37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
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).
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.
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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