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Inside an Abandoned Soviet Propaganda Centre

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The Park-Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship, sometimes simply referred to as the Russian Monument, is a striking tribute to Soviet power. Located on the outskirts of one of Bulgaria’s coastal cities, the monument stands on a hill at a total height of 110m above sea level. The complex is deceptively large – inside and beneath the monument itself there are conference facilities, an information point, a Soviet propaganda centre and bookshop, and, deep beneath the hill it stands on, an abandoned nuclear bunker.

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The Creation of the Soviet Propaganda Centre

The monument was originally envisaged in 1958, to celebrate Russia’s defence of Bulgaria during the Russian-Ottoman War of 1828–1829. In 1946 Russia once again offered the country a supporting hand, following Bulgaria’s persecution by Hitler’s forces; a chain of events which saw the rise of the Bulgarian Communist Party.

The Park-Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship was conceived by the local sculptors Evgeni Barǎmov and Alyosha Kafedzhiyski, in collaboration with the great architect Kamen Goranov; it depicts a troop of Russian soldiers coming to the defence of forlorn Bulgarian maidens, with the four figures on either ‘wing’ reaching a height of 11 metres.

An inscription in the centre once read “Friendship for centuries throughout centuries”.

The monument was built on the very spot where the Russian forces were stationed while fighting the Ottomans… which later became a mass grave for all those who fell in the fierce battle.

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Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-33-DRConstruction of the Russian Monument commenced in late 1974, and 27,000 volunteer workers toiled for four years to create both the imposing structure and the 400 square-metre platform on which it stands.

More than 10,000 tonnes of concrete, and 1000 tonnes of armature iron were used to create the monument, which measures 23 metres tall and 48 wide. A great bronze cube was constructed in front of the monument, burning with an eternal flame until the fall of communism in 1989.

The 15-metre wide “Staircase of Victors” includes a total of 305 steps up to the monument itself, and in the surrounding park more than 20,000 decorative trees were planted to represent fallen Soviet soldiers.

A total of 180 floodlights were originally positioned to illuminate the monument at night, so that it would be visible even by ships far out in the Black Sea. Meanwhile, a public address system set up in the park played Symphony № 7 by the iconic Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, on constant repeat.

I have provided a link to Shostakovich’s Seventh, to help set the tone for the site… for best results, hit ‘play’ before reading on.

 

Day One

Every report I had read online about the Park Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship stated that the entrance had been securely bricked up, making access impossible; one report suggested that the hollow interior was now used as a depot for used tyres. I didn’t anticipate any hope for entry, and was only making the trip in order to admire the monument from the outside.

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Reaching the bottom of the hill, the first thing one notices is the sheer size of this construction. Beginning the final ascent up the broad steps, the monument towers ominously above the green parkland, seething with the same silent majesty as an ancient, forgotten temple rising out of the jungle.

After taking a few shots of the impressive figures on the wings of the monument, I had soon spotted a way in… someone had clearly taken a hammer to the bricks that barred the main entrance, leaving a hole at the top just large enough to scramble through. Faster than you could say “Park-Monument to the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship”, I was inside.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-3-DROnce my eyes had accustomed to the dark, I was eventually able to make out a flight of bare concrete steps leading upwards, into the left-hand portion of the monument. On reaching the top the passage turned back on itself, and the corridor before me disappeared into darkness.

There is a somehow otherworldly quality to the atmosphere inside the Park Monument. For a start, the darkness is absolute, and at times suffocating – many thousands of tonnes of concrete stand between you and the light of day. Not only that, but even the slightest sound can create long echoes inside this cubist warren of tunnels and stairwells. It wasn’t just my own footsteps that were haunting me; the surrounding park is a popular haunt for stray dogs, and every howl from outside would become trapped inside the monument, distorting as it followed me from room to room.

By this point I was becoming painfully aware of just how poorly prepared I was; in the absence of a torch I was using my mobile phone to light my way, while my camera was running fatally low on battery. Still, I persevered through the darkness.

It is hard to imagine from the outside, just how much space there is inside the monument. Neatly arranged into cleverly tessellated corridors, chambers and stairwells, at several points I found myself losing my way inside the labyrinth. After a while I stumbled upon a series of steps leading upwards, and on following them found that they opened into natural light. Relieved, I followed the stairs out onto the rooftop of the monument. Situated above the female figures on the left-hand wing, this area offered breathtaking views over the city below, and the Black Sea coast.

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Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-16-DRLater I found myself following another flight of steps, this one set into the middle of the floor, and disappearing down into an inky darkness. Tentatively making my way down to the lower level, I was met by a cold gust of wind from below. I followed another flight down, this one fenced in by a rusted iron banister. Since entering the monument, I had completely lost my sense of both time and space. By now all of my instincts told me that I had gone down too many steps… that I could no longer be inside the monument itself, but that I had to have passed down into the ground beneath it.

