THE PALACE PARK
The park of the Vrana Palace is an integral part of the royal mansion. It is a work of great interest until the present, for its high quality and complex stages of development and composition. It occupies 968 decares undeveloped area, and the entire park with the available buildings is 993 decares.
There are four stages in its historical development, depending on the changes in its ownership and management. We associate the first stage with King Ferdinand I’ activity as a passionate botanic scholar and park builder. The second comprises the deed of King Boris III, as a successor of his father’s work and his graduate in the sphere of natural sciences. The third covers the period after 1947 when, by the law on confiscation of the Royal Family’s personal property (VII Grand National Assembly, 1947), the estate passed into the Republic of people’s hands (under the management of the Safety and Security Office). The fourth phase started in 2001 when the Royal Family donated the park to the Sofia Municipality. Now the latter is responsible for its management and maintenance.
FEATURES OF THE PARK
The relief of the park is flat, of 560 m altitude. The park is located along the river Iskar on terrains with soils of alluvial-meadow type. The soil surface is not of entirely natural origin. Part of it is artificially composed over the sandy and gravel deposits of the river. Due to the relatively large area, there are various micro-relief conditions in the park. Soil cover is of altering power, composition, properties, and fertility, depending on the distance to the river bed and the anthropogenic impact. The earth is moderately fertile, with good potential for the development of diverse vegetation.
The climate is temperate continental. The proximity of the Iskar River affects the climate elements too.
Thanks to the efforts of the kings Ferdinand and Boris, the park presents an impressive plant diversity. Its exuberant taxonomy comprises 821 species, belonging to 435 genera and 118 families belonging to 23 phytogeographical elements, concentrated on about 100 hectares. Moreover, the currently collected objective information about the actual participation of herbaceous plants in the general phyto-fund of the park and their distribution among the park elements is a decisive condition for the preserving and restoration of valuable species and cohabitants, especially having in mind the reconstructions and changes made in 1947-2005 in the park area.
Initially, the park’s larger part steps on the ground of the Ottoman Chardakliya Homestead property. In 1898, Prince Ferdinand bought 590 decares of the farm and the surrounding lands. Until 1918, he joined the purchase of some private plots from the villages’ vicinities of Kazichene, Gorublyane, and Lozen. Thus, on abdication, the King left his son a property of 834 decares comprising a park and a homestead with fruit and vegetable gardens, greenhouses and conservatories, and a growing dense and cool forest within the manor’s ground.
King Ferdinand invited prominent foreign landscape gardeners and park designers while sending Bulgarians to study and master gardening in Europe. Until 1908, the landscape gardener was Vasil Georgiev, who undertook the major afforestation activities and built the first alleys and paths in the park – the Main Alley, the Plane Trees Alley, and others.
It is evident from reports, that the park layout was most likely designed by the French Jules Locheau, although the comprehensive plan from this period is missing. He was the first director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sofia from 1887-1908, and later a professor at Versailles, Paris. From 1903 to 1908, the Austrian Johann Kellerer from the Munich Botanical Garden also worked in the park, designing and building the six rock gardens. The King was very fond of the alpine flora on the Bulgarian lands and personally ordered their construction.
In 1906, the Czech Anton Kraus became the principal gardener. Until 1920, they planted most of the trees under his guidance. He laid the foundations for the spatial construction of the remarkable future vistas in the park. In 1911, the “Dahlem” rock garden was arranged, named after the famous Botanical Garden in Berlin. Kraus began shaping the landscapes by creating tree species – oak, redwood, fir, sycamore, liriodendron, linden, pine, etc. Some of which still exist today. Another Czech, Hoffmann, was employed as Kraus’ assistant, who worked at Vrana until 1915. He created the ponds for waterfowl and lotuses. From 1908 to 1918, there was a small branch of the Royal Zoo in Sofia in the park occupied by a deer, two elephants, a camel, yaks, marsh birds, and pheasants. The King bought a couple of elephants from Hamburg, which he called Nal and Damayanti, after the ancient Indian epic characters. Apart from entertaining the royal children, they served the household as farm animals. With the Palace construction and the park’s expansion to the eastern and western direction, its boundaries get generally outlined. Its landscape layout displayed the features of Europe’s classical 19th-century parks.
