THE VRANA PALACE – PRIVATE PROPERTY OF THE ROYAL FAMILY
The Vrana Royal Palace is located southeast of the city of Sofia, surrounded by a park largely renowned for its beauty. It was created personally by King Ferdinand I. in the period 1899-1912. In the opinion of the landscape professionals and researchers, the park created in the first years of the twentieth century is exceptional for Bulgaria and is not inferior to the famous European landscape parks of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Royal Park and Palace are disposed on an area of 950 decares, a private estate of the Bulgarian kings Ferdinand I, Boris III and Simeon II.
After the coup of September 9th, 1944, the Fatherland Front’s new authorities retained the monarchical rule as a formality. Thus, Bulgaria continued to be a Kingdom, headed by its sovereign – the minor Tsar Simeon II. On September 10th, a three-member regency to govern the state on his behalf was appointed. The appointment of the regency by a ministerial decree was in disregard to the Turnovo Constitution. The immature Monarch, the Queen Mother, and Princess Maria Louisa lived in the Vrana Palace in conditions bordering on house arrest. This period lasted until the summer of 1946. Then a referendum on monarchy’s abolition was scheduled for September 8th that year.
By order № 55/3 August 1946 of the Prime Minister Kimon Georgiev, a commission was formed to duly describe the movable and immovable property of the Royal Family. The inventory currently stored in the Archives State Agency at the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria is very detailed, divided into three categories as follows:
- State property, which the King uses by virtue of his constitutional position;
- Mixed properties – the buildings owned by the King, and the land – state or municipal;
- Private estates of the King.
Based on this inventory, by Decree №8 issued on December 19th, 1947, the Presidium of the Grand National Assembly in its 130th sitting voted and adopted the Law on Declaring State Property of the Properties of Former Bulgarian Kings and Their Heirs, Personally Acquired or Inherited. Thus, the Vrana Palace, a legally acquired private property of the Bulgarian Royal Family, was taken away from their patrimony and nationalized. It housed the new communist leaders Vasil Kolarov and Georgi Dimitrov, chairman and prime minister of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, respectively.
In 1998, at the request of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Bulgaria Ivan Tatarchev, supported by the Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and the Minister of Finance Muravei Radev, the Constitutional Court of the Republic, unanimously of its members, ruled unconstitutionality of the law on expropriation of the personal property of the Royal Family, adopted in December 1947. In this way, in the spirit of the law on restitution of private property adopted for all Bulgarian citizens, historical justice is restored.
Immediately following that decision, the Royal Family took possession of their legal private property again. The older palace of Vrana (formerly a hunting lodge of King Ferdinand) became the main residence of King Simeon and Queen Margarita.
In 2001, the Royal Family officially donated the Vrana Palace park of 950 decares area to the Sofia Municipality, in the condition of free access to visitors, and naming it Ferdinand’s Park. Only in the summer of 2013, the park opened to visitors. It is a natural park-museum of the Bulgarian kings, Ferdinand I and Boris III, scholarly endeavors.
The Royal mansion of Vrana was established in 1899 on the former Ottoman homestead “Chardakliya”, a hereditary estate of Osman Pasha. (Paşa in Turkish means an honourary title in the Ottoman empire similar to “peerage” or “knighthood”.) According to a tradition to distribute vast lands to their distinguished generals and dignitaries, the Sublime Porte donated by the name of Sultan these lands to one of Osman’s ancestors. In his essay on Chardakliya Homestead, Boncho Hadzhibonev writes that the farm’s name comes from the once-famous “Osmanov Konak” with exquisitely curve-shaped verandas (in Turkish: “chardak”), bay windows, and eaves. Hence the farm’s name may be rendered as “The homestead of the nicely winding verandas”.
It is located between Tsarigradsko shose, river Iskar and the village of Kazichene.
