Saturday, 31 March 2012

Urban Exploration: The Fallen Restaurant, Bulgaria

The Galatea Restaurant is a well-known site within the Bulgaria urbex community. More commonly referred to these days as the ‘Fallen Restaurant’, Galatea was built in 1968, on the edge of a cliff high above the Black Sea. Nestled in the shadow of a lighthouse on the edge of the village of Galata, the site commands spectacular views over one of Bulgaria’s largest seaports, from its high promontory across the bay.

Urban Exploration | Fallen Restaurant, Galatea, Varna, Bulgaria

It isn’t hard to imagine how spectacular this site must once have been; patrons would have dined on a large patio jutting out over the edge of the cliff, while the lights of the city danced across the water far beneath them.

However, in 1997 this popular restaurant was struck by an act of god... a severe landslide caused parts of the sandstone cliff face to crumble away, and as the restaurant’s foundations lost their grip in the moving earth beneath, a large portion of the building fell into the sea. The concrete patio snapped in half, sending tables and chairs crashing down to the water below.

Urban Exploration | Fallen Restaurant, Galatea, Varna, Bulgaria

Luckily, the landslide occurred out of business hours and so nobody was harmed. What remains today is a husk of a restaurant perched on the cliff face at Galata; in numerous rooms the tiled floor ends abruptly with a sheer drop, and crumbling walls balance precariously on the brink. The patio can still be seen, hanging over the edge of the cliff, suspended by twisted iron bars inlaid into the concrete.

Getting into the site was easy enough... despite the presence of two armed police officers, sat in a watch post on the unmarked access road that leads from the village of Galata to the lighthouse.

Urban Exploration | Fallen Restaurant, Galatea, Varna, Bulgaria

The restaurant has certainly had its share of visitors since the disaster, as is evident from the colourful array of graffiti that adorns almost every surface. Like other popular sites for urban exploration in Bulgaria, the building has been completely stripped of metals; even the electricity cables in the walls have been torn out like sinews, and traded no doubt for some small handful of change at the local scrapyard.

There is a good network of rooms to explore around the ruins of Galatea; kitchens, store rooms, toilets, corridors, and even access tunnels for the pipes which run beneath the restaurant’s floor. However, the outdoor area is the real treasure here, and is the feature that sets the Fallen Restaurant apart from other urbex sites in Bulgaria.

Urban Exploration | Fallen Restaurant, Galatea, Varna, Bulgaria

The once picturesque patio commands truly outstanding views across the Black Sea… until halfway across, where the concrete splits in two and the ground beyond falls away to a dizzying forty-five degree angle.

It is even possible to explore the floor beneath this one, and see the cracked balcony from beneath. The lower level is reached by descending down a weather-worn set of concrete stairs, which look as though they could have been designed for the fairground funhouse.

All in all, the Fallen Restaurant is a great site to visit (providing of course, that you don’t suffer from vertigo).

Urban Exploration | Fallen Restaurant, Galatea, Varna, Bulgaria

While the interior of the building itself is nothing special – strewn as it is with litter and graffiti – the sight of this once magnificent restaurant, quite literally hanging off the side of a cliff, makes for a unique and powerful image of urban decay.


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Friday, 23 March 2012

Pobiti Kamani: Bulgaria's Stone Forest

Pobiti Kamani is a unique geological phenomenon which has perhaps no parallel to be found anywhere in the world today. Located around 18km inland from Varna, Bulgaria, the site can be found just off the road to the capital of Sofia, in an area known as Pashovi. The name literally translates as 'the hammered stones', although it is usually transliterated as 'the fossil forest' or 'stone forest'.

Pobiti Kamani Stone Fossil Forest, Varna, Bulgaria

Pobiti Kamani consists of numerous clusters of stone columns, most of which reach heights between five and seven metres... with a thickness ranging from one third of a metre to three metres across. The striking stone pillars cover a total area of fifty square kilometres, with a number of smaller groupings spreading out from the centre. Those stones found in the heart of the 'forest' are the most prominent, and these ancient pillars spread a total distance of nearly a kilometre.

The columns are almost all hollow cylinders, filled with sand and appearing as though hammered loosely into the earth; hence the name ‘the hammered stones’. The site was designated as a natural landmark in 1937, and the stones have been found to contain a number of rare fossils – including the petrified remains of nummulite, mussels and giant snails.

Pobiti Kamani Stone Fossil Forest, Varna, Bulgaria

These naturally-formed pillars have attracted the attention of scientists and geologists from around the world, who have each offered their own hypothesis as to the origin of the unique formations.