The second stage of the park development covers the period from the ascension of King Boris III in 1918, to 1947 when the VI Grand National Assembly declared the expropriation and state ownership of the Vrana estate. The main activity in this stage led to completing the formation of the space, reconstruction of the rock gardens and enrichment of the greenery compositions. During these 29 years, several leading professional gardeners and landscape architects have been working in the park, and the principal gardener Wilhelm Schacht stands out with special merits for the overall upgrading of the landscape in terms of space and volume.
During this period the production activity continues. For example, in 1939 (the year of its greatest prosperity) in the estate’s economic section were grown 411 decares of wheat, 184 decares of rye, 65 decares of vetch, 125 decares of potatoes, 40 decares of alfalfa, and others. A total of 1,055 decares of land are occupied by crops. Besides, a huge area is occupied by vegetables and orchards, strawberries, raspberries. In the summer, King Boris hired 186 workers, 35 of them full-time employees, to cultivate this vast homestead. The flowers are quite profitable. For this purpose, a shop for flowers from the Vrana mansion was opened at the Royal Botanical Garden in Sofia.
In the experts’ opinion, from the beginning of its establishment until the forced departure of the Royal Family, the royal mansion of Vrana retains its character of a typical suburban homestead. Also, under the personal care of King Boris, the Vrana manor developed as a decent botanical garden of a park type. The famous academician Ivan Buresh wrote in 1938: “In 1928, the King was able to invite the Bulgarian botanists to the Vrana Palace to examine and amaze this acquisition.”
On December 19th, 1947, the Grand National Assembly adopted a law by which the state withdrew the personal properties of the kings Ferdinand I and Boris III, and their Heirs. The management in the subsequent period carries out general activities to maintain the existing condition taking some care of the vegetation’s renewal. At this stage, the personality of Eng. Todor Kolarov stands out, who began his professional career in the park in 1954, drafting his Ph.D. thesis on the subject. Later he joined the staff at Vrana and remained at work until his retirement in 1994. Over the years, several scientific studies have been conducted on the history, botanical richness, and stages of formation of the park. Based on them, assessments of the park’s condition and the necessary care for its preservation have been made. On June 25th, 1986, the park was declared a monument of lanscape gardening and park art, rated as a “cultural monument of national importance” by the Ministry of Culture. 
On June 4th, 1998, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Bulgaria unanimously decided to declare the law on confiscation of personal property of the Royal Family unconstitutional. In 2001, King Simeon and Princess Maria Louisa donated the Palace park to the Sofia Municipality. Pursuant to the Donors’ will, the Municipality is obliged to manage the park as a natural history museum and determine the rules for open access to visitors.
In 2013, the Municipality decided to close the existing Municipal Enterprise “Park-Museum Vrana” and hand over the park to the Parks and City Gardens Directorate, destroying the autonomy of the 120 years-old park, which inevitably affects its current condition. The care provided by the Sofia Municipality is restricted to a small part of the entire park and negligible to the traditions and practices followed for decades, even after
the property’s nationalization in 1947. In this regard, it is necessary to attract professionals from the whole range of botanical science and landscape engineering, who can help to keep the significance of the Palace park of Vrana as an in-situ collection of environmentally important species of Bulgarian, Balkan, and world flora. It is desirable to foster its potential for enrichment and usage as a resource for research, educational, and promotional purposes.
With proper maintenance and care, systematic ecological and biological research, and monitoring, the park can be a source of genetic material for the use of adapted exotic species.
Not only better governance of the park and regular construction of the landscape is needed to accommodate educational activities. They would require qualified staff and guides to botany and ecology working at the park-museum.
 State Gazette, issue 41/1992