In this blog — titled ‘forgotten structures’ — abandoned developments of the 20th century, littered across the globe, are brought back to life. With the aid of photography collections and archival memoirs, we explore the legacy of intriguing structural ruins which time has slowly left behind. Each time, a new case is introduced and added to the list. Ultimately, the blog will construct a comprehensive collection of structural gems which deserve to be remembered.
‘Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure’ — Rumi
This time, we look at what remains of the 20th century House of the Bulgarian Communist Party, opened in 1981. Situated atop of Mount Buzludzha in the centre of the country, it stands as a reminder of a time which crumbled as severely as the building itself.
The monument was built to commemorate the events of 1891, when a group of socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev assembled secretly in the area to form an organized socialist movement that led to the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a forerunner of the Bulgarian Communist Party.
Construction of the monument began in January 1974 under architect Georgi Stoilov, a former mayor of Sofia. Trinitrotoluene (TNT) was used to level the peak into a stable foundation, with more than 15,000 cubic metres of rock being removed in the process.
Costing the equivalent of around £25 million, the building exemplifies the futurist architecture common to many state-constructed communist buildings. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, however, Bulgaria moved into a new age of parliamentary democracy and left its communist headquarters behind.
The monument is no longer managed and is closed to the public, although this has not stopped many avid adventurers who have scaled the mountain to catch a glimpse of the site. A proposal by The Buzludha Project to architecturally preserve the monument and to turn the building into an interpretive museum of Bulgarian history has gained momentum in recent years and it is hoped that this will continue to evolve.
Thieves have stripped much of the roof panelling away from the building, leaving it vulnerable to the elements. A wall mosaic of Bulgaria’s communist dictator Todor Zhivkov has been destroyed, while others of communist heroes Marx, Engels and Lenin remain just about recognisable.
The final mosaic in the building was the communist hammer and sickle encircled by a quote from The Communist Manifesto stating, “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”
Upon opening, the mosaics covered around 937 square metres of space in the building and were built with 35 tons of cobalt glass. On the outer ring of the monument, mosaics were built with natural stones gathered from rivers across Bulgaria. These mosaics have also mostly vanished, yet this is due to the extreme weather common in the mountains, as opposed to vandals.
“ Let the pathways leading here, where the first Marxists came to continue the work of sacred and pure love that was started by Bulgaria’s socialist writers and philosophers, never fall into disrepair. Let generation after generation of socialist and communist Bulgaria come here, to bow down before the feats and the deeds of those who came before; those who lived on this land and gave everything they had to their nation. Let them feel that spirit that ennobles us and as we empathise with the ideas and dreams of our forefathers”
Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhivkov at the opening ceremony of the House, 1981
In a sign that many of the local population have no interest in the moument, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov transfered ownership of the structure to the BSP Socialist party in November 2017. He said, “let them take care of it if they’re so proud of it”.
In 2018, the monument was recognized by Europa Nostra as one of the seven most endangered heritage sites in Europe. The latest preservation works started in 2019, led by the aforementioned Buzludzha Project, which is in collaboration with ICOMOS Germany and the municipality of Stara Zagora.
The collaborative foundation were able to secure a Getty grant of $185,000 to establish a Conservation Management Plan for the future of the monument. The early results from the plan were that the building can be preserved and used for commemorative purposes.
The foundation’s initial work led to a follow-up Getty grant in July 2020, which will help to stabilise the mosaic panels in order to preserve what is left of the remaining artwork. Ultimately, The Buzludzha Project is not only interested in conserving the monument as it is a masterpiece of architecture, engineering and art, but also because they believe that the past should be remembered, especially if it is traumatic or difficult.
The building, or what is left of it, stands as a symbol of a conflict between people holding different views about the recent past. In the future, it is hoped that the building can be preserved and remembered as a site of mutual understanding, tolerance, and education. By supporting the reconstruction and reuse of the monument, The Buzludzha Project hope to create a symbol of resolved conflict as an outstanding example for thousands of other forgotten monuments and sites.