37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Tuesday 20 June 2017
Over the past ten years, I have spent an awful lot of time in Bulgaria. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I have more photos of abandoned places in Bulgaria than I know what to do with.
There are various reasons why Bulgaria has more abandoned buildings than almost any other country I’ve visited. The declining population is partly responsible – back in 1989 the population of Bulgaria was over 9 million people. Now it’s 7.1 million, and according to the National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria it’s due to drop beneath 6 million by 2045.
These figures account for the ghost towns, the empty houses and crumbling villages that lie scattered here and there through the mountains and plains. But it isn’t only homes that stand in ruin.
When the Bulgarian communist regime came to a halt in 1989, it signalled a massive, nationwide shift in power. Construction projects were frozen overnight, while state facilities such as factories, schools, power plants and prisons were suddenly found to be surplus to requirement. (And that’s not to mention the monuments left behind by the Bulgarian Communist Party, a subject I’ve written much about elsewhere.)
In the past I’ve featured a number of abandoned places in Bulgaria (you’ll find some of them here), and in this post, I’d like to introduce you to four more.
Abandoned Cinema #1
Down on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, a string of resort towns stretch all the way from Romania to Turkey. From celebrated shitholes like Sunny Beach, to more rustic getaways and historic maritime towns – it can sometimes look like an endless seawall of hotels, bars and pools. And in between them, occasionally, perhaps an abandoned cinema or two.
In the heart of this small resort town, the outdoor cinema has been out of use for a while now. I spoke to people who remembered it – someone told me how they’d watched Jurassic Park there, while seagulls wheeled and screamed in the sky above.
I don’t know why it closed. The collapse of communism can’t be blamed for this one, evidently. Maybe it just wasn’t selling enough tickets. For whatever reason though, the gates were locked shut some time in the 90s – and the plastic seats are cracking now, the wooden benches splintering under the onset of hungry creepers.
Abandoned Cinema #2
Another day, another abandoned cinema – but this was one of the indoors variety, and I found it at the far end of the country. Well, I didn’t find it so much as I was shown the way. I had been on one of my monument-hunting missions, and got talking to an old man in the town about the local WWII memorial.
“Why do you care about this thing, anyway?” he asked me. “It’s not that interesting. Just old war stuff.” Then he gestured back up the street, to where a dirty angular shell poked out above a line of bushes.
“Have a look at this instead,” he said.
“How do you like our town cinema?” the old man asked me. “It burned down 15 years ago now, and never got fixed. There’s been nothing good to do around here since.”
The man said something else about the state of the town, the government, the bad economy and so on, then he turned and left me. I heard him muttering complaints to himself as he plodded on down the road – and after he was gone I followed his advice, stepping inside the ticket hall of the burned-out cinema.
Like many of the abandoned places in Bulgaria, this one had been stripped beyond almost any semblance of its former purpose. Every fitting was gone, burnt to ash or pulled out later by looters. Electrical wires had been plucked out of the walls leaving deep grooves in the plaster. Only concrete and blackened brick remained.
The Machine Yard
As for this place, I’m not even sure what it was supposed to be. A garage? A workshop, of some sort? Or were these machine parts and rusted engines brought here later, perhaps… broken things to be stored in a broken, forgotten place. I guess I’ll never know.
But that didn’t make it any less fun to wander around for 30 minutes with a camera, snapping pictures of rusted gears, peeling paint, and big old broken gauges.
Abandoned Holiday Park
This was a strange place – and an entirely unexpected discovery. The entrance to the former holiday park lies alongside a busy road, where it cuts past the edge of a forest. I was simply walking by when I first saw it, the faint outline of some wooden huts beyond the trees.
A chainlink fence held the forest back from the road, but I didn’t have to walk far to find a section that had fallen down. Stepping into the forest my feet hit a hard surface beneath the vines – paving stones, hidden now under decades of wild vegetation. A trail of broken, rusted street lamps led a surreal path deeper into the trees and I followed them… to find an outdoor theatre, lost in a wild green wilderness.
A tiered amphitheatre rose up around a courtyard, with a stage at its centre. Wooden chalets, most rotted well beyond repair, lay here and thereabouts. The outhouses between them held the shattered ceramic remains of sinks and toilets.
I took a look inside a few of the former holiday houses – but there wasn’t much to see. One time I found a mouldy old mattress, but aside from that these buildings were little more than soggy wood and brambles. It must have been quite beautiful once, I’d imagine. Back here in the forest there was no sound from the nearby road… only the birds, and the ambience of the trees.
The main building was larger, a kind of cultural centre at the heart of the park. Doors led from the open-air stage to dressing rooms inside – and I was just making my way through the door, down the steps towards a basement level, when someone stopped me.
Up until that point I’d been wondering how this place looked so well kept. No graffiti, no litter, only the natural decay of time and vegetation; but now I knew. A burly Bulgarian gentleman with a dog stood just behind me, and intimated in no uncertain terms that he wanted me to exit the premises at my earliest convenience. So that’s exactly what I did.
Abandoned Places in Bulgaria: Volume 2
Just this past weekend I went away trekking in the mountains, and exploring caves in the northwest of Bulgaria. No matter where I go however, I can’t resist poking about inside an interesting ruin… and so without even trying I came back home with a whole load more photos that could end up on a list like this.
Back in the early days of this blog I would publish on a one-location-per-article basis. But increasingly I’m moving to lists, longer and more in-depth reports that cover a whole range places at a time.
That’s what I’ll do with this subject too, I think – so sometime soon, you can expect to see an Abandoned Places in Bulgaria: Volume 2.
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