Meanwhile… in Bulgaria
.. Over the years I’ve visited my fair share of abandoned buildings. They’ve always held a very strong attraction for me. Somehow, their silent decaying facades offer the perfect blank canvas for an introverted imagination like mine… literally allowing me to conjure up vivid images of the past in my present. Unfortunately, I fear that this may be the best opportunity I have to experience the reality of time travel in my life time, something that I’ve fantasised about incessantly since I was a small child.
It has to be said, that when I was younger there were a hell of a lot more interesting derelict buildings around. These days, in my country at least, it’s very unfashionable to let a significant building die gracefully. Aside from the money-making implications, we tend to feel that we are somehow disrespecting our heritage by allowing them to decay, and so, often we attempt to stop the march of time by tidying them up and imprisoning them behind a red rope, preserving them in a most awkward state of disrepair for future generations to line up and look at from a viewing platform. The ironic thing is that abandoned buildings feel alive to me. They are involved in a beautiful natural process that the act of preservation will, by its nature, halt and kill.
Of course my opinion is an unfairly idealised and overly romantic one. The argument for preserving old buildings is a very strong one that I wholeheartedly support myself. However. On the rare occasions that I get to visit a forgotten building as magnificent as this one, I can’t help day dreaming about some of the incredible monumental relics I know back home and quietly wishing that a few more of them had been left to grow old and perish naturally rather than being unceremoniously hooked up to the proverbial life support machine of modern tourism as is so often the case these days.
Our first view of Buzludzha in the snow storm
I first heard about the Buzludzha monument (pronounced Buz’ol’ja) last summer when I was attending a photo festival in Bulgaria. Alongside me judging a photography competition was Alexander Ivanov, a Bulgarian photographer who had gained national notoriety after spending the last 10 years shooting ‘Bulgaria from the Air’. Back then he showed me some pictures of what looked to me like a cross between a flying saucer and Doctor Evil’s hideout perched atop a glorious mountain range.
I knew instantly that I had to go there and see it for myself.
Sure enough, 6 months later amidst the worst winter weather the country had experienced for many years, I was back in Bulgaria, and with the help of my friend Kaloyan Petrov we drove the 250km from Sofia to the edge of the Balkan Mountain range in which this magnificent building is located.
Every day we had a gruelling trek through deep snow to reach the monument. Photo: Kaloyan Petrov
Buzludha is Bulgaria’s largest ideological monument to Communism. Designed by architect Guéorguy Stoilov, more than 6000 workers were involved in its 7 year construction including 20 leading Bulgarian artists who worked for 18 months on the interior decoration. A small, universally expected donation from every citizen in the country formed a large portion of the funds required to build this impressive structure that was finally unveiled in 1981 on what was the 1300th anniversary of the foundation of the Bulgarian state.
Buried in the monument’s concrete structure, is a time capsule containing a message for future generations explaining the significance of the building.
… The monument during its glory days
The decor was a sumptuous mixture of marble and glass including a magnificent main hall containing 500sq metres of mosaic fresco depicting Bulgarian and Soviet communist themes.
The impressive former main auditorium
Mosaic frescoes around the gallery area
In 1989, Bulgaria’s bloodless revolution ended with the disbandment of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Ownership of the monument was ceded to the state and consequently it was left to ruin.
Today, this incredible derelict building stands as an iconic monument to an abandoned ideology.
. . .
A terrible snow storm surrounded the monument for the first 4 days we spent on the mountain. During our daily visits to the site, I did not once get to see this fantastic structure from a distance. Striding towards it through deep powder, it would only emerge from the dense white fog just a matter of metres away.
Finally, on the 5th day of our stay the weather began to change.
As the weather started to clear up, the monument began to reveal itself
It was always my plan to try and fly a microlight over the Balkan mountains to try and get a shot of Buzludzha from the air. Unfortunately, after waiting all week for the storm to clear, it didn’t look promising for a flight especially since my pilot had to depart imminently in order to travel to the other side of the country where he was beginning a new 6 month contract doing geological surveys. However, on his last day before leaving we decided to risk it even though the weather was still unpredictable. He forecast a 50/50 chance of seeing anything.
Above the clouds at -25°C
On the first attempt, we were forced to ascend to 1500ft to avoid the cloud cover over the mountains. (Flying through clouds in a microlight is not a good idea). We were up in the air for a good hour but came back with nothing more than some pretty shots of the tops of the clouds. My focusing finger went completely numb after just 10 minutes of flying even with my gloves on.
On the ground, we waited another few hours but the cloud didn’t budge. I was gutted. Then, at the eleventh hour, I pleaded with the pilot to take me back up and this time we decided to fly in low under the cloud. Needless to say, it was a quick flight… there and back in half and hour with 2 dangerously windy circumnavigations of the monument… probably the scariest 30 minutes of my recent life. Between the frost bitten fingers and frozen eyelids, I just about managed to get some snaps.
Making our approach to the ridge under cloud level
The monument’s impressive dome was originally covered with thirty tones of copper.
… and the two 12m tall stars either side of the top of its 70m tower were adorned with ruby coloured glass. Fabricated in Russia, these stars were three times larger than their counterparts at the Kremlin.
. . .
All week, thus far this mountain top had been an eerie and mysterious place for me, but since the snow had started to clear from the air it had really begun to open up and reveal itself along with the true majesty of its location.
When the cloud finally cleared, the view was spectacular
By sunset I was back on the ground and for the first time since we arrived I got to appreciate the full magnificence of Mount Buzludzha. This is a site of deep historical importance for Bulgaria’s socialist movement for it was on this spot in 1891 that a secret assembly led to the formation of the movement who’s influence spanned nearly 100 year’s of the country’s modern history.
The next morning I got up promptly at first light and trekked up to the monument in the most glorious dawn weather possible. It was as if I had been transported to a completely different place. So calm and serene.
Either side of the entrance are Socialist slogans written in large concrete Cyrillic letters
Above the entrance the words ‘Forget your past’ have been daubed in red paint.
Once inside, the deep snow took a bit of navigating…
Looking up one of the staircases into the main auditorium..
Many of the original mosaics remain intact…
… others have disappeared with the souvenir hunters
The old gallery area still maintains its phenomenal views of the Balkan mountain range
… such a magnificent spot for this beautiful building…
Buzludzha… If Blofeld was a real person… he would definitely live here
. . .
In September 2011, the Bulgarian cabinet transferred ownership of the monument to the Bulgarian Socialist party.
Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov declared, “We shall let them take care of it because here it also holds true that a party which does not respect its past and its symbols has no future”.
They have still not come to an agreement about what to do with it.
To date, every year at the end of July, 30-40,000 Bulgarian Socialists still congregate at Buzludzha to mark the founding of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party.
. . .
Want to visit Buzludzha for yourself? HERE is the location on google earth.
Think you need a better camera? Click HERE
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