History of the Buzludzha Memorial House
The following timeline will guide you through events at Buzludzha, from the 1971 decision to build a grand Memorial House, through the monument's complicated construction process and subsequent inauguration, all the way up to its present-day status.
1971: STOILOV'S PROPOSAL
Stoilov revised his designs to feature a saucer-shaped body, with the star mounted in a conjoined tower. Over subsequent revisions Stoilov decided to further separate these elements, positioning the tower outside the saucer in order to give it better stability against the wind.
The look of Georgi Stoilov's Buzludzha monument was influenced by the Brutalist style then popular in Western Europe, and in particular the architect notes personal influences including Mies van der Rohe, Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Stoilov's idea was to create a monument that could become timeless, by incorporating both ancient and futuristic motifs into his design. He lists both the Roman Pantheon and the sci-fi films of the 1950s amongst his inspirations for Buzludzha.
In 1961, to mark 70 years since Dimitâr Blagoev's group met at Buzludzha Peak to found the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party, three monuments were unveiled on the mountain. The original plan had been to create a fourth, as well – an illuminated red star on the mountaintop.
The architect Georgi Stoilov submitted a proposal for that fourth monument, featuring a ring perched on six columns and a tower at its centre bearing the star.
The project wasn't used in 1961 however, and it was a decade later when Stoilov got a call asking him to revise his plans. Given the extreme winter conditions at the peak (with strong winds and temperatures often as low as -25 °C / -13 °F), the new specification was for a memorial house featuring heated interior spaces for hosting visitors and special events.
The construction teams worked in shifts from May until September, to make the most of the milder climates. A village of workers' huts was established near the construction site and would remain on Buzludzha Peak for the following seven years.
A number of workers allegedly died during the construction project – and though such accidents are sadly not unusual (eight workers died building Brazil's 2014 World Cup stadiums, for example), the Party nevertheless took care to bury the bad news.
Meanwhile, new roads were built to transport building materials up the mountain: including 70,000 tons of concrete, 3,000 tons of steel, and 40 tons of glass.
Work began on the Buzludzha Monument on 23rd January 1974.
First, the peak was levelled to create a stable platform for the monument, using TNT to bring the height down by nine metres – from 1441m to 1432m. In laying the foundations for the monument, more than 15,000 cubic metres of rock were taken away from the peak.
In total, more than 6,000 people contributed their work to the creation of the Buzludzha monument. This included engineers, artists, designers, sculptors, a large number of volunteer labourers and 500 soldiers from the construction corps under General Delcho Delchev.
Covering 510 square metres, these mosaics were formed from 35 tons of cobalt glass – or smalt – imported from Ukraine. The stones had 42 different colours and were assembled by a team of 60 artists who worked on the project for 18 months.
The outer ring of the monument – the observation deck inside the rim of the saucer – featured a different kind of mosaic on its walls. Here the designs were created using natural stones, collected from rivers around Bulgaria.
A team of 14 artists created one panel each, to illustrate a broader history of Bulgaria (though inevitably, told from the same socialist perspective).
With greater exposure to the elements however, only around 50% of this outer mosaic still remains.
A third mosaic piece was created at the centre of the monument's interior dome – a hammer and sickle emblem covering an area of roughly 5 square metres, positioned above the 'Solemn Hall,' and encircled by a quote from The Communist Manifesto:
"Proletarians of all countries, unite!"
The interior space of the monument featured walls covered in richly detailed mosaics, which illustrated an allegorical history of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Notable scenes depicted space travel, warfare, and communist workers driving their pitchforks into a serpent symbolic of foreign capitalism.
One side of the hall featured the faces of international communist heroes – Marx, Engels and Lenin – while the opposite side was dedicated to Bulgaria's own communist figures. The faces of Dimitâr Blagoev (founder of Bulgarian socialism) and Georgi Dimitrov (first communist leader of Bulgaria) were positioned alongside that of Todor Zhivkov, communist leader of Bulgaria from 1954-1989.
There was a debate at the time as to whether Zhivkov's face ought to be included. It was not traditional to memorialise communist leaders while they were still alive – but Zhivkov was already 69 by the time Buzludzha was opened, and it was believed the monument would survive as his legacy.
(Zhivkov's face was also the first thing to be destroyed – the tiles scraped out in 1992 by his own party, as they attempted to distance themselves from the disgraced dictator.)
1977: The TOWER AND STarS
The stars were produced in Kiev (back then, capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) using synthetic ruby glass, and weighed 3.5 tons apiece. They would be lit from inside the tower by a series of 32 spotlights, and powered by a generator large enough to power 500 homes.
The Party once claimed that the red stars at Buzludzha could be seen from as far away as the Romanian border in the north, and the Greek border to the south.
Originally the plan had been to complete the tower and its stars in time for the grand opening ceremony, in 1981. However, in 1977 a memo came down from the secretariat which ordered the workers to advance their plans in order to light the red stars for the 60th anniversary of Russiaʼs October Revolution.
The construction of the tower was treated as a separate project to the main body of the monument. Genadi Milovanov led the construction brigade, and in total the tower took two years to build.
The Buzludzha tower measures 70 m (230 ft) in height, 9 m (30 ft) across at the base, and 16 m (52 ft) across at its highest point. The tower's foundations descend 16 m (52 ft) into the ground.
A lift inside the tower went up to an observation deck at the top of the monument, offering panoramic views over the Balkan Mountains.