It turns out that I had indeed reached the basement level, set into the massive concrete platform on which the monument stands. It is here that the Communist Party of Bulgaria kept a bookshop, information point and Soviet propaganda centre – all sponsored by the Russians, and provided for the ‘education’ of the Bulgarian people.

Exploring this basement level, I soon discovered a hole punched through the brick wall at the back of the foyer – and from here, I found myself stood at the top of a vast flight of stairs, heading down into the earth. With no way of knowing how far, or even where these steps went, and with no torch and no camera, I decided to get out of there and regroup – it was quite clear that the site deserved a second visit.

Day Two

Over the next 48 hours I charged up my camera, I bought a torch, and I read up more on the Park-Monument of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-28-DRWhile I could find no reports detailing the interior of the complex, I did however manage to find specifications for the nuclear bunker, buried deep in the ground beneath.

What I would find in there however, I had no idea – I ruled out gypsies, tramps and thieves on account of the extreme darkness.

However, the park is home to plenty of stray dogs, and I’d spoken to locals who’d said they wouldn’t come up this way without a can of mace. The prospect of running into a pack of these hungry creatures in the dark did not appeal.

Undeterred nevertheless, I returned to the monument and this time entered on the lower floor – through an easy access point I had spotted last time, leading straight into the Soviet propaganda centre.

I found a cluster of bare rooms here, in addition to the narrow concrete stairwell which spiralled back up into the monument above.

I soon became aware of a particularly foul smell, and on inspection, I found that the former bookshop had been used more recently as a toilet; countless mounds of human excrement were piled across the dusty concrete floor, and soiled strips of newspaper were blowing about in the breeze from the barred window.

At the time I guessed that this was the work of passing pedestrians – perhaps joggers who had been caught short in the park, and knew the place was here. Only later would I realise how naïve it was to assume that I was alone inside this strange structure.

I returned to the grand staircase that lead down into the earth, though even with a powerful torch, it was still impossible to see very far. It reminded me of the steps going down into a London underground station – only without passengers, without light, and with strange Soviet symbols painted onto the walls in the place of adverts for West End musicals.

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The wide concrete steps here were an exact mirror of the ‘Staircase of Victors’, directly above. Regularly spaced holes had been tunneled near the ceiling – arranged so as to dimly illuminate the odd characters painted onto the walls. Eventually I reached the bottom, only to find that the grand double doors into the nuclear bunker were sealed and barred, with a sheet of metal welded to the bars from behind.

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A little crestfallen, I was about to head back up the steps… when I noticed, half hidden by discarded timbers, a small hole in the ground. On closer inspection this hole, no more than a foot across by two long, seemed to descend into a tunnel, which in turn tailed off into darkness – passing underneath the bunker.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-12-DRNeedless to say, I couldn’t resist. I managed to squeeze myself feet-first through the hole, and climb down to the ground using a series of rusted pipes which jutted out from the wall. From here it was a slow crawl, through a tunnel which gradually decreased in size – to the point where I was wriggling along on my stomach, and wondering how easy it would be to crawl out in reverse.

After what seemed like an eternity I found a large access hole in the concrete above me, where voluminous pipes entered the bunker from directly beneath. However, even this had been sealed with a metal plate, which appeared to be welded in place. Luckily this opening did at least give me enough space to turn around and crawl back out… but I was left wondering exactly what they had in there, which they were so desperate to keep hidden.

I headed back up the stairs, deciding to pay another visit to the monument itself – this time with better lighting, and a better camera.

This time I was able to get shots of some of the features I had previously missed in the darkness, including a conference room in the left-hand wing of the monument.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-6-DRHere the floor sloped up diagonally, and was sectioned into a series of concrete benches for delegates. This would have been the room were the Bulgarian Communist Party held its local meetings. Heading from there into the right-hand wing via the network of passages in between, I managed to get a better shot of the massive three-dimensional star, etched so deep into the far wall that three people could comfortably sit inside the hollow.

I was preparing to leave, when my torchlight fell on something I had failed to spot on my previous visit; a recessed staircase in a darkened corner, heading upwards and out of sight. Naturally I decided to follow it, and as I climbed upwards I began to detect light ahead – as well as a loud flapping noise; it sounded as if a whole flock of birds had somehow become trapped inside the structure.

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Tentatively rounding the last corner I came into a well-lit chamber, with narrow windows spaced evenly along one side – these caught the strong north wind, and the resultant gusts were tearing noisily at the odd assortment of bin bags and sacks that filled the room.