Osman Pasha died three months before the start of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. The property of his mansion passed over his sons Mustafa Beg and Murat Beg. With the advent of Russian troops led by General Joseph Gurko, the two brothers and their sister Halide Khanum migrate to Istanbul with the most expensive furniture and belongings. The farm was entirely looted and set on fire. Hadzibonev writes:
When cannons resounded, and Russians passed the river Iskar, the Shopps, relentless
for vengeance and retribution, swept the farmhouse, plundered, and burned it. The
fences, buildings, and lodgings were destroyed to the ground, the stones, beams, doors,
and windows – all taken away. They cut down the forest. Finally, they set fire to the
barns and the empty granary, which they could not break. For days black puffs of smoke
lifted to heaven from the pitiful remains of Chardakliya homestead.
Shortly after these events, the owner of the farm’s land became Hadzhi Bone Petrov – a native of the village of Gherman in the Sofia vicinity. He was a teacher, and an ally of the famous Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski, exiled by the Ottoman authorities in Diyarbakir. Returning soon after the Liberation to his homeland, Hadzhi Bone rented the farm for two years. A few years later, he bought it from Osman Pasha’s heirs for Lira 500 gold. Well-known Bulgarian intellectuals were frequent guests on his farm.
The extravagant Hadzhi Bone Petrov took large loans from the Bulgarian National Bank, mortgaging the Chardakliya farm. Due to the inability to pay the bond, the bank filed a lawsuit against him. Finally, on May 16th, 1896, the Sofia City Court ruled that the heirs of the late Petrov were obliged to repay the loans taken with the interest, within seven days. (Hadzhi Bone had died shortly before that.) This term extended to two months. After they failed to do so, the bank described the property and put it up for public auction. The initial value for the Chardaklia property was the amount of BGN 40,000 gold. On October 18th, 1898, the auction itself took place. The Sofia wealthy bankers Eshkenazi and Levi take part in it, and the court pharmacist Dr. Nikola Stranski, who won the auction after several bids, offering the highest amount – BGN 56,500 gold. (According to the Execution list and public auction of the Chardaklia property kept in the State Archives, fund 92k, inventory1, archival unit 165.) Three weeks later, on January 9th, 1899, Dr. Stranski sold his property to the Bulgarian ruler – Prince Ferdinand. It becomes clear that the real buyer is the Monarch. Today, only a wooden granary remains of Hadzhi Bone’s farm, and the small house was destroyed in the mid-1970s by order of the Safety and Security Office.
As early as the winter of 1888, only a few months after he acceded to the Bulgarian throne, Prince Ferdinand gradually bought the lands around the Chardakliya farm. Hundreds of fortress deeds for the purchase of land in the area are in the archives. One of them, dated March 23-rd, 1888, certifies that the Prince bought lands from Vasil Peychov close to the mentioned farm, and another is from February 16-th, 1889. Others are provided by Nikola Suknarov in 1894, and by Mityar Stoyanov and Stoyan Latev in 1895. 
Initially, the Prince bought the lands located next to the road to Tsarigrad and bordering the Chardakliya Homestead. Prince Ferdinand outlined the boundaries of the current park of Vrana Palace after he bought from the winner Dr. Stranski the former farm and the neighboring lands, formerly belonging to the villagers from the villages Gorublyane, Gherman, Gorni Lozen, and Kazichene. 
This gradual purchase of land with personal funds lasted for more than eight years until the beginning of the new century. Soon after, the Monarch began its development. 1900 is considered the starting date of the park construction. Lydia Fomina writes:
“After the conquest of the farm in 1899, King Ferdinand I established on this territory his estate, which in its beauty and riches significantly surpassed the mansions of his noble predecessors.” 
During the first eight years (from 1899 to 1907), the land purchase around the former homestead went ahead. During this period, lands were bought personally by Prince Ferdinand through his attorney Hristo Zlatarev, Quartermaster of the Civil List and Steward of the private princely estates, 133 decares, 578 damages, 183 acres, 980 sq.m. mills, fields, meadows of about 363 owners of these lands from the villages Gorublyane, Gherman, Gorni Lozen and Kazichene. In most cases, the Prince paid for these lands price that was much higher than the average. The villagers were precautious in giving their consent to the sale. Not only is there no evidence of any form of pressure or violence in the sale, but the owners’ heirs still share that the price their ancestors received was many times higher than the usual in the area.