The glass stars that flank the north and south sides of the tower, meanwhile, were believed to be the largest in the world – at 12 m (39 ft) across.
1979: FUNDING THE PROJECT
Additional funds were spent on the development of new roads and infrastructure in the area. According to Delcho Delchev, commander of the construction corps:
"The additional construction challenges, such as provisions for water, electricity, the new road from Kran to Buzludzha, and so on, amounted to roughly 9 million levs and was funded independently by the relevant ministries. The completed Buzludzha Memorial House complex reached a total cost of 25 million levs."
The entire project therefore cost equivalent to roughly $62.5 million today*.
*These figures are based on the author's own calculations, taking into account the significant inflation that occurred in Bulgaria following the nation's transition to democracy.
It was the monument's architect, Georgi Stoilov, who suggested that the Buzludzha Memorial House should not be paid for by the state, thus putting strain on the national budget. Instead, he saw this as a 'monument of the people' and believed that the people should be encouraged to donate willingly towards its construction.
The construction of the monument cost came to 14 million levs (by today's rates, roughly $35 million*) and between a population of 8.8 million Bulgarians, a total of 16.2 million levs was raised. What wasn't used on the monument was spent on developing new roads and kindergartens in the area.
Much of this money was collected through donations and the sale of commemorative stamps, though some sources claim that a 0.50 lev tax was discretely docked from the pay of all working Bulgarians.
1981: The OPENING CEREMONY
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, so let us experience that same excitement today!
Glory to Blagoev and his followers; those first disciples of Bulgarian socialism, who sowed the immortal seeds of today’s Bulgarian Communist Party in the public soul!"
Todor Zhivkov, Secretary General of the Bulgarian Communist Party, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Buzludzha Memorial House on 23rd August, 1981:
"I am honoured to be in the historical position to open the House-Monument [of the Bulgarian Communist Party], built in honour of the accomplishments of Dimitâr Blagoev and his associates; who, 90 years ago, laid the foundations for the revolutionary Marxist Party in Bulgaria.
Let the pathways leading here – to the legendary Buzludzha Peak, here in the Stara Planina 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.
1981-1989: The Monument in USe
When it wasn’t functioning as a public museum, the Buzludzha Memorial House was used as a venue for certain events by Bulgarian Communist Party. Award ceremonies were held here, and foreign delegations were often taken on a tour of the BCP’s extravagant monument to Bulgarian socialism.
The Buzludzha Memorial House remained in use until 1989; but in November that year, Todor Zhivkov was deposed from office by his own party, and soon the whole single-party system of the Bulgarian Communist Party would be dismantled.
The Buzludzha Monument quickly became redundant.
The Buzludzha Memorial House enjoyed almost a decade of use. Along with the many other memorial complexes around Bulgaria, it served as part of a network of educational heritage sites; though its size and complexity would set it apart as the jewel in the crown.
The Bulgarian people had paid for the construction of the monument – many had volunteered labour too – and so entry was free for everyone. Due to demand however, visits had to be booked in advance. Many visits were arranged by schools or employers, and a great many people visited the monument: more than two million during its eight years of use. The architect Georgi Stoilov claims the building could handle as many as 500 people per hour on busy days.
THe 1990s: DECLINE OF THE BUZLUDZHA MONUMENT
The mausoleum's demolition was conducted even after an opinion poll reported that two-thirds of the population opposed the idea.
Around that same time, Kostov's government dismissed the guards who had been protecting the Buzludzha Monument, and left the building open to the public.
Before long, looters began the process of stripping out metal and other valuable materials. The most expensive items disappeared immediately – including the solid copper ceiling – and it is rumoured that members of the government took these for themselves. Some visitors, believing the red stars in the tower were made from real rubies, shot them out with rifles – only to get showered in shattered synthetic ruby glass.
Rain and snow began to enter through the broken roof and windows, and what hadn't been taken was left behind to decay.
The political changes that swept across Bulgaria during the early 1990s ushered in a new era of democracy but as the country opened its borders to western culture and capitalism, there was no place left for monuments to socialism.
The Buzludzha monument was closed, sitting in limbo for half a decade on its mountain peak. By the late 1990s Bulgaria was facing economic crises and an uncertain future. Many citizens blamed the former regime, and from 1997 onwards the conservative and passionately anti-communist government under Prime Minister Ivan Kostov began the dismantling of various notable communist-era monuments.
In August 1999, Kostov's government used bulldozers and explosives to destroy the Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov: a white marble tomb in the centre of Sofia, that had contained the remains of Bulgaria's first communist leader.
Today the Memorial House on Buzludzha Peak is a skeleton of its former self. The glass is gone from its windows, the red star has been smashed, and the intricate murals that decorate the interior are falling gradually to the elements.
In that ruined state though, Buzludzha began to attract new visitors. The breathtaking location, the melancholic atmosphere of decay, and all of that combined with the rich political significance of the monument, soon began to attract the attention of the world’s media.
Images of the Buzludzha Monument have travelled around the world, and people from all around the world have travelled to Buzludzha. The monument is now often described as one of the world’s most beautiful modern ruins, and is widely recognised for its remarkable achievements in architectural design and engineering.
History of the Buzludzha Memorial House
Author: Richard F. Morten, 2018.
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Stoilov, Georgi (2015) Personal interview with Richard F. Morten, translation by Mihail Kondov, 7 August 2015.
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