Exploring an Abandoned Surface-to-Air Missile Base in Bulgaria

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Bulgaria, during its years of communist rule, was a well-oiled military machine. Well-oiled but largely unused, that is. The Bulgarian military didn’t see homeland conflict after WWII, but during that period of Soviet influence the nation was ever on the alert against potential incoming attacks from the West. Much of this was just the typical Cold War paranoia that both sides suffered from… but in Bulgaria’s case it wasn’t entirely without precedent. Bulgaria was repeatedly bombed by the Allies during WWII, after being pressured into an alliance with Nazi Germany. The Soviets then bombed Bulgaria too, on their way in to liberate the country (where liberation took the form of Soviet-style communism).

Ariel view of a former missile launch facility in Bulgaria.

By the 1950s, Bulgaria was sick of getting bombed by people, and began taking measures to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of civil defence bunkers were constructed throughout the country. They were placed beneath state facilities, under residential districts, or connected to schools, factories and shopping centres. But more pre-emptive defensive measures were taken too, with the creation of numerous Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) installations built at key locations around the country. Some of these took the form of permanent missile launch facilities, such as the silos to the right – located at a small base outside one Bulgarian city. More often than not though, defence against incoming ICBMs was provided by mobile SAM launchers (this kind of thing) that waited inside military hangars all around the country.

The following photos come from one such site near Sofia.

 

A sign at the front gate seemed to indicate the site was guarded, but there was no sound or movement to suggest that anyone was around.

Just 20 metres from the guardhouse, the perimeter fence lay on its side allowing easy access inside.
The base once guarded a small airfield. During WWII, fighter planes took off and landed here but the airstrip has since reverted to farmland.
A cow’s skull lurks in the long grass of the former airfield.
Roads and other paved spaces inside the base have long since grown over with grass and trees.
Camouflage exterior, with 1970s paisley wallpaper inside. Some strong design choices.
Entrance to the reinforced garages where SAM launchers would likely once have been stored.
Inside one of the garages – with the back wall broken, to reveal more of that gorgeous retro wallpaper.
Paisley and pin-ups decorate the launch team’s standby area.
Peering out at the forest which would once have been an active military base.
This small base consisted of a few admin and security buildings, barracks, and then row after row of vehicle garages.
More pin-ups and footballers. The calendar gives you an idea how recently the place was used.
That’s pretty much the state of the perimeter fence… where it’s not completely vertical.
A number of defensive bunkers were constructed around the base in case of attack. Here’s the entrance to one.
Inside these artificial mounds are reinforced structures that, while not particularly spacious, ought to have been able to withstand a direct missile strike.
Another row of garages.
All empty now, of course.
I wonder where the launchers went after the site was closed…
This reinforced shelter had an artificial mound created above it – serving both as added defence, and disguise.
This lookout post can’t even see the whole territory of the base anymore. It feels out of place here, like it got lost in the forest.
From this angle you could almost believe that was a real hill.
An old electricity terminal, now exposed to the elements.
Yet another garage…
This structure appears to have been a guard hut, watching over the rear entrance to the base.
Some buildings are doing better than others. This one doesn’t seem to have long left now.

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We spent a couple of hours exploring the base, opening doors and peeking into bunkers, and then we left the same way we arrived: straight over the nearest perimeter. The former fence was only just visible, long-since fallen down and swallowed by the long grass. All this time, the car had been parked right outside the front entrance to the base, and before we drove away, I tried to take one last picture of the gate. Suddenly someone whistled at me. I lowered the camera to see a man in his sixties, stomping over from the guard hut with his finger wagging in the air. He must have just woken up from an afternoon nap.

No photos! he shouted, shooing us away from the gate. He clearly had no idea that we’d just spent the last two hours wandering freely around the compound behind him. Still, we did as the man asked; and he watched us go, arms folded over his chest, until the car was around the corner and out of sight.

 

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  1. I especially love every shot with that wallpaper in it! That is not paisley tho – closer to what just gets called a damask.

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