By 1915, the larger part of the land, bought by King Ferdinand, was formed as part of today’s park and agricultural farm. The last plots – about 40 decares, 88 acres, 750 square meters, were acquired from 26 owners between 1918 and 1927. In the final account, when the New Palace was there in 1911, the Royal land property comprised about 4000 decares, bought over the years by him from 389 persons.
‘Vrana’ – the official name of the mansion since 1911, means ‘Crow’ and is reminiscent of the flocks of black crows flying over the area and landing on the black fallow soil around Sofia. According to another view, the choice of the King was due to his ornithological passion. He had decided to name the palace on the first bird that landed on its roof. With the expansion of the park, the formation of a zoo in Vrana began. In 1905, Prince Ferdinand bought for his four children a couple of small elephants. He named them Nal and Damayanti after the ancient Indian epic heroes. On growing up, they used them for agricultural work on the farm of the Vrana manor. King Boris transferred them to the Royal Zoo downtown Sofia in 1924.
The construction of the hunting lodge which was the first building for the Royal Family, was carried out from 1903 through 1904, after a design by the famous Bulgarian architect Georgi Fingov. In his memoirs, the last Quartermaster of the Civil List, reserve officer colonel Anton Razsukanov wrote, “In 1903, the construction of the so-called Older Palace started, which is a two-story building. On the ground floor, there is a large drawing room, dining room, library, veranda and office, and on the floor – five bedchambers for the Royal Family and guests”. The royal lodge features an excellent combination of Art Nouveau with the typical elements of the Bulgarian Revival houses. The southern facade is coated with treated wood. The tiled roof finishes with deep wooden eaves.
Around the villa stand out dozens of small, newly planted by King Ferdinand himself, pine and spruce saplings, which today are tall century-old trees. The building has retained its authentic appearance, thanks to the restoration and repair work carried out in 2001. Today it is the everyday residence of His Majesty King Simeon II. Some parts of the style building are reminiscent of Western models, and others refer to the Balkan Revival house. The southern facade, coated with treated wood, ends with deep wooden loggia.
In 1909, the construction of the New Palace began, designed by Arch. Nikola Lazarov. The famous Bulgarian architect was born on April 1st, 1870, in Karlovo. He graduated in architecture as a state scholarship holder in Paris. He started working as an architect in charge of the government buildings in the Principality of Bulgaria, and later, he opened an architectural practice in Sofia. He completed the Military Club’s construction in Sofia, designed the Baths in Pleven, the New America Theater in Sofia, the Bulgarian Central Cooperative Bank, the Sofia District Governance Palace, the Local Community Center (Chitalishte) in Stara Zagora, and helped the construction of the Sofia University. Architect Lazarov has designed more than 60 remarkable buildings in Sofia and many sites across the country. All its buildings are architectural monuments with a contribution to the cultural and architectural heritage of Bulgaria. Rich decoration distinguishes the work of Arch. Lazarov – baroque forms, curved pediments, towers, balustrades, etc. Nikola Lazarov died in Sofia on June 14th, 1942.
The New Palace in Vrana is a three-storey massive building made up in a typical Bulgarian style with Art Nouveau elements, combined in an elegant neo-Byzantine fashion. The building is a small scale European palace but a true masterpiece of architectural art, harmoniously arranged with reception halls, studies, dining rooms, all richly furnished. As Colonel Razsukanov wrote, “It was July 30th, 1909, when the New Palace construction began, connected to the Old one by a long gallery on the upper floor. On the ground floor are the kitchen-related premises and several rooms for the Retinue. The foundation stone was laid in an intimate setting, attended by the King and Queen with the children, Strashimir Dobrovich, Marshal of the Court, Chaprashikov, Secretary of the King, Zlatarev, Quartermaster of the Civil List. The parish priest of the village of Kazichene served the prayer. In total, the building together with the Older Palace is about 1900 square meters. The furniture is splendid, and most of the paintings are of the family.”
According to the preserved archival documents, in 1923, the building valued at 4.1 million BGN (gold lev), and the furniture, tapestries, and paintings – at 1.5 million BGN. The new edifice has a warm connection with the old royal lodge, and between the two is a small construction which houses the kitchen with the necessary cellars and cutlery rooms. Upgrading another level over the warm connection and the kitchen endowed unity to the two buildings’ volume. Thus, the upper floor became an excellent gallery, sufficiently lit by windows on both sides. The elevator facility in the palace building, made by the Schindler Company, is preserved in its authentic shape to the present day.
