Located at the historical peak of Buzludzha in the Central Stara Planina, Bulgaria, stands a magnificent piece of architecture. The Buzludzha Monument was built by the Bulgarian communist regime to commemorate the events in 1891 when the socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev assembled secretly in the area to form an organized socialist movement. The peak itself was the place of the final battle between Bulgarian rebels led by Hadji Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha and the Turks, in 1868. At one time, the Buzludzha Monument was the most celebrated monument dedicated to the sociopolitical movement of communism. Now, in the mountains of Buzludzha National Park it stands abandoned, vandalized, and devastated.
The saucer-shaped monument rises to a height of 107m, and was designed by the architect Georgi Stoilov. More than 60 Bulgarian artists collaborated on the design of murals for the site, and thousands of ‘volunteers’ were involved in the construction process, which took almost seven years to complete. In the 15 meter-high main hall of the memorial a 500 sq.m. fresco present portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and the Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov. The dome of the structure was covered with thirty tones of cooper. Two 12m stars of ruby glass was built-in on the top of the 70m high pylon of the monument that symbolizes a waving communist flag. The Soviet star which adorns the tower of Buzludzha was three times larger than that at the Kremlin.Scrawled above the main entrance in red paint, Latin characters spell out the phrase ‘FORGET YOUR PAST’, flanked on either side by powerful socialist stanzas emblazoned in Bulgarian Cyrillic.
Bulgarian Communism came to an end in 1989, and immediately afterwards, the headquarter came into disuse. In 1991 the monument, which still belonged to the ex-communist party, was ceded to the state and was abandoned, looted and left to self-destruction.
For a more detailed story of Buzludzha and communism in Bulgaria, read The Bohemian Blog.
Le monument de Buzludzha ou maison du Parti communiste bulgare est une ancienne salle de congrès, aujourd’hui abandonnée, situé en Bulgarie, à quelques kilomètres au sud de Gabrovo, non loin du mémorial de Chipka. Construit sous le régime communiste de la République populaire de Bulgarie, ce bâtiment est situé sur le sommet de la Bouzloudja (ou Buzludja) à 1 441 m d’altitude. En 1868 ce fut le lieu de la dernière bataille entre les Bulgares (menés par les rebelles Hadji Dimitar et Stefan Karadzha) et les Turcs.
Ce monument fut construit par les communistes pour commémorer les événements de 1891 quand les socialistes, menés par Dimitar Blagoev, se réunirent secrètement à cet endroit pour organiser le mouvement socialiste. Il a été inauguré en 1981.
Conçu par l’architecte Guéorguy Stoilov, ce bâtiment a mobilisé pendant 7 ans plus de 6000 travailleurs2 dont 20 célèbres peintres et sculpteurs bulgares qui ont travaillé pendant 18 mois à la décoration intérieure.
Il fut financée par des fonds gouvernementaux mais surtout grâce à des dons de partisans pour un total de près de 14 186 000 de leva, soit 7 000 000 d’euros environ. Une souscription nationale avait en effet été lancée pour financer les travaux de cette impressionnante structure mais une grande partie des fonds recueillis ont finalement été utilisés pour l’édification d’une autre structure, tout aussi imposante et à l’inspiration soviétique : le monument de Choumen, construit sur les hauteurs du plateau, au-dessus de la ville, à l’occasion du 1300e anniversaire de la fondation de l’État bulgare.
La construction du bâtiment fut confiée à la division Génie Civile de l’armée bulgare ainsi qu’à des volontaires. Le maître d’œuvre fut le général Delcho Delchev, commandant de la division du Génie Civile de Stara Zagora.
La bâtiment comporte plusieurs niveaux, une passerelle panoramique et la salle principale ornée d’un plafond en forme de coupole suspendue à près de 15 mètres de hauteur. Cette coupole impressionnante était recouvert à l’origine de 30 tonnes de cuivre, pillé aux fils des années et fragilisant la structure de l’édifice. Attenante à la structure principale, on trouve une grande tour de 70 m de hauteur ornée de part et d’autre de deux étoiles de verre couleur rubis, chacune haute de 12m de hauteur. Elles seraient 3 fois plus grandes que les fameuses étoiles rouge des tours du Kremlin.
À l’origine, le décor intérieur était composé de superbes fresques en mosaïque de marbre et de verre, y compris dans le magnifique auditorium de la salle principale, d’une superficie de 500 m2, où la fresque géante en mosaïque représente des principaux thèmes communistes bulgares et soviétiques.
Des mosaïques, abîmées, en pierre, serties d’étoiles couleur rubis, représentent des scènes de bataille. Si les portraits de Marx, Engels et Lénine sont encore reconnaissables, les historiens de l’art réclament la préservation du monument aux mosaïques monumentales, œuvre selon eux des meilleurs artistes de l’époque.
Pourtant, aucune des institutions publiques ne prend l’initiative de conserver et rénover ce monument historique, bien que lié à la douloureuse histoire politique du pays. Le parti socialiste bulgare lui-même n’engage aucune action en faveur de l’entretien de son plus important symbole.
C’est en septembre 2011 que le gouvernement bulgare a transféré la propriété du monument au Parti socialiste bulgare. Le Premier ministre bulgare, Boïko Borissov a déclaré à cette occasion : « Nous allons les laisser en prendre soin parce que nous pensons qu’un pays qui ne respecte pas son passé et ses symboles n’a pas d’avenir”. “Ce monument, unique en Europe, une fois restauré, attirera beaucoup de touristes, notamment occidentaux. C’est un témoignage historique impressionnant”, répondra, Boytcho Bivolarski, dirigeant régional des socialistes à Stara Zagora (centre du pays).
Mais, depuis cette date, le Parti socialiste bulgare et l’État ne sont toujours pas parvenus à un accord sur un projet de rénovation du « Monument de Buzludzha ».
Forget Your Past
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