Everyone told us not to do it. It was going to be covered in snow, they said. You’d have to walk a few miles and then crawl through the mud, they said. The police will be there, and they won’t let you in, or they’ll charge you $100 to get inside, they said.
We did it anyway.
Evan and I rented a car from a sketchy old Dutchman and set off in search of the famous Buzludzha, an old communist headquarters that had been abandoned since the Party fell in 1989. Our car, a dark blue Opel Corsa, may have been nearly as old as us, but it was going to get us there, and that’s all that mattered.
We left Sofia for Buzludzha around 12:30pm, hoping to make it by 3, and go to Veliko Tarnovo, a nearby town for dinner after. The drive was incredibly scenic, and Bulgaria seemed strangely empty. There were very few towns along the way, and the ones we did see were small or abandoned. After having been in Israel-Palestine for 8 months, we were amazed by how green this country was. On both sides of the highway were lush pastures, rolling hills, and rivers.
After about 2 hours driving through the countryside, we realized two things: 1, the GPS wasn’t set for Shipka, the town closest to Buzludzha– it was set for Veliko Tarnovo, and 2, we were already hungry.
We stopped in Veliko Tarnovo for only an hour and a half, because we wanted to make sure we had enough time at Buzludzha– and we still didn’t know exactly how to get there. After a leisurely lunch of potatoes and beer, we were back on the road.
Another hour later we found ourselves in Shipka, a tiny town with two huge monuments, the Liberty tower, and a Russian cathedral. Our GPS still said we were an hour away from our destination, but only 5 miles away, so we skipped Shipka and followed the signs for Buzludzha.
Once we rounded the corner, we realized why it was going to take so long. Through the trees, we got our first glimpse of the massive Brutalist building and shrieked with joy. It wasn’t on the same mountain as Shipka, as we’d thought, it was on the opposite side of the pass. Thankfully, there wasn’t any snow.
We lost sight of Buzludzha for 45 minutes, as we drove through the wooded pass, winding through the precarious mountain roads. It was here that the Bulgarians and Russians fought their triumphant battle against the Ottomans in 1878.
We hoped that we’d be able to get inside so that all the driving would be worth it.
We arrived at the bottom of the House of the Communist Party, parked our car right in front. Bold, cold, and massive, the UFO-shaped behemoth stood proudly. Horses grazed in the field before it. We hurriedly hiked up the hill towards the building and were already out of breath when we reached the top.
Standing beneath it, I felt small. It was beautiful but menacing. The outside was lightly graffitied. Luckily, there weren’t any police guarding the building.
The front door was gated and locked, but walking around we found a gap in the pavement.
We descended into the hole and climbed on metal scaffolding down into the basement. It was pitch dark and I felt a little uneasy, but once we got inside, we turned out our flashlights and it was smooth sailing. We were in!
We climbed up a staircase, and found ourselves behind the front door, in the reception area.
The high ceiling was exposed, and the loud rattling of the panels spooked us. My first instinct was that someone had caught us! My heart was already racing from the pure excitement of being here, and the relief that we’d gotten in so easily.
Sunlight shone in, illuminating the large open space. The walls had been decorated in mosaics, which were slowly falling apart, but someone had been nice enough to spray-paint in the gaps in the art.
The mosaics depict Marx, Lenin, and other great Communist thinkers, movers and shakers, as well as symbols such as red stars and fists. I didn’t expect mosaics, but then again, I didn’t know what I was expecting. I was in awe, I had never experienced anything like this before.
I was amazed by the strange architecture and the sheer size of the building. The outside of the conference room is covered in mosaics as well, of workers and happy families.
We walked back down into the basement, in search of a staircase to the top of the tower. We surprisingly found it quickly; we’d walked right past it when we entered the building.
We begin the climb the tower, at least 20 flights of steep metal stairs, in the dark. They were more like ladders than stairs, and we took turns holding the light while the other climbed. It took probably 45 minutes to get to our first stop– the red star, 3/4 of the way up.
The red stained glass littered the floor, and through the shattered windows, I could see the endless hills surrounding us. The floor was essentially just a large rickety grate, held straight by iron bars. I’ll admit I was afraid every time I took a step and it creaked.
The red star took up three entire floors, and after these three ladders, we reached the top. We climbed into the light, throwing our bodies onto the roof. We’d made it in perfect timing, the sun was setting over the towns of Shipka and Kazanlak. Only a small gate separated us from the edge and a 230ft drop to our deaths.
Naturally, we climbed over the gate and sat on the edge, looking over as far as we could. I was afraid to go too far just in case, I wasn’t going to risk my life too much for a picture! This is the kind of place you see Eastern European guys doing backflips in Facebook videos.
We looked over the conference room, wondering if we jumped if the entire thing would collapse. It looked fragile, a shell of its former glory. We laughed, hearing the sound of the panels rattling from up here, and remembering how scared we’d been.
The sky was turning pink, which was mesmerizing. Being on top of the Buzluzdha felt incredible, I couldn’t stop smiling. My adrenaline was pumping, and my heart was racing–before Evan pretended to push me off!
We sat and waited until it began to get dark, before heading back down the stairs. It was starting to get chilly, and we had a long way to drive back to Sofia, and arrived just before midnight. We hadn’t realized, we’d spent at least 4 hours just exploring Buzludzha!
This was by far one of the coolest and most spontaneous things I have ever done. And also probably the stupidest and most dangerous, but completely worth it. I really felt like I had conquered something, I felt so alive.
Unfortunately, since then, I’ve heard that there are guards patrolling. But, it’s definitely worth the drive just to see this fine example of Communist architecture. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to check out the interior as well.
Thanks for reading!
For more about our Bulgarian road trip, read Plovdiv, Europe’s 2019 Capital of Culture!
Follow me on Instagram for more pictures @tristans_expeditions
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