A timeline of EVENTS ON Buzludzha PEAK
The Buzludzha Monument was opened in August 1981 – but the story didn't start there. The creation of the House-Monument celebrated a long and turbulent history associated with Buzludzha Peak, a site of great national significance located at the near-perfect centre of Bulgaria.
The following timeline will guide you through events at Buzludzha, from the deeds of 19th century revolutionaries and freedom fighters, to the official inauguration of the Buzludzha Monument.
1868: The Death of Hadzhi Dimitar
Buzludzha Peak first entered the Bulgarian history books in 1867, when it was the scene of a famous revolutionary battle.
Bulgaria was occupied by the Ottomans at the time, but during the second half of the 19th century a strong revolutionary movement was growing in the country. Two of the most famous revolutionaries, Hadzhi Dimitar and Stefan Karadzha, formed a detachment in Romania in 1868 before heading south across Bulgaria launching attacks on one Ottoman stronghold after another. The campaign enjoyed some early victories, until 9th July when Karadzha was injured in battle and taken prisoner by the enemy.
Hadzhi Dimitar went on to lead the remaining rebels in one last battle, fought at Buzludzha Peak on 18th July 1868. By this point the detachment numbered just 58 men, and they were soon defeated by the much larger Ottoman force they faced. Some were captured, others were killed, and Hadzhi Dimitar himself was fatally wounded in the conflict. He was carried from the mountain on a stretcher, and later died from his injuries.
Ever since then the location has stood as a symbol for heroism, and for self-sacrifice in the name of freedom. The courageous deeds of that rebel detachment drew the attention of the whole of Europe, and it inspired more Bulgarians to rise up in arms against their Ottoman overlords. Although Stefan Karadzha and Hadzhi Dimitar never lived to see it themselves, just a decade later the nation would gain its freedom: beginning with the 1876 April Uprising, leading into the arrival of the Russians for the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War that would see Bulgarian independence restored after almost five centuries of Turkish rule.
1891: The Dawn of Bulgarian Socialism
The first socialist groups in Bulgaria had begun meeting by 1886. The political philosopher Dimitar Blagoev was instrumental in shaping the movement, at least in part through the provision of the first Bulgarian-language translations of works such as Karl Marx's Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto.
Socialism was frowned upon in tsarist, post-Ottoman Bulgaria and so these groups typically met in secret; with factions in towns such as Stara Zagora, Gabrovo, Sliven and Kazanluk, central Bulgarian towns that lay scattered north and south of the mountain range. In 1891, when Blagoev decided to unite these disparate groups into one Bulgarian socialist organisation, Buzludzha made the logical meeting place – a discrete and convenient location, already steeped in national significance.
Bulgaria's first socialist congress was held on 2nd August 1891 at Buzludzha Peak, resulting in the official formation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party: a precursor to the Bulgarian Communist Party, who would later seize complete control over the country.
1898: A Buzludzha Monument
The first idea for a monument on Buzludzha Peak was proposed by Bishop Kusevich of Stara Zagora, in 1898. The plan detailed an obelisk with a cross, accompanied by a memorial chapel and gardens dedicated in honour of Hadzhi Dimitrov and his rebels. The proposal was accepted, and even developed to include a large sculpture of Hadzhi Dimitar; it was never completed however, the project being hindered by financial crises then affecting the country.
1936: The Buzludzha Lodge
The first memorial project on Buzludzha Peak to reach completion was a guest house, the 'Buzludzha Lodge,' that was opened in 1936. The building was created to accommodate pilgrims: the many visitors who by then were already travelling to Buzludzha Peak in order to pay their respects to Hadzhi Dimitar and his detachment. The completion of the Buzludzha Lodge was intended to facilitate such an interest in the past, and to further develop domestic tourism in the region.
1944: THE PARTISAN MOVEMENT
During WWII, Bulgaria was brought onto the side of Nazi Germany... much to the protest of many of her citizens. A nationwide partisan resistance movement was organised, in which the Bulgarian Social Democratic Worker's Party – now known as the Bulgarian Communist Party – took a leading role.
On 25th January 1944, partisan detachments from the towns of Gabrovo and Sevlievo ambushed fascist forces engaged in training exercises on Buzludzha Peak. A fierce firefight ensued, during which three partisan troops lost their lives.
1959: AN ARCHITECTURAL COMPETITION
At the end of WWII, the Soviets occupied Bulgaria as they pushed the Nazi forces back out of Eastern Europe. The victorious partisans of the Bulgarian Communist Party formed a new government over the following years, with backing from the Soviet Union.
The new regime erected a great many monuments to celebrate the history of Bulgarian socialism and the heroes who had given their lives to bring it about. In particular, Buzludzha Peak was considered a hugely important location for its deep connection to the socialist movement in Bulgaria; and on 29th January 1959, a competition was announced that would welcome design proposals for four new monuments celebrating the history of this mountain.
1961: 70 Years of Bulgarian Socialism
On 2nd July 1961 – 70 years after the foundation of Bulgaria's first socialist organisation – three out of four of the monuments are unveiled: a statue of Hadzhi Dimitar, an engraved relief of Dimitar Blagoev's 1981 Buzludzha Congress, and a monument dedicated to the partisan forces of WWII.
The fourth monument was intended to be larger and more impressive than the others. The competition bid was won by Georgi Stoilov, a young Bulgarian architect whose previous work included the design of a new hotel in Sofia; however, due to its scale and complexity his grand Buzludzha Monument was delayed, and missed the opening ceremony.
