Sofia(part one)- The communist stuff

In a change from my normal style of blog to each placed we visit, this time I have lumped together  things in groups……

The comumism stuff, I guess if your a long time reader, and if your not go back to the beginning and start reading, you will have guessed that I have a little fascination with the artitecture and monuments from behind the iron curtain. So no visit to Sofia for me was going to be complete without seeing some the more famous stuff.

the National Palace of Culture 

A huge complex wanted by Zhivkov’s daughter Lyudmilaand still operating as a multifunctional cultural center, housing concert halls, exhibition space, offices, shops and restaurants. 

Throughout the year (except August) it hosts a variety of cultural events from classical to avant garde; concerts, film festivals, art exhibits, fashion shows and trade fairs as well as major conferences.

opened in 1981 to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgaria state. It is quite cool in the fact that the building is Hexagonal in shape.

Monument to the Soviet Army

Most definitely erected to pay homage to the might of the Motherland. Built  in 1952 and was ready in 1954, ten years after the Soviet liberation from Germany. The monument was built by a leading group of artists led by the sculpture Ivan Funesv. 

The  Monument to the Soviet Army honours Russian soldiers who died fighting in Bulgarian campaigns during World War II. 

Over the years, the ground level relief has been continually vandalised with paint by radical, reformists and no doubt a few yobs who just like using spray paint. Acts of defacement include spraying on the colours of the Ukrainian flag, adding balaclavas to the soliders and painting the soldiers so that they resemble well-known American icons such as Superman, Captain America etc.

Sadly for us, on our visit is was complete intact, although the whole seemed, like many communist monuments very neglected, the reminders of the spraying paints could just about be seen .

The Largo

Right in the center of Sofia, almost impossible to miss, looms the strict, monumental architectural complex The Largo – one of the greatest socialist architecture examples in Eastern Europe.   

It was built in the early 1950s, in the space created by the WW2 bombings, over a quarter of the city was destroyed.

Rather oversized for the under 7.5 million Bulgarian population, but in typical communist fashion it was a show of power over Need!

The Largo consisted of goverment buildings, the Ministries of Electrification & Heavy Industry, the Party House – that is, the headquatets  of the Communist Party and the central department store.

It also included attractions like the former leader’s Georgi Dimitrov’s mausoleum, constructed in only six days as the great Bulgarian socialist leader died unexpectedly during his visit to Moscow, pulled down shortly after the fall of communism.

TZUM, at the time Bulgaria’s most prestigious department store where the products of the socialist workers’ achievements were on display for local and international visitors. It is still today an up market store, but no longer state controlled 

The important guests used to stay at the nearby Hotel Balkan, also part of the complex – the building nowadays is the Hotel Sheraton.      

After the fall of the communist goverment  in 1989, the symbols of communism that decorated the Largo were removed, with the most symbolic act being the removing of the red star from the former Party House using a helicopter- this can now be seen in the museum of solist art (see below) 

Museum of Socialist Arts

Having missed out on Memento Park in Budapest, this was in my must see list even before we arrived, so we took the short metro ride to see it.

The Museum of Socialist Art is a branch of Sofia’s National Art Gallery and currently displays some 150 pieces produced between Bulgaria’s socialist period (1944-1989).

There is the chance to watch a 30 minute long video, propergander of course!

The main draw here for me was the garden where a huge selection of sculptures are displayed. Former public statues of characters such as Lenin, Ché Guevara or Georgi Dimitrov along with other smaller sculptures of workers, mothers and agricultures can be seen 

Socialist accommodation 

On the outskirts of Sofia and one of those areas built during the socialist regime to accommodate the multitude of people who came from the Bulgarian countryside to work in the industrial sector.

While a few of them were accommodated in downtown Sofia, where the current residents were forced to share their homes with the newcomers by splitting big apartments into smaller flats, many other people moved into those huge concrete constructions characterizing the Soviet outskirts all over Eastern Europe.

Wandering around this concrete jungle was one of the strongest experiences of my trip so far .But, to be honest, Sofia’s soviet outskirts had already gotten to me when we drove around them, and I saw blocks upon blocks of concrete buildings stretching all around the town I couldn’t wait to explore, as a Devon lad the whole concept of Tower blocks is alien.

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