by Ioana Bogdan

16 July 2008


Translated by Adriana N.

Balcic means, for the majority of tourists, the palace of Queen Marie and the famous botanical gardens—a place where in olden days the great artists were gathering.  A verdant corner, filled with art and quietude, on the shores of the sea.  Today, on the tourist map of the Botanical Gardens of Balcic, Queen Marie’s name has been covered with white paint.  The Ministry of the Exterior Relations (Ministerul Afacerilor Externe—MAE—in Romanian) qualified this incident as a “regrettable” one.


The town of Balcic became Romanian territory, after the first occupation of South Dobrogea, in 1913.  It belonged to Romania only until 1916, though.


After WWI, it was again comprised within the Romanian frontiers and received as war recompense from the allies.  In 1921 Queen Marie, the wife of King Ferdinand of Romania, visited Balcic and fell in love with the place.  Having already thought of building a summer residence, she purchased the water mills, the vineyards and the gardens, a total surface of 35 hectares.

Architect Jules Janin, the “author”

The construction of the castle began in 1924 and was finalized in 1927 by the architects Amerigo and Augustino.  That same year, 1927, King Ferdinand, Queen Marie’s husband, passed away.  The author of the unique arrangement of the garden from Balcic was the park architect and main gardener, Swiss of origin, Jules Janin, in whose memory the Queen wrote on a marble plaque in existence even today at Balcic:  “To Jules Janin, who realized my dream through this present garden.  Marie.”

In 1940, through the 2nd Treaty from Vienna, Balcic was returned to Bulgaria.

In 1955 Balcic came under the tutelage of the State University “St. Kliment Ohridski” from Sofia, for the purpose of botany studies.  The property rights and the collection of profits from tourism became issues long debated, until in the end, the Bulgarian Ministry of Cultures obtained 183,000 square meters of the disputed territory, and the University of Sofia administered only 10,000 square meters, for scientific purposes.

Interested by the coloristic aspect of the buildings


For the comfort of the artists, and also of the industrialists and journalists in her entourage, at the Queen’s order, approximately 130 villas were built in Balcic and in the surrounding localities.  Her architectural concepts influenced all these constructions.  Marie was especially keen on the coloristic aspect of the villas, the contrast between the white mounds, the low roofed houses with red bricks and the verdure of the garden.


Today, the botanical gardens are home to about 2000 species of plants, some of them being magnolias, roses, and the famous cacti, some very old ones, which constitute a very unique collection in Europe.


The gardens, set in several terraces all facing the sea, give the impression of openness—of infinity.  Here and there, between the flowers, one can see several gigantic stone crosses with Slavonic inscriptions.  An immense tree-lined corridor gives way to steps over which water runs serenely.


The Queen’s artistic tendencies, especially visible in the unusual arrangements of this garden of an impressive size, did not diminish her maternal qualities, nor those of the politician.  Marie had five children. Two sons—Carol, the future king of Romania, Carol II, and Nicolae—and three daughters: Elisabeta, Maria and Ileana.  Plus, she was always conscious of the importance of her diplomatic role alongside King Ferdinand. (NOTE: Queen Marie had six children. Prince Mircea, her third son, was born in 1913 and died in 1916 at the age of three.)

“Ca la mama acasa” (Just like at mother’s house)

Today, if one wants to visit the famous botanical gardens, one has to pay 5 Leva.  Another 5 Leva is charged to visit the palace of Queen Marie, which is a “must”, as advised at the entrance.  The face of the ticket displays an image of the castle, sign that this is considered the main attraction.

Yet, this sight, so rich in history and art, cannot be found on the tourist map of the botanical gardens, only under the name of “The Palace”.  The rest (n.r. – the name of the owner of the palace, Queen Marie) has been covered with white paint.

For this reason, looking for it is difficult, and only if one goes over all names, one discovers, intuitively, that at the mark number 12 the palace of Queen Marie is located.

This does not bother the merchants.  At the gardens entrance, a path of considerable dimensions has been transformed into a bazaar where Romanians, on their way to the castle, happy and anticipating with emotion the first sight of the Palace of Queen Marie of Romania, buy Bulgarian souvenirs.

Along the same path, restaurant owners have posted prices and even full sentences in Romanian, proof of the fact that the majority of tourists are of Romanian origin.

“Ca la mama acasa” is the name of a restaurant located at the entrance to the bazaar. (NOTE: “ca la mama acasa” is a very well known Romanian phrase used to emphasize the good taste of the food).

Bulgarian authorities will remedy the situation”

Cosmin Boiangiu, who speaks for the Ministry of the Exterior Relations (MAE), declared that the incident was regrettable and that, very probably, the local Bulgarian authorities would remedy the situation very soon, and the Romanian Embassy from Sofia would verify that the corrections had been made.

“I would like to mention that the pamphlets and albums related to Balcic that are available locally all make references to Queen Marie, who is a historical figure very well respected in Bulgaria as well and whose memory is indisputably associated with Balcic”, Boiangiu also said.

A symbolic delimitation of a territory

Historian Adriana Cioroianu declared for “Adevarul Literar si Artistic” that it was regrettable that, even in the domains of culture and monumental art, egos made their presence felt, and that, practically, the gesture of covering the name of Queen Marie with white paint was nothing other than a “symbolic delimitation of a territory”.

“It is our duty to approach them and the Bulgarians’ duty to know that the existence of a foreign name on their territory does not mean the loss of the territory”, also wrote the historian.  He added that Queen Maria wasn’t just a very beautiful woman—Queen Maria had been known in her era as the most beautiful queen of Europe—but also a Queen of Beauty. 

“It is clear that, if the Queen had not existed, Balcic wouldn’t have existed in the form it does exist today.  In fact, the Queen should be a reason to bring the Romanian and the Bulgarian people closer together and not the other way around” concluded Cioroianu.

Poetess, Writer, Painter, Art Collector

Up to 1893, when she agreed to the arranged marriage with Prince Ferdinand Hohenzollern, future King of Romania, Princess Marie has an adventurous adolescence during which she cultivated her inclinations for travel, contemplation and art.

Her love for travel and the love for the sea were inherited from her father, Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, a sailor of profession.  As a child Marie saw Malta, Crete, Rhodes and Egypt, together with a captain sailor much older than her, an aspect which did not impede her falling in love with him.  Her education though, was received from her mother, Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Czar Alexander II.  From her she inherited her taste for painting, poetry and music.

Marie had a decisive role in the cultural destiny of Balcic. She loved literature and philosophy and aided with tuitions and money many of the personalities of the literary and artistic world.  She wrote children stories and poetry, she painted in water color, generally flowers, especially lilies and poppies.

She collected works of art of célèbre painters, as well as Arthur Verona, Stefan Popescu, Kimon Loghi, Cecilia Cutescu Storck, Nicolae Vermont or Eustatiu Stoenescu.  When she arrived to Balcic, Marie was already 49.  Thirteen years she spent summers at the Balcic residence, alongside, and not just a few times, sculptors and painters.