The new palace building was ready in 1912. By all means, it was the favorite home of King Ferdinand, who considered it a cozy family space. The building has a clear bourne of function, with the south wing of the piano nobile designed for representative and business purposes – the central lobby with the marble staircase, the King’s Study, the Audience Hall, the Old Bulgarian Room, the Karelian Dining Room, the Tea Room.
In the north wing are the official bedchamber of King Ferdinand with the attached Roman Catholic Chapel, the Oval Versailles Dining Room, the study of the Marshal of the Court, and the Grand Reception Hall. The latter, according to the original plans, was smaller than the current one. Earlier in its northern part were located the parlour and the bedchamber of King Boris III. Subsequently, these premises have merged to forms the present main Reception Hall of the Palace.
The Karelian dining room, located on the ground floor in the south wing of the palace, is one of the most beautiful halls of the Vrana Palace. It is the ceremonial dining hall for gala lunches and dinners of the Royal Family. It was donated by the Russian Emperor Nicholas II (1868–1894-1918) for the coming of age of his godson, Crown Prince Boris, Prince of Turnovo, and later King Boris III (1894–1918-1943). The 18-th anniversary of Prince Boris was celebrated in the capital city of Sofia with special solemnity. All Balkan heirs to the throne and envoys of the European royal courts attended. The representative of the Russian emperor was the Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich (1879–1956).
The paneling, the central ceremonial table, the thirty chairs, and the sideboards designed in Empire style are manufactured in “His Imperial Majesty’s furniture workshops” in Petrozavodsk. They were delivered to the Vrana Palace by a special train and installed by Russian masters sent for the purpose. The original chandelier and crystal mirrors herein are preserved too.
The dining room is called “Karelian” after a species of birch, often called Warty birch (Betula pendula Roth var. carelica (Merklin); Betula pendula f 1.0 carelica), characterized by thickening of the trunk and the typical colorful texture of the wood. It is distinguished for its considerable hardness and solidity and favored for the exceptional beauty of the dark brown shades on a light yellow background. It is distributed mainly in the area of Russian Karelia, hence its name. The dendrologist K. Merklin was the first to use this name in his works in 1856.
Based on the evidence of some archaeological finds, historians claim that the Karelian birch was used as early as the 13th century for the manufacture of art objects and furniture. The Russian scholar Vladimir Dahl writes that the material was so valuable and rare that the Karelian tribes used it to pay their debts and taxes to the Moscow Princes and Kings. The Karelian birch entered the interior design of the Russian imperial
palaces and noble houses at the beginning of the 18th century when the famous architect V. P. Stasov began to use this material in the interiors of his architectural masterpieces.
According to the Arch. Lazarov’s design, on the upper floor, originally the apartments of the Royal Family were located: the Queen’s in the central part, of the Princes Boris and Kyril in the south, and Princesses Eudoxia and Nadezhda in the north. The famous French journalist and researcher Alexandre Hepp left us the following description: “The building was furnished and decorated entirely on the guidance of King Ferdinand. He
considered it his most cherished residence, a family home. In any case, he managed to give it perfection – comfortable and elegant, without being oppressively gingerbread. In the main hall, there was oak paneling with a carved ceiling. Embellished with gleaming pieces of copper and Delft pottery, it was reminiscent of a Dutch-style. The large parlor displayed a soothing mix of colors: steel gray, light blue, and purple. The long gallery’s walls were clad by tapestries and original drawings from the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus, most of them – of Ferdinand himself …
The Royal bedchamber was an example of the style, designed in the Fin de Siécle: with a canopy of yellow and purple silk enclosing his bed, carved and lavishly embellished with Breton embroidery. There was an abundance of Japanese silk with floral motifs and bouquets of dried flowers in vases. Watercolors by the Duchess of Chartres hung on the walls, and when one looked out, they saw more flowers in the chests put on the window frames”.
