Laguna Vere in Tbilisi, Georgia, was once the premier aquatic sports centre in the Caucasus.
Of all the posts on this blog, the one that seems to have sparked the most interest was my report on the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party, located on Mount Buzludzha.
I’ve now had countless emails from people asking for advice on visiting this truly unique site; and I’ve spoken to at least half a dozen people who were planning a trip to Bulgaria purely to see it for themselves.
As reported elsewhere, there have been some recent changes to the Buzludzha monument; most notably, the metal bars that now stand over the entrance.
Some sources will tell you that entry to the site is no longer possible… I beg to differ.
Here’s a report on my latest expedition to Mount Buzludzha – the dense mist creating an otherworldly backdrop for this bizarre monument to a failed regime.
House of the Bulgarian Communist Party
I don’t usually make a habit of giving out location information, for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I think it takes the fun out of things. If it weren’t for the hours of online research – usually followed by at least as much time spent locating sites and finding their potential entrances – there would be no point calling this urban exploration. Some missions end in failure… and for me, that’s half the thrill of it.
The other reason is that by drawing more attention to these places, they will inevitably receive more traffic. The results of this can vary – from an increased density of graffiti, through to tightened on-site security. Neither of these things are desirable.
However, while I may remain obstinately tight-lipped regarding the location of abandoned factories and youth camps, military tunnels and drains, the Buzludzha monument is hardly a secret location – plus I tend to get a huge kick out of the incredulous reactions of first-time visitors.
Another factor that differentiates Buzludzha from the average abandonment, is that nobody is trying to hide this one away. The Buzludzha monument is removed from sight as a result of its obscure location; but it shouldn’t be assumed that everybody here wants to forget their past.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party was being touted as a national treasure. On my way back home, I waited for a bus at the depot in Kazanluk… only to spot the faded likeness of the Buzludzha monument, peering down at me from an outdated advert for local coach tours. Needless to say, tours don’t run there anymore.
Earlier this year I contacted the custodian of the Buzludzha monument, on behalf of a film crew planning to shoot a documentary at the site. They were adamant about reaching the peak, despite the heavy snow that covered the Balkans at the time; but if they were able to film with permission, so much the better.
I was a little taken aback by the positive response I received.
“People should see this place,” my contact said. He went on to explain that the warning signs littering the peak of Mount Buzludzha are exactly that: a warning of the very real dangers inherent in entering this decaying building. The barred entrance is merely symbolic.
“They’ll still get in if they want to,” the custodian said, “but we can’t be responsible for them.”
Numerous things have changed since I chronicled my first visit to the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party. For starters, the graffiti slogan that once adorned the front entrance is gone.
Last time I was here the words FORGET YOUR PAST were emblazoned above the door in heavy red lettering, but have since disappeared beneath a coat of bland grey paint. The new management of the site are keen to see it restored to its former glory; it’s a tall order, and the cost of renovation would be staggering. Until that day though, they are doing what they can to preserve the dignity of this monument. It might not be moving forwards, but neither will they tolerate the contribution of ‘vandals’.
On this expedition, I approached from the south; stopping off first at the imposing monument downhill from the saucer itself. The two stone fists – each holding a flaming torch – are deceptively large. It’s not until you get up close that you realise each finger is the size of a man. Scrawled across this installation appears the word “Ataka”; it’s the nickname of Bulgaria’s nationalistic and far-right Attack Party, their own existence in many ways a reflex response to the former communist regime.
On this occasion the peak was wrapped in a heavy fog, but every so often the wind would tear it away… revealing glimpses of a vast concrete saucer perched on top, its adjacent tower bearing the familiar Soviet star.
The first time I visited Buzludzha, I just strolled on up to the main entrance and walked through the door. It’s not so easy now though, as thick metal bars have been welded in place across the entrance. This needn’t be a deterrent: it only took me a few minutes of scouting the perimeter, before I was pulling myself up and in through another, accidental entrance to one of the interior stairwells.
From here I was just a few flights of steps away from the vast, central chamber – and in this storm, it was more dramatic than I had ever seen it before.
The noise was almost deafening, a roar of metal on metal, as the harsh winds whipped at dozens of loose plates hanging from the roof. The mist had penetrated right inside the building, so that the hammer and sickle motif above was almost lost from sight. Meanwhile, sharp winter sun fell through the holes in the ceiling, in beams as bright as stage lights.
The effect is something that you cannot prepare for; and something I have never experienced – nor would expect to – anywhere else. I can only liken it to entering the command centre of a battle-torn spacecraft from another world; hostile, alien, and yet somehow alive.
For the more adventurous, there is also another way inside the monument; opened since my last visit.
Several concrete plates near the rear of the site were smashed open just this last winter. On this occasion, I passed a couple of gypsies driving away from the monument with a truck full of scrap metal; it seemed they been foraging around in the tunnels beneath Buzludzha, which until recently were completely inaccessible.
Judging by the nearby piles of manure, these gypsy raiders were using horses and ropes to pull heavy metal pipes up and out of the shafts. You won’t need to bring your own horse – but if you want to take a look around these subterranean passages, you will need rope.
I hadn’t come prepared for this. I sat for a while on the edge of a deep shaft, peering into the darkness beneath. These tunnels seemed to be completely detached from the basement level, which is accessed by a stairwell inside the monument itself. In the gloom I could make out a series of large metal tanks and twisted pipework.
Dropping in wouldn’t have been too difficult, but getting back out looked a lot harder. There was a thick metal pipe set in one wall, which might have provided an escape route; but I couldn’t reach far enough to test its strength, and if I climbed down, there was absolutely no guarantee of getting out again.
Looks like I’ll be coming back again soon.
Other than that, the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party remains as it was; dead in the eyes of some, while to others, merely biding its time.
There’s new graffiti around the rear of the building, most of it childish and tasteless; if you’ve really got to deface such an awe-inspiring monument, be sure that you have something worth saying.
Meanwhile, deep down in the basement level of the Buzludzha monument, a new tag has appeared. A simple phrase scrawled in a sloppy hand, it nevertheless offers a bold counter to the once-iconic slogan above the main doors; and seems to capture the current mood of this secret national treasure, lost somewhere on the road between death and rebirth:
“Don’t forget your past,” it reads.
If you’re curious to know more about this site, to learn a little about its history and read translations of the verses that decorate the outside of the building, take a look at my in-depth first report on Bulgaria’s Communist Party Headquarters.
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