At first I couldn’t work out why anybody would have dragged so much rubbish up to the very top of the monument. There were food containers smeared with grey mould, countless items of ragged, non-descript clothing, and in the far corner, a pile of blankets… realisation then dawned on me pretty quickly, that this was in fact somebody’s home. The same somebody who had been defecating in the bookshop, and who probably knew every corner and crevice of the darkened spaces within the monument.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-2-DRPerhaps the most disconcerting artefact in this makeshift bedroom, was a small arrangement of objects by one of the windows.

A couple of cushions were being used as a kind of desk, around which were arranged a selection of men’s shoes, slippers and women’s high heels, as well as a couple of technological magazines in Cyrillic script, and an assortment of electronic items – including a mains transformer, a television remote and a few pieces of circuitry which resembled the insides of a calculator.

It appeared that whoever lived here was either trying to build something, or collecting bizarre trophies.

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Either way, I suddenly began to feel very uncomfortable. It is impossible to attempt urban exploration in Bulgaria without occasionally coming across the homes of gypsies or vagrants, but this was different – a world apart from those squatted buildings in the city centre, which are used functionally for eating and sleeping. Instead, the seemingly unhinged individual who had chosen to live in this wind-blasted obelisk, miles from the city centre and surrounded by filth and decay, was clearly something altogether quite different. The complex contains so many dark corners, hidden balconies and sunken recesses, that I began to wonder if I had been alone all this time, at all.

Urban-Exploration-Urbex-Soviet-Propaganda-Centre-Varna-Bulgaria-34-DRThis drew an end to my visit. Swiftly and quietly, I made my way back down the staircase, through the main body of the monument, down another dark shaft into the basement, and then out through the propaganda centre.

I left the Park-Monument of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship feeling disorientated, awestruck and slightly alarmed, my bare forearms still itching from the fibre glass dust in the tunnels beneath.

The final, lingering irony of course, is that even in death this condemned relic of Bulgarian communism is providing free shelter to the homeless proletariat – otherwise ignored by a democratic republic.



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My exploration into the nuclear bunker beneath the site finally happened six months later, when I managed to find another way in. Read the full report here.

Post a comment

  1. The true final irony is that the author fails to recognize that the abandoned monument and his experience there was a glimpse of communist reality: an immensely ugly edifice, erected by the involuntary “volunteer” labor of drafted subjects, and now that communism has collapsed under its own weight, it is inhabited by feral humans and smeared with shit.

    • Oh dear. Your email address is ringing alarm bells for me, Carl. “dead.commies@are.good.commies.org”. Anyway, I’ll try and ignore that horrifically primitive and barbaric notion, for the sake of giving you an answer.

      Carl, you don’t really seem to have much understanding of world-views outside of your own. People, and history, are actually more complex than Fox News would have you believe. A good number of the volunteers you refer to were excited to be a part of these construction projects at the time. I know this for a fact, as I’m currently researching the subject for a book and have spent the last three months interviewing those self-same volunteers. Some people were delighted to be involved. Others were not. People are interesting like that, and we don’t all hold the same opinions. For example, you think this monument is “immensely ugly”… while I consider it a profoundly provocative design, and a superb example of the socialist-realist architectural movement at its peak.

      Why are you so scared of communism, Carl? Why do you wish death on people who think differently to yourself?

  2. Awesome ! I can`t wait to read it! it is even better than the specification !

  3. Hi Darmon, first i want to say Outstanding post !! And secondly i have a request to you, can you share with me the specification for nuclear bunker under the monument

    • Thank you, Constantine. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I knew very little about the nuclear bunker underneath the monument until last week – when I finally managed to get inside and have a look around.

      There’ll be a full report appearing on the blog soon…

  4. Darmon, i really shitted my pants: size-decreasing tunnels are one of my worst recurring nightmares.
    Yessir, I’m a chicken-hearted explorette :P

    • I’m not a massive fan of small tunnels either, but my curiosity tends to get the better of my common sense!

      If you don’t like tight underground tunnels though, you’re going to hate my next report…

  5. Darmon,

    That was an amazing set of pictures and writing about this experience. It reminds of ones that I have read about here in the US in the underground areas of Seattle or San Francisco. Your pictures remind me of some of the pictures of Detroit, showing a “glory” of a time past that is fading but should be remembered before it is gone.

    Regards,

    Alex

    • Hey Alex,

      Thanks for the feedback. You’re right – I think that’s the charm of these places, the fading sense of glory. I have still never been to the US, but I just added Seattle, San Francisco and Detroit to my mental checklist of places to visit… so thanks for that!

  6. Darmon – I’m headed to Bulgaria this summer on vacation. We plan to include the Black Sea coast on our itinerary. Can you provide the location of this monument?

    • Hi there. If you send me an email using the contact form under the ‘Copywriting’ tab at the top, then I’ll be happy to offer you directions.

  7. great post , very relevant to my past and present interests, i will add your blog .
    well done and great job on the write up.