The wooden paneling, the doors of the salons, and the woodcarving applications are the work of the prominent at the time master woodcarver Hristo Stefanov (1880–1957), an active member and founder of the Sofia Carpentry, Carving and Crafts Association. Stefanov was the owner of a modern carpentry factory at 40 Edirne Street in Sofia. He built the Bulgarian pavilions at the international exhibitions in Liege, Belgium (1905), London (1907), and Milan (1910), on the designs by the well-known Bulgarian artist Haralambi Tachev. The pavilion in Liege received a high international estimation, and the one in London, whose patron was King Ferdinand, was awarded a diploma. On this occasion, and after thorough research, the King invited Stefanov to the Vrana Palace and assigned him to make the doors and windows of the New Palace building. These doors and windows are executed subtly and are unique in the quality of their construction, design, and carving.
In the years of King Ferdinand, dozens of representatives of the European aristocracy visited the Vrana Palace – the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles and Empress Zita, the half-sister of the Bulgarian Princess Maria Louise, the Bavarian King Ludwig III, the Saxon King Friedrich August III, the Ruling Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha Carl Edward, born Duke of Albany, and many others.
The story goes that, during one of his stays in Vrana, Grand Duke Vladimir
Alexandrovich returned after his morning promenade in the park with a large cabbage under his arm. To the astonished King Ferdinand, he replied: “Merely I could not resist it, so beautiful it is!”
The unfortunate end of the First World War for Bulgaria forced King Ferdinand to abdicate the Bulgarian throne in favor of his eldest son – Prince Boris of Turnovo, which ascended under the name of Boris III, King of the Bulgarians. Despite the tension and uncertainty, and perhaps precisely because of them, on the night of his abdication – October 3rd, 1918, King Ferdinand’s last wish was to tour the palace and park of Vrana. Unaware that he would never see his favorite masterpiece again, the King passed through the beautiful rooms without touching or taking anything.
After 1918, Vrana became the main personal home of King Boris III. It was here that many important historical events took place. In the early hours of June 9th, 1923, the leaders of the coup against Alexander Stamboliyski, Prof. Alexander Tsankov, Kimon Georgiev, Dimo Kazasov, and others arrived Vrana to force the head of state to accept and legalize the performed plot. King Boris kept them on the square in front of the new palace for more than four hours before receiving them into his office and, forced by circumstances, recognizing the fait accompli as legal. Dimo Kazasov wrote about the story in his book In the Darkness of Conspiracy: “Here is the palace, radiating splendour, and exquisite beauty. We turn right and stand in front of its parade entrance. On command, several military detachments, led by officers, patrolled it.
The constable, politely bowing, opens the door wide, and we pass. He follows us. We enter the spacious marble staircase to the floor where the royal bedrooms are. A subtle artistic taste lies imprinted both in the manufacturing and in the position of each object. Above the middle platform hangs a rarely beautiful oil portrait of a noble royal ancestor. His stern and haughty gaze seems to twitch in rage evoked by our unceremonious inrush. We enter the corridor. Here we are greeted by the royal aides, Major Skutunov and Captain Draganov. They both inform us that the King is absent in the palace, having been hunting in the park since early dawn.
However, we head down the corridor to the royal bedrooms. We enter all the bedrooms, one by one: warm scents of freshly left beds. We enter the studies, boudoirs and go about all the rooms upstairs. The rooms remain silent, calm, and solemn amidst the refined beauty of their exquisite and stylized convenience. Every little thing is elegance, each color is harmony, and every fold is a graceful line. Nothing superfluous, nothing cluttered, nothing tinsel. Everything rests in consent to an organic whole, which radiates a calm but captivating beauty. In this respectful atmosphere of image order, of azure purity, of classical aesthetics, we, excited by what has arisen and nervous with fatigue, argue rudely and loudly…” 
In 1928, on the 10th anniversary of King Boris’ ascension, Count Robert de Bourboulon arrived in Sofia. The count had accompanied King Ferdinand on his arrival in Bulgaria in 1887 and remained on Bulgarian service until 1915. Going to Vrana, he wrote to his wife:
“Yesterday, lunch in a narrow circle at Vrana in honour of the final departure of Mr. Wilson, Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, a pleasant man of very few American features. To us who know the dingy farm with the limp trees, the current Vrana seemed mind-boggling! Fir trees, tall forests, flower beds, hornbeams, ponds of lilies and lotuses, that would make Claude Monet pale with envy! What about the palace! They’ve brought all the fancy objects and favorite pictures here … Vrana is just amazing!”
