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The Buzludzha monument: once Bulgaria’s tribute to communism, now a ruin that fascinates visitors

Petra Bjelica

Formally known as the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the Buzludzha monument is today famous for its resemblance to a ruined UFO, a place of pilgrimage for lovers of abandoned places.

A unique and fascinating monument, it was primarily built as a site for the commemoration of Bulgarian social communism in the form of a saucer-shaped building with a large tower by its side.  In the heart of Bulgaria, amidst the mountains, it was opened in 1981 and served its function for only eight years. It was closed in 1989 after the fall of the communist regime.

First of all, the Buzludzha peak of the Shipka Mountain is historically important to the Bulgarian people. In 1877 it was the site of a major battle with the Turks called the Battle of Shipka Pass, under whose rule the Bulgarians lived for about 500 years. In 1891 the Turks were finally expelled. Afterward, it was an important site for the rise of socialism in Bulgaria. Under the guidance of philosopher Dimitar Blagoev, a group of socialists secretly met in 1891 and laid the foundations for the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, which later became the Bulgarian Communist Party.

In 1974, the party started building a monument in this raw, mountainous terrain that would celebrate two main historical events in which Russia played a major role. First, the country’s freeing itself from Ottoman rule, and second, the defeat of Hitler’s rule and the fascist domination of Bulgaria in 1944. The idea was to build a monument that would serve the Bulgarian people and provide a symbolic headquarters for the party. It is said to be a monument for the people that had been both built and financed by the people. Since it was always open to the public, it had the character of an educational pilgrimage that associated the communist regime with other heroes from Bulgaria’s past.

The architect behind the project was Georgi Stoilov. It was his idea to finance the construction with money raised from citizens. The donations had a form with a suggested amount, and the Bulgarian people raised 16.2 million Bulgarian levs. Of that, 14 million levs were used for the construction, which in today’s currencies is worth about $35 million. Units of the Bulgarian Army undertook work on the construction, with the help of about 60 artists that worked on murals and large statues and around 1,000 volunteers.

The main project includes the saucer-shaped building made of concrete and a 350-foot-high tower. The UFO-like building consists of a great circular hall that was built for conferences, celebrations, and state functions called the Solemn Hall. It is covered with mosaics of bronze and red details, with portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin at one side, and Todor Zhivkov (a communist leader from 1954 to 1989), Dimitar Blagoev (the founder of Bulgarian Socialism), and Georgi Dimitrov (the first leader of communist Bulgaria) on the other. The mosaics in the assembly hall covered around 510 square meters and are made of 35 tons of cobalt glass brought from Ukraine.

The other murals are positioned on the circular balcony and were made of Bulgarian natural stones, rendering various scenes from Bulgarian history showing victory and prosperity. In the center of the ceiling is the mosaic piece depicting the emblem of a hammer and a sickle, with the inscription, “Proletarians of all countries, Unite!” The high tower is interesting because of its red stars on the top that are said to be bigger than the one in the Kremlin; in fact, at 39 feet across, they are the biggest in the world.

Unfortunately, today the monument is completely abandoned and in a state of disrepair. After 1989, when the government fell from power, it was not used at all. The main entrance was sealed, and for a while, the guards took care of it. But on the same day that the guards were removed, vandals stole the copper ceiling. After that, it was completely left vulnerable to vandalism and destruction. Most artworks from the inside were removed, walls were covered with graffiti such as “Lurkers of the world, unite”; “Never forget your past”; and “Enjoy Communism” redrawn to mimic a Coca-Cola logo. Even apart from efforts to distance itself from a socialism heritage and the removal of the vestiges of communism, the harsh weather conditions severely damaged the building.

Here is another story from us: The Belogradchik Fortress is one of the best-preserved strongholds in Bulgaria

But today, despite the ruined state in which it has been left, the Bazludzha monument has become a point of fascination for mainly Western travelers interested in Socialist past and has started to attract media attention. And despite the risk one has to go through to enter, it attracts more and more visitors on a yearly basis. The future of the building that has nearly faced complete ruin is still unknown. As a property of the state, it remains abandoned, and despite some efforts to renovate it and try to de-politicize it to transform it into a heritage site, officials have shown little interest in acknowledging its value.

Petra Bjelica

Petra Bjelica is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News