[Bulgaria] In search of concrete Titans - part 1, 2, 3.

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Stara Varos, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    -part 1-

    Day 1 [km 210]

    On Friday afternoon, the idea of a two-day ride in Bulgaria from rural mountain roads was dropped on the "excursion" table. Looking at the map of the country, it is easy to see that Bulgaria has its main roads horizontal, such as the Trakiya Highway, and the secondary network is extending vertically. They are usually small provincial roads and mountain passes that cross the Pirin, Rila, Stara Planina and Rodopi mountains. It was decided to spend a night in Bansko. I departed from Thessaloniki [GR] a little earlier than my friend Ilias, who needed to buy new tires, to catch up with the remaining daylight and enjoy my ride. After i entered Bulgaria from the border station at Promachonas, i followed the provincial road 198 leading to Gotse Delchev. It is a 60-kilometer mountainous route that climbs the south side of Mount Pirin. Asphalt was of medium quality, but the road was all mine, since i did not meet another vehicle.

    [​IMG]

    A few kilometers before the town of Gotse Delchev, i met on my left the statue of the Bulgarian revolutionary Georgi Nikolov Delchev [Kilkis, 4 February 1872 - Banitsa (Karyes), May 4, 1903], known as Gotse Delchev. He fought against the Ottomans and was one of the leaders of the well-known «Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization», a paramilitary organization that operated in the European lands of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. The organization in which he was a founding member was originally called «Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committee» and later in 1902 it was renamed «Secret Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization».

    [​IMG]

    Its main pursuit, in the context of its actions for the autonomy of Macedonia and Thrace, was the organization of terrorist acts against the Ottomans (eg the bombings in Thessaloniki in 1903, the destruction of the railway bridge over the river Aggitis), with the aim of provoking warfare so that these two geographic regions could be annexed in Bulgaria as a result of the intervention of the Western Powers or as a part of a future wider Balkan Federal Republic, after the weakening of the Ottoman Empire.
    Despite his clear and unambiguous Bulgarian national self-determination, Delchev is now considered a national hero also in FYROM, according to its usual practice to claim as its own the history of other Nations.

    [​IMG]

    The homonymous city was founded in the time of Emperor Trajan, and nearby the Romans built Nicopolis ad Nestum, a military post to secure the route from Constantinople to the North. In 1951 the city was renamed in honor of Gotse Delchev, while its former name was Nevrokopi.
    I delayed in the city because of works. Changes in traffic settings created psychological problems to my GPS, which insisted on continuing my course through a playground. Then, via the provincial road 19, i headed north and i was soon to Bansko.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Day 2 [km 425]

    With Ilias now, we started our day by following the provincial road 84 to Velingrad and from there we decided to head north to Belene Island, by riding on secondary roads. It is located approximately in the center of the Danube River, some 12 km west of Svistov. Nowadays, because of its isolation, it is a protected bird area, but on this island back in 1948, the Communists established a labor camp for political prisoners. The camp functioned up to 1989. On the way to Velingrad we often met large groups of motorcyclists, while in Yakoruda there were some events going on. After Pazardzhik we moved north, to the indifferent and rugged provincial road 8004 and 606, entering the heart of the Sredna Gora mountain range and the small town of Koprivstica, over the river Topolnitsa.

    [​IMG]

    Upon our arrival, we fell into the rehearsal of a parade. The participants were dressed in traditional costumes and military uniforms, reflecting all the historical periods of Bulgaria.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We were informed that on that day the Bulgarian National Day of «Independence Day» was celebrated. It is said that from a small bridge in Koprivstica, which later took his name, Todor Kableshkov shot for the first time against Ottomans, which marked the beginning of the «Revolution of April» in 1876.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The city also draws its reputation as an architectural and historical center with over 300 architectural, historical and ethnographic monuments. Significant examples of the Bulgarian National Revival period are the private residences, built between 1762-1878. Although the town was founded by refugees from Veliko Tarnovo, after the fall of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, it became a center of carpets and bed linen, and so its merchant inhabitants grew rich because of the close relationship with Constantinople that absorbed production.
    After that, we headed for Beklemeto, also known as Troyan Pass. It is the provincial road 35 connecting Troyan to Karnare and the road with the highest altitude in Bulgaria (1520 m).

    [​IMG]

    This passage is one of the main routes that connect central Bulgaria and the Danube valley. It was important from the time of the Romans, who called it «Roman Via Trayana» (Trajan road). At the top of the pass, at an altitude of 1630 meters, at the Goraltepe site, is the «Arch of Freedom». It is a monument devoted to the victory of the Russian army in January 1878, that captured the passage and led to the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. The monument is also devoted to the Russian-Bulgarian friendship and unity that followed after the WW2.

    [​IMG]

    I found myself under this 34-meter high building for the second time after my trip in Russia back in 2016. I can say i was equally impressed with my first visit there. Architecturally, it follows the socialist style and it was finalized on August 9, 1980. On its two bases are depicted Bulgarian revolutionaries and Russian soldiers, while women are welcoming them with salt and bread, as tradition requires for the arrival of loved ones. At the top of the building, on both sides, there are important historical dates. On the northern side of the arch is depicted «1878», the date of the Bulgarian Liberation and on the southern side «1944», that stands for the «September 9th state coup».