The first in-depth study of the Fossil Forest was commissioned in 1828 by the Russian General Dibich, who became fascinated with these stones and their potential origins. The site was later visited in 1854 by the English geologist William Hamilton, who hypothesised that the stones were “the work of the sea”, and had been formed by chance over many millennia. These ideas were give further support by a geological survey carried out in 1855.

Pobiti Kamani Stone Fossil Forest, Varna, Bulgaria

Perhaps the most cogent explanation to date came from the Bulgarian geologists Peter and Stefan Bonchev Gochev. The brothers believed that the columns date back to the Cenozoic Era, fifty million years ago, when much of Eastern Europe was still at the bottom of the ocean. As sediment and sludge settled to the bottom of the seabed, the thick layer of sand was compressed into limestone. A resultant release of gases forced its way up through holes in the strata, causing hollow flues to form and solidify. Many millions of years later the area has become a dry, arid landscape, and the surrounding sand was slowly eroded away to leave only these stone chimneys, now appearing as tall pillars stuck in the earth.

Pobiti Kamani Stone Fossil Forest, Varna, Bulgaria

This idea of a paleo-hydrocarbon seep system seems the most likely explanation, and the process is currently under study by a number of academic institutions around the world; including Varna’s own Institute of Oceanology.

It is believed locally that the ‘forest’ is a powerful source of energy… no matter what your take on such beliefs, it is doubtless a breathtaking place to visit, and imbued with a certain otherworldly atmosphere. An easy assumption to make upon arrival is that these are the remnants of an ancient temple; the pillars are often regularly spaced, and the central holes down the middle of each give the suggestion that they were once used to hold timbers or wooden beams in place.

Pobiti Kamani Stone Fossil Forest, Varna, Bulgaria

Worthy of note are the large number of simulacra that can be observed around the area of Pobiti Kamani; accidental formations which happen to resemble human faces. These appear on a variety of rock surfaces, and many have been accredited with names and personalities by the locals; pictured here is a pillar known as ‘the soldier’, which casts a watchful eye over the site from its position near the road entrance.

The area around Pobiti Kamani is also blessed with a vast range of flora and fauna - this barren scrubland is in fact home to twenty-one species of birds, seven mammals and in excess of two-hundred-and-forty varieties of plant, many of which are notably rare.

More can be read about the Fossil Forest on Pobiti Kamani’s official webpage… although you will need either a good grasp of Bulgarian, or decent translation software to make any sense of it.


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Friday, 16 March 2012

Urban Exploration: Unfinished Holiday Park, Bulgaria

On Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, there lies a popular resort town known as Golden Sands. This modern holiday destination consists of a cluster of high-rise hotels, apartment blocks, restaurants, swimming pools and other seasonal attractions. Although perhaps an unlikely spot for urban exploration, nevertheless there are those projects which never quite reached completion... and as such are ripe for investigation.

Urban Exploration | Unfinished Holiday Park, Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria | Bohemian Blog

This site is one such failed project. The eight main buildings here were intended as luxurious holiday apartments, facing inwards onto a central garden and swimming pool.

With a little imagination, it is possible to picture how grand these dead concrete husks could eventually have been. At one end there stands a half completed multi-storey car park, while another building was clearly designed to house a reception area and restaurant. The site lies obscured by heavy foliage, no more than a minute’s walk from the beach.

Urban Exploration | Unfinished Holiday Park, Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria | Bohemian Blog

Many of these hotel complexes are mafia-owned, and unbeknown to the crowds of British, Scandinavian, German and Russian tourists who flock here every summer, quite a few serve as money laundering operations. This particular project clearly ran out of funding at some point, and as a result was abandoned to the elements, mid-construction.

From the impressive growth of vines and brambles that cover the site, these buildings have clearly remained undisturbed for a good many years. In some places, young trees have sprung up right in front of doorways or windows – which gives an idea of just how long this site has been left abandoned. Inside buildings, not even graffiti mars the rough concrete and brick surfaces.

Urban Exploration | Unfinished Holiday Park, Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria | Bohemian Blog

The two-storey buildings closest to the water are the easiest to gain access to. By scrambling up onto the window ledge you’ll soon find yourself inside the bare concrete cell of one of the ground floor apartments... and from here, you have a free range of the entire site.

A flight of weathered, moss-eaten stairs leads up to the first floor, where concrete balconies offer a superb sea view. The main entrance to each unit opens inwards onto the heart of the complex, where the lawn has now erupted into a chaotic tangle of vegetation.

From here it is possible to force your way through the brambles, to reach the taller buildings on the other side of the complex. This row of apartment buildings each feature three floors above ground, as well as a basement. I explored a couple of these pitch-black underground chambers, which were littered with animal carcasses and the musty odour of foxes.

Urban Exploration | Unfinished Holiday Park, Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria | Bohemian Blog

More developed sites are usually preferred for urban exploration, as they allow the explorer to step inside the relics and trappings of a lifestyle abandoned to ruin.

