Raids and pillage were their main sources of income, and their neighbors, from the rich Greek town of Agatopolis, were their usual victims. As retribution for the raids, the Greeks called the Thracian settlement Varvara, the place of the Barbarians.
The story is hardly true. But even if it were, it doesn’t fit the profile of modern Varvara. There is hardly any more tranquil place to spend your summer vacation on the Bulgarian southern Black Sea coast.
Varvara lacks the shortcomings of its bigger and more popular brethren claiming themselves to be seaside resorts, including Ahtopol, the modern incarnation of Agatopolis. Here are no crowds of partygoers from all over Europe, nor of white and blue-collar holidaymakers. The number of the fancy bars in Varvara is exactly two, and both of these are on the beach, far from the hotels and houses. You will struggle to find a souvenir stall. Chalga music does not exist. The sidewalks are almost completely for you, and the sky is full of swarms of swallows and storks. Staying and eating in Varvara is relatively cheap and the quality is better than in Primorsko, Sozopol, Tsarevo, et al.
Then why is Varvara so calm and affordable?
Because of the sea. The village’s only beach is small and rocky; your other option to swim is to dive from the picturesque cliffs around. The most popular of these are the Dardanelle, named after the Dardanelles strait, and the Mekite Skali, or the Soft Rocks.
The first tourists to discover the quiet charm of Varvara were the artsy and alternative crowds, which arrived in the early 1990s when traveling to this region, close to Turkey, had just become easier.
Even then, Varvara had the atmosphere of a place out of time and out of space. It is hardly a coincidence, then, that when the hippie celebration of the 1 July sunrise (see issue 117) went too mainstream in the city of its origins, Varna, the hardcore revelers moved the event to Varvara. Their meeting point is at one of the most surreal landscapes in Bulgaria; a metal tree rising on the windswept shore.
The Iron Tree is actually an abandoned movie prop.
While by the early 2000s, Varvara was mainly a place for artists, latter-day hippies, and everyone outside the mainstream, it gradually started to attract middle-class Bulgarians and hipsters. The feel that you are far from the crowds and that you have all the time in the world to rest is still here and three days in Varvara look like a week (in a good way).
Varvara’s own landscape is pretty provincial and insignificant: a collection of low, dust-covered houses from the 1970s and 1980s, small hotels from the 2000s, a closed store from the times of Communism in the center, a new playground of the kind that appeared in the past few years all over Bulgaria. The church, which looks old, was built in the early 2000s and is dedicated to St Varvara. According to another legend, the village get its name after a miracle in which a local girl restored her sight on St Varvara’s feast day, 4 December.
The recorded history differs from the legends. Varvara’s earliest appearance in any document is on a 1788 map. Back then, it was populated not by ancient Thracians, but by Greeks. The village had a small chapel and it was dedicated to a certain saint: this is the real reason why Varvara is called Varvara.