In 1936, on his return from Istanbul, the British King Edward VIII visited Vrana. That same year, he is bound to abdicate the British throne because of his love for the American Wallis Simpson, accepting the title Duke of Windsor. At the lunch in the Karelian Dining Room, the King-Emperor addressed the three years-old Princess Maria Louisa with the words – “Little Miss, now your father and I will have to work for a while”, to which the child replied, without the slightest embarrassment – “Leider muss Ich auch!” (Unfortunately, I have to either!). The phrase stood engraved in King Edward’s memory, and during the years of the Second World War, it became a code name for the Bulgarian Royal Family in the Foreign Office’s encrypted telegrams.
On October 25, 1930, King Boris married Princess Giovanna of Savoy, who became Queen Ioanna of Bulgaria. Having just arrived in Sofia, the new Queen takes on the Mistress of her new home with diligence and devotion.
In her memoirs, Queen Ioanna wrote with admiration:
“I ought to say, how much the old King’s personal dominion was palpable in those residences of ours. Vrana was his creation, built with the genius of a great gardener. How nice it was to get there on a pleasant autumn day and find ourselves in the shade of large trees, among the aromas of thousands of rare flower species, to see the waters of the canals flowing from the river Iskar, and the enormous and majestic Victoria Regia floating in the ponds of the greenhouses …” 
The Royal Family spent the years of the Second World War exclusively in the Vrana Palace. Here the heir to the throne, Simeon, Prince of Turnovo, and his sister, Princess Maria Louisa, studied and enjoyed their children’s games.
On August 28, 1943, King Boris III died under yet unveiled obscure circumstances. Six-year-old King Simeon II ascended the throne.
During his lifetime, King Boris tried to get out of Hitler’s steely grip and establish contact with the Western Allies. By the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, the Regents and the new government pursued the same purpose. The declared “symbolic” war started to become more of a real, and the capital city was under constant air-raids by Anglo-American planes.
“On the night of March 24, 1944, with two long resumptions, the park of the Vrana Palace was brutally bombed with more than five hundred ignition charges, of which thirty-six set fire to the two upper floors of the palace, and eleven heavy bombs fell, also in the park. One of them made a crater with a diameter of seven meters and a depth of three. It filled with water. We put redfish in it and called it ‘Churchill Lake’…”,
Queen Giovanna wrote. 
The telegram of Prince-Regent Kyril to his father King Ferdinand, who was at that time in the family castle of Svätý Anton in Slovakia, is also preserved in the State Archives in Sofia.
“Your Majesty, I am sad to inform you that the Vrana Palace was bombed tonight. The upper two floors burned up. The King, the Queen Mother, and the Princess were in the bunker and remain unharmed. We had hidden the pictures”.
The answer by King Ferdinand reads:
“I took big sorrow reading your message about the attack on the Vrana Palace. It makes me very happy that the young King, his mother, and sister are intact, although I doubt they would have survived if a bomb had fallen directly on that bunker. I am also glad that you have deliberately taken out and saved the paintings from the palace. This palace, which I built on a stony field and which in its beauty did not yield to the most exquisite royal homes in Europe, must be your concern to restore it after the war. If God let us outlive the end of this war …” 
Queen Giovanna remembers:
“The small bunker built next to the palace miraculously saved us. Many of the articles that were reminders of so greatly memorable things, including my books, perished. The engagement ring I had given to Boris in San Rossore was also lost, and I could not take comfort in that. The ring was found strangely and luckily by a gardener who brought it to me in a pouch. My brother-in-law Kyril gave proof of extraordinary courage in this case. He saved the old wing of the palace, built almost entirely of wood, from the flames, defusing an incendiary bomb before it exploded.”
