Risking life and limb to take one of the most dangerous selfies on top of Buzludzha, the ex-communist headquarters in Bulgaria
Below me was Buzludzha, the ex-communist headquarters in Bulgaria. As in 70 metres below. I was standing right on the edge of the communist tower, knees trembling like I was five-years-old and going to school for the first day. All that was running through my head was “do NOT fuck this up.” If I fell, that would’ve been it, thank you and goodnight. No coming back from that one.
I only had a few inches of concrete either side of my feet. As I raised my camera high above my head, illuminated on the display was my face and the 70 metre plummet below. It didn’t show the fear I felt, but this was by far one of the stupidest things I’d ever done.
I walked away from the edge to the relative comfort and safety of the railings. If truth be told, I’m not too sure my legs or my heart would have held out for much longer.
My head was spinning with adrenaline, almost like I’d overdosed on something. One of the Mexican guys I was travelling with exclaimed: “You’re crazy. You must have balls of steel Macca,” but we all know it doesn’t take balls of steel to do something like that; just simple stupidity.
You’re probably wondering why I’d risk life and limb to take the ultimate selfie, but sometimes we have to push ourselves to the physical and mental limit, sometimes we have to stand on the ledge to truly feel alive, and boy oh boy did I feel alive. This wasn’t about forgetting the past but being in the present.
I feel the photo doesn’t really do it justice – you lose all sense of perspective – but this was the ledge I was standing on. I hope you can appreciate just how scary it was (if you want to share this article you can tag me @backpackermacca – let’s see if we can get #DangerousSelfie trending):
Sitting atop a mountain like an abandoned flying saucer, this giant structure looks like it was created on another planet.
Buzludzha was opened in 1981 and it served as the communist party headquarters until the fall of communism in 1989.
Ever since then, and with the ties to the past, it has been left to rest and ruin, fallen to disuse.
Ever since then, it has attracted a certain type of traveller looking to uncover Bulgaria’s deeper and darker past.
Getting to Buzludzha is an adventure itself.
The best place to travel from is Veliko Tarnovo, 80km away. Here’s a map of how to get to Buzludzha:
At Hostel Mostel (which subsequently is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at), you can hire a car for the day costing 80 lev (approximately €40). Petrol on top of that is a further 40 to 60 lev (approximately €20 to €30), and it takes about two hours to drive through the countryside to Buzludzha. Obviously if you split this between four of you, it’s ridiculously cheap for the amount of fun you will have.
On the way you can stop off at Bacho Kiro caves, and there a couple of huge communist monuments worth seeing, but none compare to the extravagance of Buzludzha.
At the bottom of the hill at Buzludzha, two humongous fists holding flaming torches come together symbolising the unification of the parties in Bulgaria, to share one ideology.
From there, if you follow the path for 15 minutes up the mountain, you will stand in the shadows of Buzludzha (you can drive right up to the main enterance but the walk is well worth it for the views alone).
Buzludzha, built upon a mountain of the same name, is way up at 1,441 metres, and it cost an approximated 14 million lev (that’s about €7 million) to build.
Messages written in giant Cyrillic letters on either side of the main entrance greet you as you walk up the stairs, their meaning lost to me. Once, graffitied above the door was the message “Forget Your Past”. Almost for this to happen, this slogan has since been painted over.
As you’re facing Buzludzha, halfway along the building on the right-hand side is a small hole you can climb up to get into the monument.
Once inside, if you go to the right, down the stairs and along the corridor, you will eventually come to the lift.
From here it is hand over hand climbing in the pitch black (make sure you’ve got a torch) up ladders for 20 minutes before you’re standing 70 metres on top of Buzludzha.
Once on top of Buzludzha, you will have the most magnificent views of the countryside surrounding you. Buzludzha was built right in the heart of Bulgaria both for the beauty and the secrecy, and perched on top of the mountain it has circular views of the country it was once watching over.
Deep down in the bowels of Buzludzha you will find the basement (again, it is pitch black so make sure you bring a torch).
Deep down in the bowels of Buzludzha holds a dark secret. Back in 2012, two French backpackers were murdered here. Even though I never had this confirmed, there is a creepy memorial to the two backpackers that’s shrouded in mystery, and on the walls people have scrawled “Blood Games.”
I’m not going to lie to you, being down in the basement of Buzludzha was without a doubt on of the scariest places I’ve ever been.
Walking back up the stairs, you will eventually come to the main auditorium, a cavernous circle that makes anyone standing it in feel small and inconsequential.
Right in the middle of the ceiling is the old Soviet hammer and sickle, gold on a blood red background. On the walls, ornate mosaics are reminders of Bulgaria’s history, where they had come from and where they were going, the largest of which depicts the heads of communist heroes Engels, Lenin and Marx, while the former Bulgarian communist dictator Todor Zhivkov’s has been destroyed in an attempt to descend into obscurity. Obviously some of the locals really do want to forget their past.
The main auditorium, much like the rest of Buzludzha, is in complete disrepair with rubble and glass on the floor. It has been left on its own, forgotten, out of sight and out of mind.
Of all the sites I was going to see in Bulgaria, Buzludzha was the one I was most excited about seeing, and it completely surpassed all my expectations.
In fact, it was one of the most remarkable days of travelling I’ve ever had. For me, Buzludzha represents the past of Bulgaria, but the fact they haven’t destroyed the building, that they have allowed it to remain standing epitomises the country; don’t let the past define who you are today.
(Disclaimer – I fully understand the dangers and stupidity of what I did, and I by no means encourage you to do the same. Leave that to me so you don’t have to.)