1971: STOILOV'S PROPOSAL
The concept for the fourth monument was centred around placing an illuminated, red five-pointed star at the mountaintop. Georgi Stoilov's original proposal featured a ring perched on six columns, and a tower at its centre bearing the star. The project wasn't realised in 1961, and in fact it took a decade for the project to be resumed. Stoilov got the call one day, asking him to revise his drafts to include an interior space that would provide shelter from the harsh mountain elements.
These revised designs featured a saucer-shaped body, with the star mounted in a conjoined tower. The design was developed further in consideration of the strong winds on Buzludzha Peak, and the architect eventually decided to build the tower outside the saucer in order to improve overall stability.
Georgi Stoilov's vision was to create a monument that offered a synthesis of art and architecture: a uniform architectural design that achieved harmony between its interior and exterior vision; between form and nature. The design combined vertical symbolism via the star tower, juxtaposed with function provided in the horizontal dimension by way of the domed body. The monument was intended to embody themes of purity, majesty and severity, presented here in understated raw concrete form.
Preparations for building the monument began on 23rd January 1974. Buzludzha 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 removed.
A team was assembled: numbering more than 500 soldiers from the construction corps, along with artists, engineers, designers, technicians, officers, directors and volunteers. In total, more than 6,000 people contributed their work to the creation of the Buzludzha monument. They worked in shifts to make the most of the mild climate between May and September, and lived in a village of workers' huts that would remain on Buzludzha Peak for the following seven years.
Raw materials were brought up the mountain in vast quantities; 70,000 tons of concrete, 3,000 tons of steel, and 40 tons of glass being used in the construction process.
The interior space of the monument featured walls covered in richly detailed mosaics, which illustrated a history of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Covering an area of 510 square metres, these mosaics were formed from 35 tons of cobalt glass – or smalt – imported from Ukraine. The fragments came in 42 different colours and were assembled by a team of 60 artists who worked on the project for 18 months.
Today around 20% of the mosaic is missing, while the rest remains in reasonable condition.
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 tell a story between them about the establishment of the socialist ideal in Bulgaria.
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 50 square metres, positioned above the 'Solemn Hall,' and encircled by a quote from The Communist Manifesto:
"Proletarians of all countries, unite!"
1977: The TOWER AND STarS
The tower was built over a period of two years, a separate construction project supervised by brigade leader Genadi Milovanov. It was considered a feat of engineering achievement at the time, measuring over 70m in height, 9m in width and with foundations that extended 16m down into the mountain.
Those glass stars that flank the north and south sides of the tower, meanwhile, were believed to be the largest in the world – at 12m across. These stars were produced in Kiev, 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.
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.
1979: FUNDING THE PROJECT
The funds required to build the monument were raised in the form of donations. It was Georgi Stoilov's own initiative that the monument should not be paid for by the State, but rather as a joint investment by the Bulgarian people; thus investing all citizens in the cause of creating a monument of, and for, the People.
Much of this money was collected through the sale of commemorative stamps, and from a population of 8.8 million Bulgarians a total figure of 16.2 million levs was raised... more than the total cost of constructing the monument, which came to a total of around 14 million levs (by today's rates, roughly $35 million).
A number of related construction projects were also completed, in order to facilitate and support this new attraction at the mountain peak. 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 House-Monument' complex reached a total cost of 25 million lev."
1981: The OPENING CEREMONY
"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 Dimitar 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.
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
Opening Ceremony of the House-Monument at Buzludzha Peak, 23rd August, 1981
1981-1989: The Monument in USe
During the eight years that the Buzludzha monument remained in operation, from 1981 until 1989, the building was visited by more than two million people. The monument was open on Wednesdays through to Sundays, from 9-12 am and again from 1-4 pm. At peak times the building would log as many as 500 visitors per hour. Admission to the Buzludzha monument was free, though visits would need to be reserved and approved in advance.
The visitor experience at the Buzludzha monument was carefully curated, and had the character of an educational pilgrimage. In addition to being open to the public however, the monument would also be used for special Party events: hosting important delegation meetings, award-giving ceremonies, school outings and visits from the various workers' organisations across Bulgaria.
1991-Present: THE DECLINE OF THE BUZLUDZHA MONUMENT
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 built to honour communist leaders. The Buzludzha monument was closed, sitting in limbo for half a decade on its mountain peak.
By the late 1990s, Bulgaria was still facing economic crises and an uncertain future. Many citizens blamed the former regime, and Buzludzha provided the perfect target for their frustrations. Vandals attacked the monument in an expression of political discontent – and once the building had been broken open, looters began the process of stripping out metal and other valuable materials.
Today the House-Monument 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 capture the hearts and imaginations of visitors. The breathtaking location, the melancholic atmosphere of decay, and all of that combined with the rich political significance of the monument: the abandoned saucer 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 site has evolved from the well-kept secret of a young Bulgarian democracy, to being considered now as one of the world’s most beautiful and unique modern ruins.
...Did you think the story would end there?
The Buzludzha Monument may be looking a little worse for wear these days, but there is still hope for it. The structure remains sound, the tower stable, and most of the murals are still intact. To prevent further damage however, the monument must be drained of moisture and sealed against the elements with new windows and a new roof. After that, it will be possible to begin work on restoring the interior and creating a new visitor experience on Buzludzha Peak.
The Buzludzha Project seeks to de-politicise this monument. It is considered not as a temple to communism, but rather as a unique relic of history. When the communists built their monument on Buzludzha Peak, they were merely appropriating Bulgarian history for their own ends.... and now that Party itself has passed into history too.
True to the original vision of Georgi Stoilov, the renovated Buzludzha monument will memorialise all periods of Bulgarian history – from the ancient khans and founders of the First Bulgarian State, to the revolutionaries and reformers of the 19th and 20th centuries – but it will do so without judgement, and without political bias.
To find out more about the plans to save the Buzludzha monument, click the button below.