An abandonned gigantic monstrosity in the mountains of Central Balkans: The Buzludzha Monument. When we first heard about that, we knew: We have to go there!
It was built on the peak of Mount Buzludzha exactly at the place where in August 1877 a group of 5,000 Bulgarian and 2,500 Russian rebels repulsed an attack against the peak by a nearly 40,000 strong Ottoman army.This epic battle ended the more than 500 years-long reign of Ottomans in Bulgaria.
Completed at the height of communist power in 1981 this object was considdered as one of the greatest icons of the communist world and served as a headquarter for the Bulgarian Communist’s Party. A symbol to illustrate power that took 7 years and more than 6000 workers to complete. In fact, the read Soviet star gracing the 107 meter high tower was even three times larger than at Kremlin, what also illustrated the outstanding position of Bulgaria.
However, after the fall of the Soviet Union also this symbol of power derelicted and was left to the elements. First being exposed to vandalism, then passing into silence. Many Bulgarians didn’t want to have anything to do with this communistic past illustrated by the words ‘forget your past’ scrawled above the main entrance.
The travel to Buzludzha
Officially the entry to the Buzludzha is illegal and the only entry has been securely lock up for many years. Nevertheless in a forum we read that there was something like a broken window where it is possible to climb inside. So that was the plan. Our Bulgarian host established our contact to Vesco. An independet mountain guide that lives in that area and knows his way around.
Hence, from the Black Sea shore we hitchhiked inland to Plovdiv, the biggest city in the area of the monument and therefore our first basis. From there we wanted to find a way via Kazan Luk to the Buzludzha Mountain.
After we arrived in Plovdiv, late in the evening we met with Vesco. This guy with long curly hair has so much energy and such a positive dynamic attitude. He offered to give us a lift to Kazan Luk since he had to go there anyway. So we met him again in the next morning and on the way he told us about the access in question to the monument. He further explained that there is even a way to the top of the 107m high tower. However, this one can not by found without knowing since the regular access has been bricked-up many years ago.
After a drive of around one hour he stopped at the crossing where the hostorical shipka pass starts. This pass is the highest of all Bulgaria and he said: “I cannot go there with my car, you will need a better one. It’s about 12km from here.” Then he continued explaining: “When you arrive there, remember that there are two mountain huts. A big one and a small one. You want to go to the small one: ‘Malka’. There you will ask for Simeon. He knows the way to the tower. Say hello to him from Vesco!”
Attentively he stopped a passing SUV and explained to the driver where we wanted go. He pressed two apples in our hands and then at a bound dissapeared in his car again. When we arrived up there the driver dropped us of and first time we saw the monument with our own eyes. Yet, we had to find this mountain hut now, without actually knowing where to search. So we decided to walk to the forest where we saw a small turnoff. We walked into the forest and actually really found a hut there. We rang the door bell and knocked at the door… nothing happened. After walking around the hut for a while we had to accept that there was no one here. So we had to walk back and continue searching. Back at the path we noticed little stairways leading up the forest which we decided to walk up. They led to a clearance where we saw another hut and heard a barking dog. A good sign. Again we knocked the door.
A young guy opened the door. Without knowing where exactly we are, we just said: “We are looking for Simeon. We are friends of Vesco!” Thereupon he said: “Okay come in!” While we were entering I asked with a sneaking suspicion: “Do you know Simeon?” “I am Simeon.”, he answered. He was 22 years old and about to finish his studies in history. His plan is to relate his historical knowledge to the job as a mountain guide. To connect his interest in history with his love for the nature. Later on our stay he explained me that he is creating his own tours through some sites in the mountains and valleys around here to also give the people a historical understanding.
When we told him about our plan, he smiled and said: “Of course, I can show you the way.” After eating and seeing our rooms we prepared our headlamps and then set out to the monument.
While we were walking along a trail in the forst Simeon told us that he was happy that we came to see the monument. He said most people just come to drink and show few interest in the monument.
From here a small path winds its way along to the summit. There is some vaguely unsettled feeling in standing right in front of the this concrete monstrosity. The sheer size and the bizarre design is stunning.
Both sides of the enty are adorned with cyrillic letters saying in an old Bulgarian dialect:
“On your feet, despised comrades,
on your feet, you slaves of labour!
Downtrodden and humilated
stand up against the enemy!
Let us with no mercy, without forgiveness,
yes, we take down the old, rotten system…
Working men, working women,
from all countries come together!
Forward! Comrades without fear,
build strong our great deeds!
To work and to creat…”
We walked around the building and found a small hole in the wall. “This is the first entrance leading to basement.” Simeon noted. But it was to small for us so we continued until we arrived to another hole which was about 1,50m above ground and really looked a bit like a broken window. “That is our entry.”, Simeon said and continued: “From here you are going on your own risk. I never heard of someone dying here but you have to know that things might be not that stable or fall down.”
Then he put on the head lamp und climbed through the narrow gape into the monument. We climbed after him. Inside we switched on our lamps and saw that we were in a staircase of grey concrete. Walking up these stairs it was hard to imagine that this was a magnificent place not such a long time ago.
And suddenly at the end of the stairs the impressive main conference room appeared. Creepy and powerful at once.
I imagined how it was back in the old days and what kind of feeling it must have been to stand here in the middle of the hall give his speech.
Stairs leading up from the main chamber to the outer corridor.
Nothing left of the windows made out of the best and most modern glas in their days except the phenomenal vie over the mountains to the valley.
The complex was designed by the architect Georgi Stoilov and more than 60 artists were involved in designing the murals.
Yet, beside this huge main chamber and the outer corridor there was a lot more to explore. Especially the network of tunnels and corridors which seemed to be abandonned for years exerted a certain attraction on me.
In the middle Dimitar Blogoev, an idealist and philosopher, that is often listed as the founder of bulgarian socialism. On the right side, Georgi Dimitrov, another important Bulgarian politician of the communist’s party.
From the conference hall several stairways led down to the basement. There we looking for the way to the tower. However, this system of tunnels, corridors and rooms resembled a labyrinth and even Simeon couldn’t find the way. Somehow everything looked the same and soon I had the feeling that we were walking the same stairs and looking in the same rooms over and over again. Finally I heard Simeon shouting: “I found it!”
Hidden under a big stairway there was a narrow corridor. This was the underground way to the tower. Without any windows or gaps where light could shine through it was totally dark. We wandered through derelicted rooms and musty corridors. Then we had to walk down more stairs and over some hard dirt. Finally we arrived to a small chamber with a ledder. The ledder to the top of the tower. Here Simeon said goodbye and Tomek and I started to climb the ledders.
After around 15 minutes we climbed through a hutch back to the daylight.
At our surprise up here we met an old friend named Vesco. In total we stayed for 5 days in these mountains and saw sunset as well as sunrise from up there.
The future of Buzludzha is a very uncertain one. It might get restored which is yet very expensive and therefore not very likely. It also has been considdered to pull it down completely. But maybe many people would just prefer doing nothing with it – in line with the rationale ‘forget your past’.
Credits to Tomasz Pawlik who made the great pictures!