As soon as Tom and I mentioned we were heading down to Veliko Tarnovo, we were told that we had to stay at Hostel Mostel and go on the tour to the “UFO”. After an evening of casual drinking and being shown a few photos of what to expect we didn’t need any more convincing.
Four days later, on our second day in the beautiful Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo, we climbed into the back of a beaten up old Toyato Landcruiser and were on our way to Buzludzha!
We made our way along the Bulgarian back roads, stopping once at a traditional Bulgarian village, partly to have a look around this interesting tourist attraction but also because it was positioned haflway between Veliko Tarnovo and Buzludzha and helped split up the journey.
After another hour or so of driving we began to climb Hill after Hill. The Landcruiser pulled to the side of the road and we all bundled out. In front of us was an impressive sculpture of two hands holding flaming torches and behind them the UFO was sat atop the hill. As you can see in the photo below this sculpture wasn’t exactly small, we clambered over them and positioned ourselves for the first of many group photos. The sculpture idealised the alliance between Russia and Bulgaria, of course Russia was represented by the larger of the two torches and Bulgaria the smaller.
We continued up the winding road and came to a point where it was blocked by a barrier to stop people like us driving all the way up to the front door. Andy, our tour guide explained his usual way around this involved cutting through the carpark and down another track which would take us around the back of the monument. Today however there was a security guard sat in the car park who waved us down as soon as we arrived.
The guard explained, in Bulgarian, that the track was being tarmac’d so we wouldn’t be able to use it and we’d have to turn around. Determined to get up the monument and much to the security guards dismay Andy pretended he didn’t understand and proceeded over to the edge of the carpark and into the grass field beside it. The guard only having a small hatchback could only sit back down on his chair and watched us go, there was nothing he could do.
Unexpectedly Andy made a turn up towards the monument and continued straight up the bumpy grass hill until we were parked right underneath the 40m tower. I can’t say it was an official parking space but it suited us just fine.
With the huge circular auditorium and it’s prominent position on top of the peak it’s not hard to understand why it gets it’s nickname “The UFO”.
Andy explained to us how the entry points into the building changed almost monthly. The main entrance was locked up and many other holes had been filled with concrete, but as one entrance was blocked a new way to get in would shortly appear. The current entrance into the building involved a short rappel into the basement. It was at this point that we were given the option to stay outside but nobody took it, we had all made it this far we were going to make it inside!
Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness and the group had all made it inside the the sheer scale and grandeur of the monument became obvious. Tentatively avoiding the broken glass and rubble we made our way up to the main auditorium and stood in stunned silence. The room was huge, with enough seating for several hundred guests and along the edge of the auditorium a beautifully detailed mosaic, still largely intact, decorated the walls. Within the mosaic there were a few faces I recognised; Engels, Marx and Stalin but three others of the opposite wall whom I didn’t.
Back at the hostel later i found out that the three other individuals who had pride of place within the mosaic were figureheads behind the Bulgarian socialist movement:
- Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria’s president from 1954 to 1989.
- Dimitar Blagoev, the main driving force behind the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party
- Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the country from 1946 to 1949
In a large ring around the outside of the center auditorium was a circular walkway. Large windows let the sunshine in and gave spectacular views over the beautiful countryside that surrounds the monument. Again another beautiful mosaic depicting socialist workers and other figures covered the entire inside wall of this outer ring.
Once we were all done with the main floors we made our way up the countless stairs and ladders to the top of the 40m tower. The way up the tower had obviously been inaccessible at one point as the heavy metal door had been bent, contorted and pulled off it’s hinges. At the first set of stairs we also had to climb over a large pile of rocks, again presumably used to try to block the way up. Thankfully previous groups had cleared these enough that we could climb over them with relative ease and continue our way up the series of ladders. When we finally arrived on top of the tower we were greeted with an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding scenery.
With most of the interior of the building now seen we made our way back down from the tower and headed outside. This meant climbing back up the short rappel we used to enter the building, not the easiest way to get out but it was our only option.
Once outside we walked around to the front and admired the cyrillic lettering that covers the front of the building either side of the main entrance. We made the most of the photo opportunity and got a group shot hanging off the letter.
We did another lap of the building taking our final photos and then made our way back to the Landcruiser to begin our journey back to the hostel. Stopping en-route at a small waterfall for a bit of a swim and then grabbing dinner from a traditional Bulgarian restaurant.
Truly one of the most interesting places I have ever been in Europe and it’s far enough off the beaten track that you can show photos to friends back home and they look at you in complete disbelief that a structure like this even exists.
What are you waiting for? All the details you need to take your own trip to Buzludzha are below:
The Buzludzha Monument was built by the Bulgarian communist regime in 1981 to commemorate a gathering of socialists on the same spot that took place nearly 100 years previously. This meeting on the Buzludzha peak founded the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party which evolved into what is todays current Bulgarian communist party.
Designed by Guéorguy Stoilov and built by civil engineering troops from the Bulgarian army and teams of volunteers the sheer scale of the structure is overwhelming. The total cost of development is unknown but alongside government funding an estimated 14 million leva (£6 million) was donated by communist supporters.
How to get there?
The Buzludzha monument is located in the Central Stara Planina region of Bulgaria and is accessible from Buzludzha by two side roads from the Shipka Pass.
You can find the Monument on google maps at the following location:
Where to stay?
I personally was staying in Hostel Mostel in Veliko Tarnovo, arguable one of my favourite hostels we visited over the seven week trip. Great location, friendly staff and they do some fantastic tours of the local area including the one to Buzludzha I described in this post.
If you have any other questions feel free to drop me a comment below