37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Saturday 23 February 2019
Bulgaria, during its years of communist rule, was a well-oiled military machine. Well-oiled but largely unused, that is. The Bulgarian military hasn’t seen homeland conflict since WWII now, but during those years of Soviet influence the nation was ever on the alert against potential incoming attacks from the West.
A lot 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 bombed quite heavily by the Allies during WWII, after they were forced 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, of course).
By the 1950s Bulgaria was sick of getting bombed by people, and they 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 appeared beneath state facilities, under residential districts, and connected to schools, factories and even shopping centres as well. I wrote about one not so long ago. But pre-emptive measures were taken too, with the creation of numerous surface-to-air missile (SAM) installations placed 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.
After a couple of hours spent exploring, opening doors and peeking into bunkers, we left the base 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.
We had left the car parked right at the entrance to the base, and before we drove away, I tried to take one last picture of the main gate. Suddenly, someone whistled at me. I lowered the camera to see an older chap, maybe in his 60s, 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 told us, shooing us away from the gate. Clearly with no idea that we’d just spent the last two hours wandering freely around the compound. Still, we did as the man asked; and he watched us go, arms folded over his chest, until the car was round the corner and out of sight.
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