Great Escapes

09.12.13

Is that a UFO or Bulgaria’s Abandoned Buzludzha Monument to Socialism?

Think you’ve spotted a UFO on a remote mountaintop in Bulgaria? Think again. The now-abandoned, saucer-like structure was built in the 80s to host large gatherings of citizens to celebrate socialism.

UFO sightings tend to be fleeting, occasionally captured in a photograph, but, more often than not, merely a lingering and dubious memory. But on a remote mountain in Bulgaria, the extraterrestrial-like structure of a once-magnificent temple to socialism shows us what an alien landing might look like.

In 1981, on the 1300th anniversary of the founding of Bulgaria, proud citizens made the three-hour journey en masse from the capital of Sofia to see the newly opened Buzludzha Monument. It had taken workers seven years, the collaboration of 60 artists, thousands of “volunteers,” and the equivalent of $10 million to build the shrine to socialism. The resulting saucer-like structure with a connecting, star-inscribed tower was meant to commemorate an early gathering of socialists in the late 1800s who met on that same spot of the Central Stara Planina, where Bulgarian and Russian forces had once defeated the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War, to form a clandestine movement that set the foundation for the future political system.

The first sign on the path up the mountain is a pair of giant metallic hands clutching torches and built into the stone, followed by an imposing set of stairs that leads to the enormous concrete structure. Inside, massive, crumbling mosaics depicting Lenin, Marx, and Bulgarian workers encircle a vast auditorium. A hammer and sickle are set against a red backdrop at the center of the domed ceiling with words that translate to, “Proletariat of every country, unite!”

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Atop snow covered Mount Buzludzha in the Central Balkan Mountain Range, a man explores the abandoned Buzludzha Monument (Buzludja) with a torch in mid winter. (Timothy Allen/Getty)

The state took control of the monument in 1991, two years after the old political regime fell, and it soon fell into disrepair. Today, it remains officially closed, but intrepid explorers have snuck in to photograph the shrine’s remains, now covered in graffiti.

Two years ago, the government transferred the land and monument back to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which gathers tens of thousands of citizens outside the shrine each year at the beginning of August to commemorate the site’s historical significance. But that may not be the end of the story for the Buzludzha Monument. The BSP has plans to return it to its former glory, clearly ignoring the bold, red slogan over the main entryway: “Forget Your Past.”