendid receptions that gathered selected people from the European aristocracy. Regular guests were mainly poets, artists and musicians, and the Queen herself wrote poems under the pseudonym Carmen Sylva.
Largely the charm of the Queen Marie Castle and the Botanical Gardens is due to the diverse and eccentric style of other cultures that are intertwined here. This is one of the few places in the world where you can see a Christian and Muslim shrine together, without any controversies and claims between the two religions. The reasons for this is rooted in an interesting kind of Queen, which took on a professed exotic religion.
The Botanical Garden was established in 1955 and it's really impressive with its exotic plants and the overall look of the park against the residence. There are over three thousand varieties of shrubs, roses and flowers, set among streams, waterfalls and ornamental channels. Cacti alone are over 250, and thus Europe's second most important collection, after the one of Monaco! There is a rock garden, a formal French one with clipped box cones and geometric beds and an astonishing collection of roses. Interspersed are stone thrones, seats, pillars and ornaments collected by the Queen Marie. To have an idea about how beautiful it is, I can tell you that Francis Ford Coppola spent 11 days at the palace shooting scenes of "Youth Without Youth", with Tim Roth.
The most wonderful place on Balchik domain is the “divine garden”, which the Turks called the Garden of Allah. The model for this garden was the Biblical Garden of Eden, described in the Book of Genesis and recognized as sacred by all three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To fit the biblical description, an artificial river was built, with four arms, which delineates Eden. The spring is a fountain with three mouths, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Above the fountain is a ceramic representation of the Virgin Mary carrying a ship. The Chapel named “The Assumption of Mary” was built in 1932 and is situated in another beautiful white-blossom garden. The wood-carved throne and the iconostasis were purchased especially for the chapel from Cyprus.
This exotic blend between the cultures combined with the beach on the Black Sea makes the Queen Marie Castle one of the most beautiful and bizarre places in the country. Queen Marie loved this magical place so much that she demanded through her testament that her heart should be put to rest here, near the waves of the Black Sea. As Romania was forced to cede this peace of land (known as the Quadrilateral) to Bulgaria, the box containing queen’s heart was moved to Bran Castle, and then to the National Museum of History. But the spirit of Maria Romanian still haunts the complex, to protect it and remind all visitors for the passed glory of its widowed stone throne, from where she observed the sunset over the sea.
One must visit the Queen Marie Castle from Balchik in order to understand why the popular Queen of Romania loved it so much.