    Thanks

    steve

    • Thanks for the feedback Steve, I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Is there an opportunity to go back with more/better equipment and people to get through the sealed door at the bottom of the grand staircase and into the tunnels?

    • It’s possible, but the door is pretty well sealed – while it might be feasible to force it open (I even briefly considered using a car jack on the metal plate in the tunnel beneath), I would rather not resort to forcing an entry – it feels clumsy, and much less artful than finding another way in.

      In addition to that, ‘breaking in’ would move this from a questionable activity in the eyes of the local authorities, to being downright illegal… and these guys carry Kalashnikovs.

      I am following up a lead though – it sounds like there is another access point from outside. If that’s the case, then I’ll definitely be doing a second report soon!

    • It didn’t even require force in the end… just a local guide who knew where the back door was hidden.

      Propaganda Centre Revisited

  9. Woah – a great read! :D Firstly, hats off for being such a bloody brave bastard :) I would have explored such a ruin…when I was 12. Now I fear the onslaught of horror films & urban legends have made me a far weaker explorer >_< However, I would definitely love to visit places like that, if only with a crowd ^_^

    Keep up the good work! Your blog has been added to my RSS Feed with great relish :)

    • Thank you! It’s such a fine line though, that divides bravery and stupidity…

      As it is, I came out alive with some lovely photos to show for it – so the whole thing was a success. Had I been stabbed/raped/eaten however, there might have been a fair argument for suggesting that I had it coming!

      Still, at least it makes for good reading. That’s the main thing. :)

  10. Hi Darmon,
    What a great read! It is not often that I find an interesting read about my hometown. I live in Varna, but I have never been inside the monument. From what my grandfather told me, there is a whole network of underground tunnels connecting strategic point is in the city and nearby locations.

    I know for a fact that one of those tunnels extends from the Summer Theater to the nearby resort “Golden Sands”. This is about 20 kilometers or less. My grandmother told that once some dogs got lost in there and it took them 4-5 days to make their way back. No the entrance is seal.

    I know that the monument is definitely connected to the underground network. Also the Pantheon is another place where it can be accessed. http://aeeb.net/us/images/gallery/varna16.jpg. I think one of my uncles had the chance to explore a tunnel or two. I’ll ask him next time I see him. I also know a couple of guys with military background, but they would be pretty much reluctant to share any information.

    If I’m able to find more information, I will let you know.

    Svetoslav

  11. Are you pursuing the bunker contents mystery?

    • Definitely! Looks like I’ll be heading back on a follow-up mission over the Summer, to see if I can get some shots from inside the bunker itself. See the post below…

    • Here it is, then – a tour of the bunker!

      Propaganda Centre Revisited

  12. Congrats on a great piece, and not only for geezers from the Cold War.

    • John – thank you for the kind words! I’ve just been reading your blog, and I’m delighted that you also enjoyed mine.

      I actually paid a visit to the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party yesterday, on Mount Buzludzha… so there’ll be more online soon.

  13. Thats an unnerving read, I try to avoid exploring on my own for safety and the fact I have jumped at my own echos before now. Your writing fits in well in my “blinkered” ignorance ? of Bulgaria made from the Cold War, WW2 and low budget European horror films.

    • I know what you mean, and I would rather not have gone down there alone – but I had to leave town the next day, so it came to a choice between going alone, or not going at all.

      Please don’t let me put you off Bulgaria! While there are still some intimidating relics like this scattered about, they are mostly forgotten and falling into ruin. The only people bothering to dredge up the past are foolhardy Westerners with more curiosity than sense – much like myself.

  14. What a terrifying looking monolith of a building. Not at all hospitable seeming. It seems more a monument to some cruel god of war than a tribute to peace and friendship. I’ll bet you were happy to make your way back into the sunlight and open air.

    • Exactly my thoughts – for a monument supposedly celebrating friendship, it couldn’t have felt more oppressive or intimidating. Fresh air has never tasted so sweet…

  15. Who knew? What an incredibly complex adventure…

    • I know… at times I felt a little bit like Alice going down the rabbit-hole!

  16. Oh, Bravo sir! A triumph, it has everything – tension, creeping dread, a wealth of information, a fine sense of history, and your usual attention to detail. And a soundtrack! An inspired addition if I may say so.
    The descent into the bowels of the monument – both the overall feel and the writing style – put me strongly in mind of a particular section in a favourite novel of mine; The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist.
    I am greatly enjoying your urbex tour of the forgotten parts of the world, keep up the good work. And be careful out there!

    • Thanks Dale, I’m glad you appreciated the soundtrack! I like the idea of offering multi-sensory blog posts, if at all possible…

      I still haven’t read Glass Books of the Dream Eaters yet, but I’ve got as far as downloading it to my Kindle – and I’ve got some pretty long train journeys ahead of me!

See all 35 comments on “Inside an Abandoned Soviet Propaganda Centre”

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