Communist era monuments of Bulgaria. An amalgam of Soviet brutalist architecture and dreary grey cement resulted in numerous communist monuments throughout the country of Bulgaria. Bulgaria resides on the edge of Europe. While a member of the EU its bonds and history tilts toward its protector of Russia and its communist progenitor, the Soviet Union.
Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and joined the European Union in 2007. EU signage is present throughout the country but is scuffling with its past and its Russian roots.
My visit to the capital Sofia coincided with Russia’s Victory Day on May 9th. I observed dozens of pro-Russian locals place flowers at the Monument to the Soviet Army. Others clutched Russian flags. A Soviet soldier stands tall on top of the pedestal surrounded by thankful Bulgarians. The monument was constructed in 1954 on the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Union.
Moments later I passed the Monument to the Tsar Liberator. Emperor Alexander II of Russia liberated Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in a war from 1877-1878. And today, several dozen spirited protestors chanted and sang for Mother Russia. Flags were waved. Pamphlets handed out.
But this was the tip of the iceberg, for wherever I traveled I encountered Bulgaria’s relationship with Russia and the Soviet Union.
Memorial to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument
In the town of Shumen is the Memorial to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument. It is also known as the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria. It was constructed in 1984 and it commemorates the 1300th hundred anniversary of the First Bulgarian Empire. The monument stands at 1,300 feet and can been seen for miles away. The monument stretches 200 feet plus and it is accented with a 1000 ton lion on top. This monument highlights prominent kings and leaders through a series of statues, the state’s conversion to Christianity in the 9th century, and also highlights Bulgaria as the creator of the Cyrillic alphabet. The monument is comprised of blocks and boxy corners and highlighted by a massive colorful and impressive mosaic.
I strolled through the massive structure. I was dwarfed by its size. The statues gazed down, looking fierce. I stood on the edge of the plateau and scanned the town below me. For most of my visit, I had the monument to myself. And I was happy to note that Memorial to the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument was very well maintained.
Park Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship
Park Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship can be found on the Black Sea town of Varna. Varna is a popular place for beach goers and is the headquarters for the Bulgarian Navy. Park Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship stands on Crane Hill at over 300 feet over this mostly flat city. I paced up a long grey stair case to reach the base of this hulking, striking edifice. Four bulky Soviet soldiers with Soviet stars emblazoned on their helmets are stationed on the right side of the structure with three Bulgarian women are placed across from the soldiers.
The Bulgarians and Russians share the Cyrillic alphabet and both follow the Orthodox Church. The monument celebrates the friendship between these two peoples for many decades. The monument spent a significant time in gestation. A design competition took place in 1958, construction began in 1974, and the monument was inaugurated in 1978.
I slipped into a darkened entrance way in the back of the monument. I switched my flashlight on to contest the darkness and slowly made my way to the top of the monument. It was creepy. The interior was decrepit. In its heyday, the interior was a functional area with everything from a conference room to bookshop and rumor has it a nuclear bunker.
I arrived at the top, looking down on the Soviet soldiers. I set up my tripod to catch the sunset over Varna. Despite the wind chilling me, I cracked open a Bulgarian beer and watched the sun fade over the city.
Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex
Forty-eight thousand Turkish soldiers defended on the town of Stara Zagora defended by a small garrison of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers. After a brutal battle the Russians and Bulgarians were defeated in 1877. The Turks razed the city in an orgy of violence. Over 14,000 were murdered and another 10,000 were sold as slaves in the Ottoman Empire.
On its 100th anniversary the Defenders of Stara Zagora Memorial Complex was unveiled in 1877. This incredibly massive structure rests on a hill in Stara Zagora. I stood at the foot of the hill. Wispy white clouds hovered on top of the monument. A cement structure stretched over 150 feet, representing an abstract flag. Adjacent to this structure were seven massive statutes; a Russian officer adjacent to six Bulgarian volunteers. I felt dwarfed next to this brutalist cement behemoth.
I was wowed and impressed by these time-capsule like monuments found throughout Bulgaria, but hands down the most spectacular visit was at the Buzludzha Monument. In fact, it deserves its own post.
Communist era monuments of Bulgaria.