The coup d’etat on September 9th, 1944, was carried out by members of the army – the Bulgarian Communist Party impersonated by the Fatherland Front, founded with the blessing of Moscow. On the same day, the Red Army invaded the Kingdom and seized Bulgaria, although it has never declared war on the USSR. A monstrous terror is raging in the country. The Queen Mother, the young King, and his sister are bound to share captives’ life in the Vrana Palace. Due to the destruction of the new building, they settled in the hunting lodge of King Ferdinand. Prince Kyril and Princess Eudoxia got under arrest. The Prince was brought to Moscow and held there until his death sentence was handed, on February 1st, 1945.
New, unknown people arrive in Vrana, armed with rifles and Schmeisers assigned to replace the guards and servants in the palace. These are dangerous and uncertain days for the Royal Family. The Queen writes:
“This spring at Vrana, US Senator Baldridge came to see us with a letter from my mother. He had visited my parents at Villa Maria Pia […] I had to be careful not to arouse suspicion of collaboration with the Allied Control Commission. I know that General Robertson warned the government in Sofia and the Soviet authorities that the United States would declare to world public opinion the abolition of the Royal Family and its eventual “disappearance” in Russia. The British also joined the statement.”
Not far from Vrana are units of the Soviet Army. “Soldiers in groups passed by and came openly to hunt game, killing it with machine guns. In this way, the park resounded with slopes and projectile shots. These “accidental” shootings could also look for objects “accidental.”  So, once a “random” bullet fell into the room of the young King. One day a Soviet officer arrived to announce that Marshal Tolbukhin, commander of the Third Ukrainian Front, and a group of generals wish to visit the palace. The Queen replied that she was expecting them. The meeting never took place because, realizing that the Royal Family was there, the generals gave up their intention. They had thought the palace was an uninhabited monument.
In April 1946, by order of Georgi Dimitrov, the body of the late King Boris was removed from the modest tomb facing the South Altar in the Rila Monastery church. In the early hours of the same day, the remains were brought by truck to Vrana. Queen Giovanna and her children have been awakened up and compelled to attend the second burial of the coffin in the palace park. Shortly afterward, the Queen began building a small chapel over the new tomb of her late husband. The chapel was completed days before the Royal Family left the country. In 1954, by order of the then General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Valko Chervenkov, who lived in the palace at the time, the chapel was blown up. The remains disappeared. Since then, no one is willing to reveal the truth about what has happened.
A referendum on the monarchy’s abolishment took place on September 8th, 1946. On September 15th this year, Bulgaria has been proclaimed a People’s Republic. The Royal Family had to leave the country. The last day of the Royal Family in Vrana – September 16th, 1946, is described in the memoirs of Reserve Major Razsukanov, as follows:
“I got up early in the morning, and at 7 am, I went first to the railway station in Kazichene– to check if the train was ready and if there were enough beds, linen, utensils. I learned from Mr. Petkov, the train’s chief, that the departure of Kazichene had been fixed for 4:48 pm, that the engine would probably be at the Svilengrad border station at 11 pm, and in Constantinople by the morning. I also learned that the steamer to Egypt would leave at 11 o’clock before noontime, but if necessary, there would be a delay to wait for the Queen. […]
From the railway station, I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where, together with the Secretary-General and the Minister, we determined the travel expenses for the Queen, the Princess, and the persons accompanying them. The entire amount was not paid by the government but provided from the privy purse, i. e., the Queen herself. The state did not give a single lev for the travel and subsistence. After withdrawing the specified amount from the National Bank, I returned to the ministry to get the passports of all travelers.
Then I went to Vrana. I handed over the money to them, and we agreed with Miss Stoyanova and Miss Doseva to send them to the border. At that time, Bogdanov came with two companions, Lieutenant Hristov and Razvigorov. The latter (son of the cleric who blew up the church of St. Nedelya), not finding General Marholev, caught me walking and talking. At that time, all the staff of Vrana Palace was bidding farewell to the Royal Family. Most cried – a long, arduous, and painful parting …
As soon as the farewell was over, the truck with the light luggage left for the railway station. The heavier one had long been loaded there in a wagon. The cars lined up around the prune for the last time. At that time, the Italian Minister Plenipotentiary Mamelli arrived with his wife and Don Galloni. They said goodbye and expressed their desire to go to Kazichene station. The Queen turned to Bogdanov:
– Will you allow His Excellence the Minister to come to the station to see us off?
