Monument of Bulgarian-Russian Friendship, Varna
Climbing through a small hole in the wall that someone has hammered out just enough bricks to squeeze through, I am starting to have second thoughts about what’s ahead of the darkness on the other side. One by one, and after balancing on a few stones piled on top of each other to help us clamber through, we’re inside but then have to prepare ourselves for some creepy exploration by the looks of it. The seemingly silent, inner chambers of the Monument of Bulgarian-Russian Friendship in Varna awaits us…
I thought being inside the Buzludzha building was eerie but the angular, concrete walls and pitch black staircases we stumble along in here is much spookier, mostly because there is zero light to guide us. A friend who has been here before warned us about a gaping hole in the ground with a long drop below located just after the entrance, but not being able to find it was more disconcerting than if we had seen it. I try to put thoughts of falling metres down into the dark abyss behind me and we continue hesitatingly ahead.
The monument the land was built on was previously a Soviet stronghold during the Russian-Turkish war between 1828-9 and so underneath this impressive, concrete structure lies the bloodshed remnants of those Soviet soldiers who fought here. The monument itself was built to symbolise the relationship between the Bulgarian and Russian people and came about through a design contest in 1958; the idea being to create a memorial to commemorate the Soviet Army and their battles in support of Bulgaria.
In the present day, the monument is abandoned; the only evidence of people is their rubbish scattered throughout the floors and graffiti on random surfaces. The sounds from the outside are distant and muffled from behind these solid walls but when some pigeons, previously quiet, decide to suddenly swoop above us, making cooing noises that echo in the blackness, we all jump in surprise and clutch our torches as we try and see beyond the dim shadows.
Fortunately, the next room we come across has concrete slits in the roof design and the light from them is a welcomed relief. At the end of this narrow room is a Communist star embedded into the concrete. The layout of the room has no obvious meaning, tucked inside this obscure building, but its significance is obvious.
Following the steps further, we are all relieved to be outside on the roof, and in the light. Here, we have a superb view of Varna and also of the imposing statues that make up the sides of this vast monument. On the right hand side are the empty, sharply-carved faces representing the Soviet soldiers complete with rifles over their shoulders…
…and on the opposing, left wing are three Bulgarian women: one with hung hands, another holding a flower, and the third has a tray with bread and salt.
Back in its heyday, this Communist monument would have had Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony being played on a loop, day and night, from the moment of it’s opening ceremony in 1978. It originally housed an information centre, conference facilities and Soviet bookshop, all of which was sponsored by the Russians in the belief they were enlightening the Bulgarians through education. The Monument’s Park below can be reached by the, ‘Staircase of Victory’, a series of steps where more than 10,000 trees were planted at the time of opening and the 180 floodlights shone so brightly that the grandeur of the monument could be seen from offshore.
Trying to leave, we lose our way and miss the opportunity to go to the other side where the Bulgarian women are poised. But I’m planning to return: having done some subsequent research, there is also an abandoned nuclear bunker and alleged tunnels underneath the monument which might be worth the extra visit….with a decent torch!