An abandoned Soviet UFO-shaped building at the top on a mountain in Bulgaria is not the first thing that comes to your mind as a tourist destination. Technically its not even legal to enter the building, but a hostel in Veliko Tarnovo for the past several years has been offering “illegal” tours to the site with growing popularity. Several years ago a kiwi man came backpacking through Bulgaria and decided to check out the monument himself after hearing about it from other backpackers. Upon seeing the potential it had, he spoke with the owner of Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnovo and got himself hired as a tour guide to the site. He’s been coming back to Bulgaria every summer for years to run these tours which have recently taken off in popularity. On average, Hostel Mostel runs five tours a week with a maximum of seven people per tour to the site. The tour costs 50 LIV or about 30 USD and can be booked at the reception desk at Hostel Mostel. Its an all day affair with several interesting stops in the Balkan mountains just south of the city.
We left the hostel at 10 am and hopped in an old Toyota Land Cruiser, which we needed for the off-road section of the tour. Our first stop was Etera Complex which is a small traditional replica Bulgarian village originally created by the Soviets in the ’60s to showcase traditional Bulgarian life. The village’s central theme is water power and there are many mills and other contraptions that demonstrate how Bulgarians used water power to create industry like wood carving and milling. Before leaving the village we made a stop at the local bakery for lunch. I’d strongly recommend the apple strudel.
Next we started heading in the direction of the prime attraction, Buzludja, but we didn’t want to take the paved road there — it would have been too boring. Without any warning, our driver drives right off the main road down a barely viable track through tree branches into the forest. It seemed like our driver knew what he was doing, but our nerves were on edge as we splashed through mud puddles and drove over logs on the secret route to the monument.Our driver had a great sense of humor which really helped to ease the constant fear that we were almost about to fall off the mountain edge. We probably spent a good 45 minutes on these backtracks, but just before we made it to Buzludja our driver met his match, and we got stuck going up a hill. After nearly an hour of trying to back the car down the hill without flipping it we managed to get it to a flat area and turn it around. We had to use a rope to tie the car to a tree so it wouldn’t fall off the side of a hill, and then had to cut the tree down with an axe when the rope was too tight to untie from the tree! Once we got turned around, we took a short cut to the main road and drove the last kilometer on pavement.
We made a quick stop at an old Soviet sculpture just before the flying saucer.
Buzludja is actually the name of the mountain peak where the Buzludja Monument rests. The area has special significance because it is where the Bulgarians defeated the Ottomans in 1868 with the help of the Russians. It is also where the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a fore-runner of the Bulgarian Communist Party, was formed in secret in 1891. The building was finished in 1981, but took seven years to build and was used for special meetings and ceremonies of the Bulgarian Communist Party. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the monument has fallen into disrepair and is steadily getting worse. Originally guards were hired by the Bulgarian government to look after the building, but when the economy crashed in the early ’90s, the guards looted the building and left it to rot. In the early ’90s paper money in Bulgaria was worthless due to rapid inflation so people started looting metal from the building and actually stole two massive bronze statues from the foyer area inside the monument.
We drove up near the front of the building and our driver let us out. He needed to hide the car around back in case any police came. Technically its illegal to enter the building, but the law is never really enforced. Perhaps police may tell you to leave, but they don’t bother going inside the building. Every year the owners attempt to try to seal up an entrance in to the building, but they don’t try very hard so every year it gets reopened again by urban explorers. We walked around the outside of the building admiring the graffiti before meeting up with our guide and entering through a small hole in the wall on the right side. There is a small pile of stones and we would climb up on the stones then enter the hole backwards with our head first using some metal bars on the inside to pull ourselves up.
The place is creepy inside. The floor is covered in rubble and glass shards. It looks as if a great war broke out long ago and this is one of the few remaining pieces of human civilization. Very apocalyptic. The building has three levels – a basement, a main entrance floor, and the meeting room is located at the top. Its a large circular room which still retains its marble floors. There was a large communist mural running around the wall of the room, but much of it is crumbling due to water and ice damage. The ceiling is full of holes allowing much light to flow into the room. At the very center on the ceiling is a large communist emblem which says “workers of the world, unite” written in Russian around a hammer and sickle. Outside of the main room is a circular walkway around the building also covered in murals on the right with windows on the left looking out at the beautiful view. The floor was littered with blue bits of glass coming from the former ceiling lamps which used to be able to change color. The meeting room in the center has really impressive acoustics and when I stood in the very center and talked or clapped my hands I could hear a very eerie and quite amplified echo.
After checking out the main room, we went down to the basement… I’ll just say that I would have never gone down there alone. People try to make the basement scarier by writing things like “Zombies Round Here” on the walls. There’s even a small memorial to someone that was murdered down there. Not sure if it was fake or not. Hoping it was fake.
After the basement we made our way over to the tower room which was only opened up a few years ago after someone cleared the rubble from the door and broke the padlock off. We needed to use our headlamps to climb the 70 meters to the top on a long series of ladders. There used to be an elevator to the top, but now urban explorers need to use the ladders. Once near the top, there is a large room where the red communist star would be lit up from and eventually at the very top there is a small balcony with a spectacular view. The Russians told people that the red star was made from ruby and on a clear night could be seen from Russia. Locals believed this and when the building was first shut down, they tried to loot the ruby stone from the tower by shooting at it with a rifle hoping to knock some pieces down. The bullet marks are still visible.
Locals have mixed opinions on the monument in recent days with many puzzled as to why tourists are interested in visiting the building. Many tend to see it as an ugly scar on their national heritage, but some fondly remember the communist era and wish to see the building restored to its former glory. Often locals cite that there is a much better monument to visit located several kilometers from Buzludja called Shipka which represents a high note of Bulgarian history and is located on the actual hill where the Bulgarians managed to defeat the Ottomans and eventually push them out of Bulgaria. In 2011, the government gifted the building to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but upon receiving the gift, the socialists soon realized that the building would cost at least a million liv (750,000 USD) to make safe before even beginning repairs. Restoring the glory of the soviet era is not worth that much money which would explain why they decided to give it back to the state, but not before setting up generators and lights to give the star one last show a few years ago.
Here are some photos of what the building originally looked like when it was built:
We made out way back down the bottom and got back into the Land Rover for another off-road adventure back down to the main highway. It was getting quite late, but we still had enough time to check out an old still-functioning monastery in the mountains about 30 km from town. There was a nice restaurant there and we all had a traditional Bulgarian dinner before finally making it back to the hostel a little before 10pm.
I have to say this was probably the weirdest and coolest thing I’ve ever done while traveling. If you’re ever in Bulgaria, make your way out to the Buzludja monument!