After almost a year travelling around tropical climates I decided I wanted (or possibly more like I needed) to swap the palm trees and paradise islands for a completely different look – the look and use of concrete! We’re talking about socialist monuments, ex-soviet relics, brilliant brutalist specimens – yep, I’m back in Eastern Europe. I’m only on day one of this trip and I’m already invigorated, motivated and excited after my visit to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship Monument in Varna. Whilst I wanted to delve straight into chat about that after today’s Facebook post, I’ve found myself diverting off instead and seems only right that I quickly explain where my love for these variety of monuments began. I’m not sure I will entice anyone to come over to the dark side of this kind of tourism but those that do already will get it.
Back in April 2017 I visited Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria with the main purpose of witnessing with my own eyes the marvelous Buzludzha monument. The saucer UFO looking building sat on the peak of Buzludzha mountain is the Memorial to the House of the Communist Party, finished in 1981 as a citizen funded project. With the demise of the Communist Party it closed it’s doors in the early 1990’s and was left to firstly the looters and then the elements. I’m not sure if I should admit this, but I caught glimpse of this extraordinary building towards the end of (the very bad, but so good) film, The Mechanic: Resurrection (I love Jason Statham I do). After seeing it I was like, that building *has* to exist, it looked insane and after a brief google session found it’s location and decided I had to see it immediately. That was it, the beginnings of my interest in socialist architecture. Off I went in search of the UFO. Unlike it’s Hollywood location which is coastal, the real life Buzludzha is in the middle of nowhere surrounded by hills, and only reachable by car (outside of the snowy winter season). You can either hire your own car or join a tour. I booked my private day trip with Nvision Travel which is run by two wonderful Bulgarian sisters, Betty and Beni. The history and architecture of this building is fascinating and simply way too much to try and explain here but I do urge you to visit the website set up talking about the past, present and future of Buzludzha.
When I visited the building it was becoming popular amongst the rise of the urbexing community. Where access may not necessarily be legal to decaying and abandoned places, people will still find a way in and photograph the beauty of the place (*beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder). Just a mere couple of weeks before my visit the government had fully blocked the entrance to Buzludzha. Wood, iron bars and a CCTV camera now covered the once precarious gap in the old boarded up entrance. Marked as a massive health and safety risk to enter the building with it’s crumbling roof the government had found a temporary way to prohibit entry. I was gutted, the inside of the building looked incredible (on the internet), I just wanted to catch a glimpse of the sickle and hammer mosaic in the middle of the roof, or any of the remaining mosaics which once adorned all of the walls. Of course as what always happens to me, a way was found in a few months later. I was very tempted to book a flight and head over immediately to try and go in but whilst I love the spontaneous and romantic notion of it, in reality I’m still scared of rule breaking and probably wouldn’t have risked it. As word got round that there was once again a way in I heard that the tourist numbers rose rapidly – sometimes a hundred a day, the highest recorded being 400 in one day in April 2018! Shortly after this and the last I heard about the building was in May 2018 and that the monument was increasingly deteriorating and being destroyed by the increased tourism and finally guards were stationed at the monument to make sure that no one could enter. This is a massive shame but if the monument is to be preserved in any way, access has to be halted. Whilst I couldn’t get inside I loved the fact that I only spotted four other people (see main picture!) whilst I was there and one other guy climbing out of what looked like a drainage tunnel letting us know “there’s no way in through there”. Thanks mate!