Experience 9: Exploring a communist-era UFO on a mountain in Bulgaria

by Oliver Smith
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In 1891, a group of socialists secretly gathered on the forested mountains around Buzludzha in Bulgaria, plotting a revolution. They would have camped out under the stars – listening to the hoots of owls and the wind rustling in the trees – dreaming of a day when Bulgarian workers would unite against their oppressors…

What they definitely would not have dreamt was that the same mountain would, a century later, be the site of the weirdest building in Europe – a place we visited today. Finished in 1981, the Buzludzha monument was conceived as a temple to communism. From the outside it looked like a UFO that had mistakenly landed on the summit of a Bulgarian mountain. Inside it was almost as strange, with colourful mosaics of Marx, Lenin and steely-looking Bulgarian workers striding forth to a glorious future.

But the future turned out differently. For 20 years since the fall of communism in Bulgaria, the Buzludzha Monument has been unloved and derelict, and has now largely fallen to bits. There was no one in sight today when we visited the building, except for some grazing horses giving our Mini quizzical glances. There was a thick, Twilight Zone mist, and the scent of wild mint was heavy in the air.

We climbed the hill to the monument, shimmied through a hole in the wall and found our way to the main auditorium. Or what was left of it anyway. Lenin’s face was gone. Marx was looking the worse for wear. Puffy clouds were seeping through the hole in the ceiling, and birds were making nests in the loft insulation.

Being there was an astonishing feeling – as if everyone had suddenly packed their bags and fled 20 twenty years ago, and we were the first ones to stand in this spot since. But of course we weren’t. There was lots of graffiti – football team slogans, people’s names, English language swear words in innovative and bewildering combinations.

But one recent piece stood out as being different – bigger, bolder and redder than the rest…

‘Workers of the World Unite,’ it read.

NOTE: Entering the Buzludzha Monument is not safe, so we can't recommend you do. Thankfully, it’s still amazing from the outside.

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