– It is not desirable!
Another minute or so, and everyone got in the cars. At the moment, a police car with a militia bailiff (the same one who dug up the King from the Rila Monastery) arrived at the site, turned around, and stood forward as the column’s leader. The royal car followed it, and Bogdanov was driving last. So, the Queen went to the station as a captive, and from the car cabin, she said goodbye to all the alleys, trees, flowers, meadows, among which she had lived for 16 years.
Police had surrounded the entire station. Only the regent Venelin Ganev, with his secretary Sekulov and the Chief-Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Altunov, could be spotted. The regent said goodbye very excitedly, with tears in his eyes. He apologized: “A lot of wrong things happened in our country but, please, forgive me!”
The Queen reached to get on the carriage, and Bogdanov asked her for a photo, to which she barely restrainedly told him:
“It’s not common to take pictures of a departure – it happens on arrival” – and she turned her back on him.
The escorts boarded the other carriage, and the Royal Family remained in its own. A minute or two later, the train slowly departed from Kazichene.
What is happening in Vrana at that time?
The train has not yet disappeared towards the heights of Vakarel, the smoke is still spreading back to Milkovitsa, when the militiamen from the Kazichene station, loaded on a truck, arrive at the Vrana Palace, shouting atrociously – “Down with the monarchy! Long live the republic!” They expel all the employees outside, replace the old guards with new ones, theirs. Their commandant Georgiev and the fatal Bogdanov seal the palace building after a solemn tour around the rooms. They did not allow the dispatch of the Queen’s extra luggage, about a carriage volume, nor did they allow any of us to enter the house. So everything there remained in their hands – money, belongings, and properties. Nobody raised a question about them …”
(Razsukanov, A. Notes on my service in the Palace, 1969)
THE PALACE OF VRANA AFTER 1946
Georgi Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov, the new communist rulers, initially settled in Vrana. In the period 1947–1949, meetings of the Political Body of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party and the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria took place in the palace. Herein Georgi Dimitrov has received the oppositional parties’ leaders who remonstrated against the political freedoms’ violation in Bulgaria. Only a few months later, the opposition was defeated and subjected to persecution and repression.
Later Valko Chervenkov and Todor Zhivkov lived in Vrana. In the 50s of the 20. century, some interior parts of the royal building have been restructured after a design by Arch. Shopov. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza-Pahlavi, and his wife, Empress Farah, visited here in the late 1960s. On this occasion, the communist elite decides to welcome the imperial couple in a ‘royal’ manner: for the gala lunch given in the Karelian Dining Room, the lemon-yellow porcelain set with King Ferdinand’s monogram was taken out! Parts of the set are preserved to this day.
At the beginning of January 1948, the President of the republic of the people, Vasil Kolarov, issued a decision stipulating that the already expropriated property of the Royal Family should be exploited as follows: the Vrana, Tsarska Bistritsa, Krichim palaces, and the house in the village of Banya, Karlovo region, have to be reserved for state needs; the old and the new palace in Vrana are provided for summer residences of the Chairman of the Republic and Prime Minister, Georgi Dimitrov. The art collection from the Palaces should be reviewed by a special commission and divided into three parts: paintings for the decoration of the people’s government premises; paintings to be handed over to the Art Gallery; and those with monarchical content, “which have to be taken down and given of storage to a special place.” It is ordered that the Vrana’s farm is reserved for governmental needs.
In those years, Ho Chi Minh, Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, and others visited Vrana as guests of the party and state leaders. From that time to the mid-1980s, the Vrana Palace remained associated with the so-called “secondary delegations” – a label stuck by the ‘elite’ circle of the communist officials to the representatives of countries gaining their independence through decolonization.
Todor Zhivkov remained living in Vrana for a short time, until 1976 when he left the palace to move into the then-completed Boyana government residence.
On November 8th, 1988, the Political Body of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party decided to hand over the Vrana Palace and the park around it to the Sofia People’s Council.
Since May 1992, the Vrana Palace has been declared a cultural monument of national importance.