Bulgarian kings' favourite palace

Vrana is a masterpiece of palatial architecture of the early twentieth century

Just 10 kilometres southeast of downtown Sofia, amidst lavish gardens abounding in rare plants, is located the homestead of Vrana - the favourite palace of Bulgarian kings of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom. After decades of oblivion and out of the public's sight, the palace was reopened to visitors after extensive restoration works.

Vrana was built partially on the site of a Turkish ancestral homestead, Chardakliya, looted and demolished in the Liberation War of 1877-1878. In 1899, King Ferdinand bought the homestead to build his out-of-town palace on its site. The earliest building there was a two-storey hunting lodge - the Old Palace - built in 1904 and combining 19th-century Bulgarian Revival style influences with art nouveau. At the time, the development of the park started using European landscape designs.

The construction of the royal palace, designed by architect Nikola Lazarov, took place between 1909 and 1912. It is a typical massive building in Bulgarian style combined with elements of art nouveau. A pedway connects the functional and clean design building to the old villa. The first storey was intended for ceremonial purposes: the king's study, the ministers' hall, the Karelian dining room, the oval dining-hall and the lounge, while the second storey is where the apartments were located.

King Ferdinand, known for his interest in natural history and especially in birds, decided to name the place after the first winged creature which would perch on its roof. In a while, a flock of crows landed on the roof of the palace and ever since 1912 it has been named Vrana ('crow' in Bulgarian).

The Karelian Hall is the most authentic of all the rooms in the palace. It was a present by Russian Emperor Nicholas ІІ on the occasion of his godson's, future Bulgaria's King Boris ІІІ, coming of age. All of its furniture is made of Karelian birch by Russian master woodworkers. The sun-lit hall features the royal family memorabilia such as china, monogrammed table silver and even a few authentic lunch menus.

In the Venetian-style study, the writing desk of Princess Maria Luisa is on display along with King Boris's death mask and the original gravestone from the Rila Monastery. The furniture in the ministers' hall from the time of King Ferdinand is typical of the Austrian palaces. The big hall is due to be refurbished.

After King Ferdinand I abdicated in 1918, the palace passed to King Boris III and later on to King Simeon II. The big building was heavily damaged in the bombings of Sofia in WWII. The royal family survived in a bunker in the park, but a direct hit reduced the third floor to ashes. Following the abolition of the monarchy, Vrana was taken by the communists, to be returned to the royal family as late as 1998. After becoming a museum, the palace was included in Sofia sightseeing tours.

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