The Buzludzha (Buzludja) Monument is an abandoned building on top of a hill in the Central Stara Planina, Bulgaria. It was built in 1981 by the Bulgarian Communist Party to commemorate the creation of its fore-runner, the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, but has been left unmaintained ever since communism fell in Bulgaria in 1989. Today, the Buzludzha Monument finds itself in a desolate condition and the entrance has been sealed with iron doors and bars – however, visitors still can enter the complex at their own risk.
So why did I go to Buzludzha (Buzludja)? Well, I’m going to be very honest here: my travel motivation for Buzludzha (Buzludja) wasn’t its history, but primarily its architecture, the challenge of getting into a closed monument, the overall Bulgarian region and most importantly, the frailness of this massive ‘fortress’. The strength and power that Buzludzha emanates is strongly contrasted by its fragile, devastated interior. The torn open roof, the crumbling mosaic art and the debris inside the building are clear indications of Buzludzha’s unstable condition. Due to the lack of urgently required funding for renovations, it is likely that the frail Buzludzha Auditorium will collapse sometime in the next decades. So if you want to visit one of the most impressive legacies of the Bulgarian Socialist/Communist era, I recommend to plan your trip before they seal up the Buzludzha Monument for good.
I can hardly recall the moment I first walked into the Buzludzha Auditorium as I was so pumped with excitement, adrenalin and awe. Friedrich, my co-traveler, and I repeatedly mumbled an uncontrolled mix of words like “watch your step …”, “oh my god …”, “awesome …”, “be quiet, man …” while not actually listening to each other, but rather shining into every corner with our flashlights – making sure that nobody (or nothing…) else was there. We walked carefully into the center of the Buzludzha Auditorium, right beneath the giant symbol with the hammer and the sickle, literally taking a photo with every step we made. Believe me, I’ve seen a couple of cool things so far, but hardly anything compares to Buzludzha’s Great Auditorium with Marx’s, Engels’ and Lenin’s faces glowing at us in the red morning sun. That’s when I knew that I found what I came for and I felt welcomed in Buzludzha (Buzludja).
But let’s first take a few steps back, since Buzludzha is far more than only the Buzludzha Auditorium. You’ll know what I mean once you stand at the foot of the hill, catching your first glimpse of the aloofness of Buzludzha’s secrets. As with all beauties, they only play hard to get at first, but actually can’t wait to get captured. And you will have your chance to get acquainted – once you’ve successfully climbed up the hill. In the winter morning of February 1 2014 at 6.30 a.m. (about -11 to -14 °C), the skies were still clear and red against the valley of the Central Stara Planina, which increasingly disappeared in the fog. Catch your breath, go ahead and marvel at this bulwark with its massive, steep foundation – you can safely circulate the entire areal of the Buzludzha Monument. Observe the front building with its sleek features which nicely melt together towards the end into a stark, solitary tower – boasting with a red star at the top, like a single piece of jewelery. (OK fine, I might have drifted away a bit in this paragraph, but seriously: Buzludzha is a prominent example of communist architecture (designed by Guéorguy Stoilov), which constitutes an exercise of power with its striking tower prominently emerging behind the flying saucer-like auditorium.)
So yes, Buzludzha’s architecture is impressive, but how to get in? It almost seems impossible as the main gate is heavily sealed and enforced with metal bars. Luckily, there was a small opening around the right corner of Buzludzha’s entrance, as somebody must have broken the glass to get in before. You could get in by pulling yourself through the hole in the wall, ending up in the stair case of the building. Within a few seconds of doubt and weighing risks against opportunities, we were both standing inside the Buzludzha Auditorium. (Download: Map of Buzludzha (PDF)) (Important Update – 29 July 2016: all entries are firmly closed and there is currently no known way of entering the building. Cameras and speakers were installed on the premises.)
Our first photos and selfies in the Buzludzha Auditorium were still made with the clear glare of the morning sun, but within a few minutes, the fog from the outside creeped up on us and quickly occupied the entire building. The wind increased and we repeatedly looked at the ceiling, which filled the entire room with life. The creaking, shrieking, clacking and all other ‘-ings’ of the loose parts on the ceiling constantly reminded us to tread lightly and to keep our voice low – who knows what our echo could unleash. I’m far from being a structural engineer, but I was very aware that the Buzludzha Monument has not been inspected for a while for its statics and the extra weight of snow on the roof wasn’t helping either. The reception of our mobile phones was alright, but if anything should have happened, it would have taken many hours until decent help could have arrived. Staying smart was definitely our top priority in Buzludzha (Buzludja).
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We took a few more photos of the deteriorating mosaic art on the walls and left the Buzludzha Auditorium to what you could describe as the ‘Outer Ring’. By that time, the fog got so intense, we could not even see ten meters far. We were staring into pure grey. It was a bit scary, since we realized that if we had had arrived an hour later, we would never have managed to find the Buzludzha Monument. Wandering in the deep snow would have been too exhausting for us to ‘scout’ the area by pure luck – and we couldn’t have seen it from the far. We felt a bit trapped, but at the same time also more safe – it was very unlikely that someone else would make its way through the heavy fog. And Buzludzha Monument is definitely one of those places where you aren’t too keen on bumping into a stranger.
We passed through the Buzludzha Auditorium and walked all the way down the stairs to the ground floor. Unlike the light-filled top floor, the ground floor of the Buzludzha Monument is mostly protected from the wind and the sun – with all advantages and disadvantages. And yes, this is where the eerie part begins. You should bring a flashlight, otherwise you’ll miss all the trash, asbestos, debris and booze bottles lying around inside of Buzludzha. But if you want to reach the tower from the inside, I don’t think there is another way. You can either pass through the very very dark back room with plenty of holes in the ground to embark on your climb to the top of the Buzludzha Tower, or continue into the abandoned depths of Buzludzha. We did not climb up the tower, however, as we were fairly intimidated by the rundown corridors, pipes and walls. Plus, the fog didn’t promise us a great view, anyway. And most importantly: we generously left that part open to explore and document for others, like you! Thanks ahead for that.
We arrived at Sofia Airport on a Friday afternoon and immediately rented our 4WD Land Rover. After a 240-kilometers drive to Kazanluk (nearest city to Buzludzha, approximately a 30-minute ride), we spent the night there and got up at 5.30 a.m. to drive up the Shipka Pass. In the summer, you can easily drive up almost all the way to the top of Buzludzha by taking a side road from the Shipka Pass (you will not pass by the town of Shipka). You will recognize the road to Buzludzha by a large statue, shortly after passing by Kran. During winter months, it is highly advised to have a 4WD and/or snow chains as the road is not maintained. On our way back we actually passed a car that had too little grip and got stuck, so either really do get a decent ride or hike it (approximately three hours, one way). Be prepared for cold weather and possibly impaired sight due to strong fog. You will be able to drive up the 12 km road until you can see the Buzludzha Monument. However, you’ll reach a point where the roads are covered with too much snow, so we parked our car and continued on foot. The snow was at least 40 cm high and it was fairly steep in some parts, so it cost us a decent amount of energy and about 20 minutes to reach Buzludzha Monument. You should definitely be well prepared for Buzludzha, especially during the winter months.
For questions or feedback regarding the Buzludzha Monument, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
Readers have informed me that the small opening on the right hand side of Buzludzha’s entrance has been sealed. Now all entries are firmly closed and there is currently no known way of entering the building. Cameras and speakers were installed on the premises. Thanks to Andrei B., Leo B. and Nicholas for sharing this update.15 people recommend this.
I founded Don't Complain Travel in 2010 with the goal to experience, document and share travel adventures from all over the world. From Zurich, Switzerland.