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Is it a bird? A plane? Is it a UFO? It’s the Buzludzha Monument! Once, a huge symbol of the power and might of the Bulgarian Communist regime, attracting people from both the country and all over the world with its bizarre look, monumental construction and embedded ideology. Nowadays, it is completely abandoned. It has been falling apart ever since the end of the communist regime in 1989. This time we are covering one of the most extraordinary and controversial ideological monuments left from Bulgaria’s communist past. And of course, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about it.
You might have seen this outlandish looking building before as it has been included in the list of the 33 most beautiful abandoned places in the world. Its futuristic appearance looks as if taken straight from a science fiction series. This is the main reason for people to call it “the flying saucer”. If you are wondering where the Buzludzha monument is… you will find it in the heart of the Balkan Mountains in central Bulgaria ‘landed’ on the Buzludzha mountain peak.
The Buzludzha peak is a place of national significance. Three important historic events are linked to it. The first one is the the death of Hadzhi Dimitar – one of the most famous revolutionaries against the Ottoman rule who died fighting against Ottoman forces at the peak in 1868.
Following these events in 1877-78 the Battle for Shipka pass was held. It was one of the most decisive battles that lead to the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
Third, the location is the cradle of Bulgarian socialism. In 1891 Dimitar Blagoev held the Buzludha congress that basically founded the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers’ Party. A predecessor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. He chose a place steeped in national significance (the Buzludzha peak) which was also conveniently located in the center of Bulgaria.
The peak with the monument is located right next to the geographical center of the country – Uzana. Of course, adding a lot of symbolism to the chosen location. A curious fact is that the monument has a ‘pilon’ that has a big red star incorporated on its peak. It’s where 150 KW lights were put and when switched on the big red star was supposed to be seen from all over Bulgaria, from the coast of the Danube river in the North, to the coast of Aegean sea at night with clear weather.
The Buzludzha monument was constructed in honor of the congress that gave birth to the Communist ideology in Bulgaria. However, there is also another singificant reason for the construction of the monument. An anniversary. The official inauguration of the monument in 1981 coincided with the opening of several other impressive monuments. Most notably, the National Palace of Culture in Sofia and the monument ‘1300 years’ in Shumen. All of this was part of the official plan of the culture minister at that time (Ludmila Zhivkova) to commemorate the 1300 years anniversary since the creation of the first Bulgarian state.
The decision for the construction of the monument dates back to 1971. However, it started in 1974 and lasted only 7 years. The project consists of a body with a main hall and a ‘pilon’ tower with two red stars. First the peak was ‘flattened’ using TNT to bring the height down by nine metres. The idea was to create a stable foundation, blowing up and moving around 15 000 cubic meters of rock. Around 6000 thousand people were used as labor force including soldiers from the construction corps, volunteers, engineers, artists, designers and sculptors. People had to move and live there in order to work in 3 shifts to meet the nearly impossible deadlines. As a result a number of people died in the process, although this was never mentioned by the Party.
The interior of the monument was covered in richly detailed mosaics, which depicted the history of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Notable scenes featured the faces of international communist heroes – Marx, Engels and Lenin, as well as their Bulgarian counterparts. The struggle of the working class, notable deeds, space travel, warfare, and communist workers images are also present. Probably the most emblematic piece was the one at in the center of the dome that consisted of a sickle and hammer and a quote from The Communist Manifesto: “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”
1981 was the year of Buzludzha’s official inauguration. The monument was active for nearly a decade during which it was visited by nearly 2 million Bulgarians.
After the democratic changes the monument was abandoned, left to the mercy of weather conditions, vandalism, graffiti artists and curious visitors. Nevertheless, the monument is still attracting visitors with its melancholic past, breathtaking views and remarkable achievements in architectural design and engineering. Nowadays there is a project to restore it and convert into a museum. However, the topic is still controversial and requires a lot of funding. You can find more about the project here.
Nowadays, you can go to the monument but you CAN NOT enter! It’s very dangerous to go inside and all of the ‘known’ entrances have been sealed. To add to that since last year (2018) a police patrol is guarding it 24/7. Still, if you are one of those enthusiasts who would like to see it, before its completely gone, there are various ways to get there. The problem is that there is no direct public transport that takes you to the peak. You have the following options:
This is the easiest and most recommended option. It takes you around 3 hours from Sofia. There are two roads that can take you there – from Gabrovo and Kazanlak. The roads are not in the best condition. They are winding around, but the setting is beautiful, so you can enjoy it. The coordinates of the monument are 42°44′08.92″N 25°23′37.86″E
As mentioned before, there is no direct public transport that can take you there. However, you can take a bus and get to either Gabrovo or Kazanlak, which are the two closest cities, located at roughly 30 and 25 km away. Takes around 3-4 hours to get there from Sofia by bus and the prices are around 15-20 BGN. From there you can organize a private transfer, take a taxi or find a new friend to take you to the monument.
There are a lot of companies offering organized tours to Buzludzha. Sometimes they claim it’s too hard to get to the monument by yourself and that is why you should book one, but with a little bit of organization and research there is no problem to do it yourself, unless of course you would like to learn more from a guide and everything is taken care for you.
This option is only doable in the summer, but the road is not so busy, so be prepared to wait.
Since getting there requires time and effort and in the end you can only enjoy the views and building from the outside, here are some other suggestions what you can visit or do in the area:
We hope that this will be useful to all of you. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions. And remember that if you see a glowing red light in the night, you will know where it’s coming from.
Interested in Bulgaria’s communist past? Make sure to join our daily Sofia Communist Tour.
Author: Free Sofia Tour/Sofia Communist Tour Guide – Vasil Georgiev
Photos by: Free Sofia Tour/Sofia Communist Tour Guide – Niki Borisov