Have you ever had dreams of crawling through a tiny hole into a dark and damp crumbling ruin, the smell of decay piercing your nostrils and you step over piles of rotten communist relics. Probably not, well that is unless you are as strange as I am! Well, there’s more to it than having a strange obsession with abandoned buildings or urbex!. This dystopian relic of a time most would like to forget is iconic for all the wrong reasons, but for someone like me who not only loves all things post-apocalyptic but also takes a scholarly interesting in Communism (after all, it was invented in our hometown of Manchester) Buzludzha is a dream!
Urbex dreams and the Buzludzha’s history
Named after the 4728 ft peak on which it sits Buzludzha monument was built back in 1981. A headquarters, meeting’s hall and monument to commemorate the events of 1891 when Dimitar Blagoev secretly assembled a group of socialists in the area to found the Bulgaria Social Democratic Party, a precursor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. The strange and spaceship like construction is typical of the Brutalist architecture of the era and regime. In many ways it reminds us of the UFO bridge in Bratislava, a city again dotted with communist relics.
After the fall of communist in Bulgaria in 1989 Buzludzha monument has fallen into ruin and become a controversial remnant of a time most would like not to remember. Closed off the the public many explorers still find their way into as a way of stepping back in time to an era many of us will never know.
To a time when the world was a much different place, for better or as some would say for worse, these regimes around Europe fell and dotted around this region there are these strange remains for this bygone era. A time of modernity and outlandish construction, they are now very much resigned to the history books.
Ever since we started this strange hobby of exploring abandoned buildings and sites we had a few places that were so called “bucket list explores”. The Bobsleigh track above Sarajevo was one of them, the ruins of Mostar should have been on that list and of course Chernobyl (where we have been since and will be writing about soon) sits in top spot.
But Exploring Buzludzha was firmly in second spot, behind what even anyone would be able to identify as the mecca of urban exploring, so not a shameful place to sit! When we headed to Bulgaria we have to admit that it was though the top of the places we wanted to visit and yet at the same time we were unsure on how we would even do that until just the day before. Communist relic, awesome mountain spot location and abandoned aesthetic we could only have dreamt of…this place had one hell of a reputation to live up to!
Exploring the depths and heights of this fascinating relic > Buzludzha
Heading up the long and winding road in the car it has been hours since we set off. By this point our initial excitement and enthusiasm had begum to wane somewhat. But as we rounded a corner we caught the first glance of this strange relic and we were like two kids in a sweet shop! Standing out against this wild landscape of central Bulgaria it can hardly be missed. The monument has the kind of impact those who built it all those years ago had predicted.
We pretty much ran out of the car, the spaceship of Buzludzha hovering on the mountainside a surreal sight in so many ways. After dreaming of visiting for so long and seeing it in front of us ready to explore, it almost didn’t feel real! Call it nostalgia, or political fascination, but to step into a place where we would have been shot for even looking at 30 years ago feels like stepping through a portal in time. You can almost make out the crowds of people here with their red flag, the marching of the army in perfect time and the leaders whose footsteps we are walking in.
Crawling through the tiny gap in the doorway, prized open to allow us all to fit through we were plunged into darkness, good job we came prepared with our head torches! This was it, we were inside this concrete behemoth, the cold air a sharp change from the warm summers day outside. Yet another reason to feel like you had transitioned into another time. Our breath visible in the dim light of our torches in this huge chasm, somehow despite the communist party leaving this place behind almost 30 years you just can’t shake that feeling you are being watched. We weren’t alone in here!
Walking up the steps and into the main hallway the light came streaming in through the ruined roof in perfect piercing lasers, as if the sci-fi aesthetics here weren’t already on over drive, we almost felt like we were being beamed up such was the intensity of the Buzludzha monument. The lattice like ceiling is in very real danger of collapsing entirely, falling concrete, rotting stairways and broken glass are a real consideration when exploring here. But we’ve faced these dangers before and treaded carefully over the once mirror like marble and carpeted floor, now a patchwork of crumbling remnants.
We couldn’t get enough of this place though, the interior even more striking than the faceless and yet intimating exterior. Mosaic portraits of heroes of the past still sparkle amongst the modern graffiti in the gold and red shades they once did, those of ousted leader Zhivkov have since been scraped from the wall and as if from existence entirely in true communist style.
Watching silently above all this is the still intact hammer and sickle, an surreal and yet unmistakable reminder of where you are and what it represents.
As we descended further into the bowels of the building, passed the old boiler room and toilet blocks we discovered the rusting steps up the red star adorned turret. Climbing the crumbling ladders for almost 20 minutes in the pitch black we finally stuck light again, this time with that tell tale red hue. We found ourselves inside the star itself, staring out at the cracked panels and onto the mountainside below as the wind howled around us.
On we went, through other engineering rooms and many pieces of random machinery before finding the final set of ladders. Pushing open a hatch we were now stood right on the very top of the monument, shaking in the wind we wondered exactly how secure this rusting perch really was.
From here we could see for miles, a vantage point of the most epic proportions. Glancing down the wooden roof of the main “spaceship” the level of dilapidation here was clear to see.
Driving away from this huge monolith and the graffiti that reads “Never forget your past”, we knew this was something we would forever remember.
Stopping at the two boulder sized flaming fists that still shimmer in the summer sun lower down on the mountainside we caught our final glimpse of this adventure that surpassed all expectation.
A side trip to monumental and stunning Shipka
This region is no stranger to visitors, in fact they flock to this historic and highly significant mountain pass, put often over the other side of the valley! The Shipka pass is one of the most important places in Bulgarian history.
This is place in which, facing impossible odds and freezing conditions, the Bulgarians fought gallantly against their Ottoman occupiers. they ultimately lost this bravely fought battle but it symbolised the beginning of the end for the Turkish rule as well as the spirit of Bulgarian freedom.
In the nearby town is also the well visited and stunning pink, green and gold domed church of Shipka. One of the most breath taking examples of Eastern Orthodox religious architecture it was opened in 1902 on the 25th anniversary of the battles of the nearby pass. The heaviest of the churches bells, all 12 tonnes of it, was cast from the cartridges collected from the battlefield.
How to get to Buzludzha??
We went with the great folks over at Moretto and Cafeto hostel. But your best bet is to base yourself in Veliko Tarnovo or Plovdiv as they are closer. From there you can get a bus to Shipka fairly easily. From Shipka it gets difficult, there are possibly a few local buses that go down the pass but your best shot is to hitchhike and then hike up the mountain. It’s a long day! If possible renting a car or going on an organised tour will make it much easier.
Have you ever explored such a crazy place?