When it comes to urban exploration, Bulgaria is a treasure trove full of hidden wonders. This breathtaking site lies high up in the Stara Planina - the eastern arm of the Balkan Mountains, which pass through Central Bulgaria.
The ruined behemoth that now sits atop the mountain was built in the 1930s as a children's hospital, and in the communist heyday the institution catered specifically for children with lung problems such as tuberculosis. At an altitude of around 2000 metres above sea level, the air here is crisp and clear, and it was believed to have curative effects on the young sufferers.
In addition to wards, offices, a kitchen, shower room and dining hall, it seems the site once featured a well tended garden on the valley side. This neat square of grass was penned in with a high wooden fence, to keep the children back from the sheer drop beyond. Now though, any trace of landscaping has vanished beneath a sea of thorn bushes.
The hospital is characteristic of much communist architecture; featuring minimalist design, uniform corridors and wards. And, in fitting with Marx's own sentiments, the hospital was a commune in every sense of the word. The staff all lived on site, water was taken from the mountain springs, and every effort made to be self-sufficient.
Over time however, the site began to decline in its standards of service. What was once a pioneering health clinic eventually deteriorated into no more than an orphanage - a place where unhealthy children were taken to be forgotten about.
The orphanage was closed in the early 90s, shortly after the fall of communism here, when Bulgaria plunged into a deep economic depression.
It wasn't long until the site was stripped bare by scavengers. Any scraps of metal have long since disappeared, the building ransacked by local gypsies who could trade the refuse for a handful of coins. After just a short exploration of the site you can see where electric wires have been torn from the walls, leaving a deep tracery of grooves in the flaking plaster surfaces. Elsewhere, graffiti slogans are sprawled across concrete in cyrillic characters.
All around the site nature has now taken a hold, with large parts of the complex disappearing under the oncoming sea of vegetation. This area of the mountains is populated by boars, wolves and even jackals, and some of the droppings left around the hospital would suggest that other visitors had foraged here recently. Bats nest in the offices which were built without windows.
In some places vines have grown so tightly around pillars and brickwork, that they appear to be choking deep into the soft mortar, and causing whole chucks of masonry to fall loose. In other places whole segments of the wall have fallen away, exposing the mountainside behind. Most of the staircases that connect the floors were constructed from wood, and there were a number of occasions during the exploration when my foot went straight through rotten steps.
The hospital is vast, and a great site for urban exploration. It took the best part of a day to explore the four floors of the main building, the staff lodge, the gardens and out-houses.
Perhaps most magnificent of all though, is the view from the roof. Here the tiles have mostly fallen away, leaving a bare ribcage of beams exposed. Climb onto the roof itself, and you can see straight down into the deep valley below... and beyond that, the peaks of the Balkan Mountains fading into the distance.
The hospital does not stand alone, though. Just down the road a little you'll be able to find a small hamlet - five houses or so - which once housed the staff and doctors. These now lie equally forgotten, and surrendered to the elements.
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