Nevertheless, this barren site has its own unique charm.

The size of the project alone makes it an interesting find, and it seems strange that such a prime seafront location would be left to waste, after so much work has already gone into it.

Walking around this derelict holiday village, the absence of graffiti and litter is also a welcome change from many of the more popular urbex sites - the feeling of exploring this site really is one of discovery, and of finding something that for many years has lain forgotten underneath the hungry tide of vegetation.

Urban Exploration | Unfinished Holiday Park, Golden Sands, Varna, Bulgaria | Bohemian Blog

In this forgotten holiday park, you get an idea not only of the grand design which has fallen to waste, but also a sense that here at least, nature has won – as carefully laid bricks and mortar are slowly pulled back down into the earth by the inescapable grip of roots and vines.


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Saturday, 3 March 2012

Urban Exploration: The Old Milk Factory, UK

On the outskirts of the rural town where I grew up, there stand the remains of an old creamery. The site consists of a number of large buildings, warehouses and bottling plants, with a tarmac road running the length of the complex allowing freight access to the various units. I first visited this site alone, at the tender age of fourteen – it was one of my first experiences of urban exploration, and I wrote a report which I handed in to school as a piece of homework on creative writing. If you’re interested, you can read that report here.

Urban Exploration | Torrington Creamery | Bohemian Blog

The original milking parlour was built here in 1872, and the creamery that it developed into was once the largest employer in the town; it grew dramatically throughout the early twentieth century, the site soon developing to incorporate a range of art deco buildings, spread across a large plot of land beside the river.

A railway line had stopped nearby in those early days, which allowed milk bottled here to reach wholesalers in London the very same day - one of the main factors which fuelled the site's success.

The subsequent closure of the railway line caused the factory to suffer heavily though, and many jobs were lost as the operation was gradually downsized. At the peak of the redundancies, there were also two suicides at the site – in one dramatic instance a former worker hanged himself from the walkway that connects the two main buildings, high above the access road.

Urban Exploration | Torrington Creamery | Bohemian Blog

A fire in 1993 rendered the drying tower unusable, but the damage had already been done by this point – it was Margaret Thatcher who hammered the final nail into the coffin, with the decentralisation of milk collection. The creamery struggled through its final decade, finally closing its doors for good in 2006 – along with the loss of over 100 jobs, and a severe knock to the local economy.

Nowadays the site is considered by most locals to be something of an eyesore – a debris of steel and masonry lies scattered about the complex, and reports have shown asbestos traces in several of the crumbling warehouses. Nevertheless, with easy access points and a wealth of production lines, bottling rooms, offices, corridors and store rooms to be discovered, it makes an attractive destination for urban exploration.

Urban Exploration | Torrington Creamery | Bohemian Blog

On gaining access to the site, the first thing to grab your attention is the graffiti. A large proportion of this is not the work of amateurs, but rather the striking designs of professional artists. ‘Welcome to the Art Factory,’ reads one colourful sprawl near the entrance.

The largest of the buildings features an open-plan design, with rubble and girders strewn across the factory floor. Make it to the north wall, and you’ll be able to climb the long flight of steps that wind their way up into the corrugated drying tower. A steel gantry used to reach from the top of the stairwell, and high above the factory floor, opening onto the fourth floor offices on the other side. Now however, the severed ends hang in ruin.

Urban Exploration | Torrington Creamery | Bohemian Blog

From this vast chamber, a number of corridors lead off into a maze of offices and stairwells. As you explore through this warren of whitewashed rooms, there are some striking features to be observed – such as the three-storey glass stairwell with its art deco roundels, and the rusting remains of the bottling machinery.

It is the graffiti however, which really brings a warmth to this site. Although fans of urban exploration are usually firmly against the defacing of abandoned buildings, nobody could criticise the artistic merit of the richly detailed, colourful designs which adorn many of the site's drab walls.

The company who currently own the creamery did have plans to develop the site. In 2008 a planning application was submitted to the local council, for the construction of 125 new homes. It was refused however, as the local Planning Inspectorate considered new sources of employment to be a higher priority than new housing. A subsequent proposal in 2009 detailed a plan to turn the site into 73 homes, as well as a complex of employment units and offices.

Urban Exploration | Torrington Creamery | Bohemian Blog

This move seemed set to go ahead, until a year later the company who owned the site went into receivership. It transpires that the sole director of the company now lives in Thailand, and the authorities have been unable to contact him… instead, the council are currently in communication with the receivers regarding development plans.

For the time being at least, the milk factory remains as an ugly landmark on the edge of town; a monument to failed industry.

Photography by Kilburn Adam.


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