Even by Bulgarian standards Burgas is a strange city. It is one of those few Bulgarian towns that do not claim "ancient" history – it was founded in the late 19th Century by immigrants from various locations throughout Bulgaria and the Balkans who had arrived here owing to various reasons, mainly to escape wars and destitution. Burgas soon emerged as the country's perhaps most cosmopolitan town. Thracian and Macedonian rubbed shoulders with Greek, Turk, Armenian, Russian, Czech, Albanian and the odd Italian or two. Diverse as they were, the first residents of Burgas, or burgazlii, were united by one thing: their desire to make money.
The little village called Burgas, surrounded by malaria-plagued lakes, soon became a little Brooklyn. Its port was the busiest in Bulgaria, it had seven consulates and half a dozen daily newspapers, and it saw economic development on a scale southern Italy, for instance, would only dream of until at least the late 1950s.
Burgas Pier in the 2000s, before reconstruction
Burgas pre-Second World War heyday came to an end when the Communists took over in 1944. During the 45 years of hardline Communist rule the heritage of Burgas was destroyed more ruthlessly than in other Bulgarian towns. Major buildings such as the Old City Hall and the Food Stalls were knocked down to make room for new squares, the growing city was encircled by the unmistakably "socialist" prefabricated blocks of flats, and as late as the 1980s a significant part of the historical centre of Burgas was demolished to make way for a new... road.
The old pier of Burgas was a favourite spot for strollers in the Maritime Garden in the 1930s
"Democracy" came to Burgas with a bang rather than with a whimper. Soon after the old apparatchiks had gone, new ones emerged. The construction boom of the 2000s affected Burgas a lot more than many other Bulgarian towns. Now most of the city is new and old houses continue to be demolished to make room for new post-Communist monstrosities that their owners think will rival Las Vegas.
Yet, somehow Burgas does retain bits of its Bohemian atmosphere and that can best be seen off-season, when the central streets and squares are void of visitors and when, if you are lucky, you can meet some of the poets, painters and artists that made Burgas an exceptionally vibrant city in the past.
One of the places that burgazlii closely relate to their city is the seaside pier, which they call "The Bridge," and which is considered to be one of the town's icons.
Construction of the new pier, 1985
In the past year Burgas Pier was given a major facelift.
Burgas Pier was originally constructed in 1938. The old structure, which was significantly different from what we see today, was considered unsafe and was knocked down in the 1980s. A new, massive pier was erected in its place, but owing to improper maintenance it soon fell into disrepair. Various attempts were made through the years to sanitise it, but they all stalled – mainly for lack of determination by the city authorities and for lack of cash in the city coffers.
At the beginning of 2014, however, the "new" Burgas Pier was unveiled, to much local fanfare. It is particularly spectacular when it's dark as the facelift included the installation of new lights. The new pier has facilities for the disabled. In summertime, a boat to the now gentrified St Anastasia Island, a mile away into the Bay of Burgas, is scheduled to depart from the tip of the pier.
This series of articles is supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. The statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners.