Roundtrip to monuments from the communist era in Bulgaria

July 30th, 2018 Posted by Gifted Sofia No Comment yet

Even though Bulgaria is relatively small, it is one of the countries with the largest number of monuments in the world, most of them were built during the communist era. They are dispersed over most towns and villages, as well as many peaks, forests and other remote spots. The erection of memorial symbols began immediately after the achieving independence from Ottoman rule. However, the true boom in their construction started in the communist era, when over a thousand different sized monuments were built in less than 50 years.

So, let’s make a roundtrip to the best examples!

We will start the journey from Sofia and take you all the way to the seaside and back, fasten your seatbelts please: )

Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia, photography: Nikola Mihov

Once in Sofia you should visit the Knyzheska garden and see the Monument of the Soviet Army. It was built back in 1954. The original plan was to erect the monument opposite the former Royal Palace, but the sudden death of Georgi Dimitrov, and the subsequent construction of a mausoleum ( demolished in 1999 ) in which his body was displayed required a change of plans. Until the end of 1989, the monument was one of the capital’s emblematic spots, where many official celebrations take place. Immediately after the fall of the communist regime, the monument became the source of a passionate public debate, and its walls are mostly covered in graffiti and political slogans ever since.

Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia, photography: Nikola Mihov

On June 17th 2011 it made it to the news worldwide after the sensational intervention of the local artist crew Destructive creation:

Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia, credit: Destructive Creation

The graffiti was cleaned within 3 days and became even more legendary. You can still find animated 3D cards of that intervention at our place: )

Banner of peace in Sofia, photography: Nikola Mihov

Another must see object in Sofia is the Banner of peace monument known locally as Kambanite ( meaning “the bells” ). It was built on the occasion of the first Banner of Peace International Children’s Assembly, which took place in Sofia in 1979, and was the idea of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the then-Chairman of Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, member of the Politburo of the Bulgarian Communist Party, and daughter of the communist leader Todor Zhivkov.

The monument’s key design motif is the bell – a symbol of peace and “the antithesis of weaponry”. Seven bells, symbolizing the Earth’s seven continents, hang at the top of four vertical concrete wings pointing in the four cardinal directions. This centerpiece is surrounded by two concrete semicircles holding nearly one hundred bells, which were sent by the countries participating in the assembly.

The 1300 kg bell of Bulgaria, photography: Nikola Mihov

After the changes of 1989 the monument and the surrouding park became abandoned and some of the bells got stolen. Nowadays it is again in good condition and worth a visit for sure.

Pantheon of the hereos of the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885, photography: Nikola Mihov

Our next stop is the Pantheon Mother Bulgaria, some 40 km away from Sofia. It is located outside the northwestern village of Gurgulyat, where a squad led by Lieutenant Hristo Popov and supported by the local population held off a numerically superior Serbian army in a key battle in 1885, preventing it from advancing to Sofia.

Pantheon of the hereos of the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885, photography: Nikola Mihov

The monument, whose surface area is 700 sq m, is shaped as a sliced pyramid symbolizing the unity between heaven, where the souls of the dead reside, and earth, where their bones remain.  It is made of a single slab of red concrete. Architect of the monument is Georgi Stoilov, who also designed one of our next stops -> Buzludzha.

We are heading towards Plovdiv and we make a quick stop in a village called Perushtitsa.

Monument Of The Three Generations in Perushtitsa, photography: Nikola Mihov

The Three Generations Monument stands on Vlasevitsa hill in the south of Perushtitsa. It is where the insurgents during the April uprising of 1876 had established their defensive positions. After fierce fighting the Ottoman troops set fire to the city. The leaders of the uprising killed their wives and children before committing suicide, so as to not fall into the hands of the enemy. The monument is dedicated to “the heroes who perished in the three stages of the struggle for Bulgaria’s freedom”. A total of 348 inhabitants of Perushtitsa were killed during the April Uprising, six died during the communist uprising of September 1923, and 28 died during the resistance movement of 1941-44.  Nowadays the monument is quite neglected .

Monument Of The Three Generations in Perushtitsa, photography: Nikola Mihov

Our next stop is Plovdiv, the second biggest city in Bulgaria, known also as the city of the 7 hills. Well, one of those hills is dominated by Alyosha:

Monument of the Soviet army in Plovdiv, photography: Nikola Mihov

The monument of the Soviet Army in Plovdiv rises atop Bunardzhik hill. Nearly a hundred steps and stone alleys lead to the 11 meter high statue of a soviet soldier, who is known as Alyosha. An inscription on its base reads: “Glory to the invincible Soviet Army of Liberation”, while both its sides are adorned with “heroic scenes” from World War 2 and the welcoming of the Red Army to Bulgaria. Very near stands a memorial to the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, which was built in 1881. It is where the hill derives its official name – “Liberators Hill”. The view above the city is worth climbing up for sure. But let’s continue to another must see object in the city:

Memorial Complex “Brotherly mound” in Plovdiv, photography: Nikola Mihov

The memorial complex Brotherly mound is located in the park for “Leisure and Culture” in Plovdiv. Its silhouette is reminiscent of a Thracian mound, while a birds-eye view reveals a stylized stone wreath. It’s dedicated to “the heroes that have given their life for the freedom of the motherland”. The inner space of the monument has a total of 19 sculptural compositions with a joint length of 90 meters.

Memorial Complex “Brotherly mound” in Plovdiv, photography: Nikola Mihov

After Plovdiv we are heading to Kazanlak in order to check the incredible UFO called Buzludzha:

Buzludzha monument, photography: Nikola Mihov

The Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) stands 1,440 m above sea level on Mount Buzludzha in the Balkan Mountains. It was erected for the 90th anniversary of the Buzludzha Congress, where the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (which the BCP recognizes as its predecessor) was founded. The congress was held on August 2nd 1891, at the foot of the peak.

Buzludzha monument, photography: Nikola Mihov

The silhouette of the monument’s lower body resembles a wreath, as a ” symbol of the people’s gratitude”. The 70 m pillar towering above it is a representation of a “flying communist flag”, and is encrusted with two 12 meter ruby stars, which were crafted in the USSR. Verses from “The Internationale” and “The Workers’ March” were inscribed over the main entrance, while the interiors were faced with marble, granite and red velvet. Two mosaic murals illustrate “the heroic history of the Communist Party”, with portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin, as well as of the founder of the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party Dimitar Blagoev, celebrated communist leader Georgi Dimitrov, and the leader of the BCP at the time Todor Zhivkov.  Brilliantly lit at night, the monument with its giant ruby glass stars could be seen from a distance of up to 30 km. It took 8 years and approximately 37.5 million USD to complete the complex in 1981. The building was decorated by some of the most prominent Bulgarian artists of that time. More than 80 people were busy maintaining the building until 1989.

Buzludzha monument, photography: Nikola Mihov

After 1992 the building was nationalized and soon after practically abandoned. The massive metal entrance doors and the 30-ton copper roof were stolen, as were the windows, and
the electrical and sound systems. Most of the mosaics were destroyed, adding to the monument’s decrepit state.

Buzludzha monument, photography: Nikola Mihov

Unfortunately nowadays you can’t enter the building anymore, but this shouldn’t stop you, it is still an incredible place to see and experience throughout the whole year. Just watch out, it is one of the windiest places in Bulgaria and weather can change really quickly.

Our journey continues to the seaside. On the way we stop in Stara Zagora to check another impressive monument:

Defenders of Stara Zagora monument, photography: Nikola Mihov

The Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex stands in the Chadur Mogila area outside Bulgaria’s sixth-largest city, where one of the most important battles of the Russo Turkish War of 1877-78 took place. On July 31st 1878, the Russian and Bulgarian defenders of the city were forced to retreat in the face of a numerically superior Ottoman force. Over 600 hundred soldiers, most of them Bulgarian volunteers, died in the battle. The Ottoman army razed the city, burned it to the ground, and wiped out more than half of its population.

The monument’s centerpiece is a 50-meter-tall concrete replica of the Samara Flag, one of the most important symbols of the Bulgarian Army. The flag was sent as a gift to the Bulgarian volunteers in the war by the citizens of the Russian town of Samara. During the battle for Stara Zagora, several flag-bearers perished while defending it.

Next stop is Varna at the north seaside of Bulgaria.

Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship in Varna, photography: Nikola Mihov

The Monument of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship is located on a hill on the outskirts of the city. It is where the Russian Emperor Nicholas I established his army’s headquarters during the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. The monument was built in 1978 on top of a nuclear bunker constructed in 1957 with the help of Soviet experts.
The monument’s silhouette resembles a bird in flight. On its wings, it bears the figures of Soviet soldiers being welcomed by Bulgarian women in folk costumes offering bread and salt. A massive inscription in the monument’s middle rode once: “Ancient and Eternal Friendship”. The ceremonial hall on the monument’s second floor is decorated with a five-meter concrete star in reverse relief, inside which the Bulgarian and Soviet flags are hoisted. The hall was used for initiation ceremonies for recruits to the Communist Party and its
youth organizations.

Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship in Varna, photography: Nikola Mihov

As you can guess the monument is abandoned after 1989 and what could be stolen disappeared soon. The view from the roof terrace and the interior spaces of the monument are incredible if you manage to enter on your own risk.

Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship in Varna, photography: Nikola Mihov

Our last but not least stop on this journey is the city of Shumen.

Monument of the founders of the Bulgarian state, photography: Nikola Mihov

The Memorial Complex to the Founders of the Bulgarian State rises on a hill outside the northeastern city of Shumen, which lies precisely between the medieval Bulgarian capitals of Pliska and Preslav and near the site of a former prisoner‑of‑war camp for Allied pilots during World War Two. The monument, whose silhouette can be seen from a distance of up to 30 km, was erected in 1981 “to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the Bulgarian state” and is reached through a stairway with 1300 steps.

Monument of the founders of the Bulgarian state, photography: Nikola Mihov

The monument is in the list of the 100 most important touristic destinations in Bulgaria, but is not recognized as having a cultural heritage status, which prevents funds from being allocated.
As a result, the technical maintenance of the monument was neglected. Parts of the leaden lion have fallen off, while in 2006 the hoof of Asparukh’s horse collapsed. Due to a lack of funds, the two‑ton granite block has been replaced with a plastic dummy. Nevertheless this monument is extremly impressive and you won’t regret visiting it!

Monument of the founders of the Bulgarian state, photography: Nikola Mihov

We hope you enjoyed the ride!

Be sure to check the project Forget Your Past and try to find a copy of Nikola Mihov’s book, although both editions are sold out for quite a long time. We can’t wait for the upcoming new third edition of the book!

Text: Valeri Gyurov, based on the book “Forget your past” by Nikola Mihov, publisher: Janet45



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