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It is worth visiting this particular spot of Stara Planina and for another reason. From here there are great views to the south and the mountains Rila, Rodopi and Sredna Gora, to the valleys of Troyan and Beli Osam to the north, while to the west and east there are views to other peaks including the highest, Botev.

    [​IMG]

    Descending the provincial road 35 towards Troyan, we soon arrived in Lovech. I found particularly beautiful the old town that reminded me of Veliko Tarnovo, but on a small scale. It can be reached by crossing the River Osam via a bridge. South of this bridge, there is a beautiful reconstruction of the medieval covered bridge with fur shops, which existed at that time, built in 1874 by the famous Bulgarian craftsman Nikola Fitsev, known by the nickname Kolyu Ficheto. It was destroyed by a fire in 1925.

    [​IMG]
    foto: Klearchos

    At that point we reviewed our program. We did not have enough time to go up to the Danube River for Belene Island. We also decided, instead of Veliko Tarnovo, to stay at Idilevo and specifically in MotoCamp, which many riders prefer. Idilevo is a small village in the middle of the country, where probably not much happen and life is rolling quietly. Here, Doug [a four time round the world traveler], Polly and Ivo set up a small oasis for motorcyclists. Ivo (Ivaylo) opened the main door. In the first ten minutes my story, his story, my motorcycle, his motorcycle. It gave me the feeling that i already know him. Their facilities are simple but nice and clean. In the center of the courtyard there was a kiosk and a group of British guys. We got the BMW room. There was also a Yamaha room, a Harley and more than enough space to set up a tent, if someone is equipped with one. After we settled, we asked if there is nearby some place that we could go and dine. The British i mentioned, when they noticed our arrival, they put on the barbeque some more souvlaki and steaks and of course they did not let us go. We marked several beers with Ilias in the book (this book is probably kept for the convenience of those who drink and then they forget to count) and we spent our evening with them discussing trips since all of them had their intercontinental trips. Finally, we learned that this village has attracted many Britons, who have bought property, and whether they live permanently there or use it as a base for trips to our Balkan neighborhood. Later to our company was added, a New Zealander, Clinton Logan, who, i think, would spend the winter in Bulgaria, since he was already on the road for several years, living his own RTW trip. The mascot of MotoCamp was Harley, with whom I immediately became best friend, from the moment we shared half a steak.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Day 3 [km 625]

    Fresh from a splendid sleep, but also full of yesterday's eating and drinking, we had our coffee in the MotoCamp «lounge» while Ivo prepared breakfast for us. This place is a former barn, decorated with tasteful heterogeneous elements, but mostly from the world of motorcycles.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    When we were ready to leave, we asked for the bill. In fact, the price for accommodation, food, beers and breakfast was lower, per person, than a stay in a city hostel. But what can not been cost and really won me was the people of MotoCamp, the patrons and those who are working for this place to exist.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Writing these comments, i seek nothing more than encouraging someone to visit it, so to pay back for the hospitality i have experienced. More about MotoCamp: motosapiens.org .
    The goal of the day was to return to Thessaloniki. We planned to use the provincial road 44 towards Gabrovo and from there ride south to the pass of Shipka. This plan was canceled as Ivo informed us that the road would be closed for a rally car race. Finally, we chose the route Idilevo - Dryanovo - Tryavna to reach the provincial road 55. A beautiful road with dense vegetation and picturesque villages like the Tsareva Livada. The small town of Dryanovo, which is mainly known for the craftsmen of the wood at the end of the 19th century, but also as the birthplace of the architect Kolyu Ficheto mentioned above, made me a special impression.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After arriving outside Kazanluk, following road 55, we could not miss visiting the Buzludzha monument, located north of the city, on one of the peaks of Stara Planina. It is a gigantic brutal building made of concrete, a hymn of the so-called socialist architecture, which is still standing in decline since the fall of communism in 1989.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I have visited the monument several times, and i have written a relevant post: Alone in Central Balkans.

    For three decades the monument has been exposed to weather conditions and vandalism that brought it to its present poor state. It has now been included by the Europa Nostra organization in the lists of buildings to be protected. The future of the ex-conference center and the (70m high) tower with the red star are probably on the right track since Authorities have placed a guard on a permanent basis and have stamped with concrete and stones all possible entrances, as a first measure for its maintenance until its final restoration for the public to visit.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Every time i found myself near the monument, i was thinking about the resources spent to complete it. Approximately 70,000 tons of cement and 3,000 tons of iron, 6,000 workers of every specialty and 8 years of work. What always attracted me to the building was its architecture and size, but also the exploration of the interior.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Although several locals claim it is needed to be demolished and no further resources to be spent to maintain a monument that reminds them of a period of oppression, i personally see it as an achievement of architecture with very remarkable mosaics that would be worthwhile to save. I read on my favouriteprofile on Instagram about Bulgaria a comment for the former convention center: «Abandoned but not forgotten, guarded but not loved, abused but not understood» and i totally agree. Whenever i am around the monument, i particularly like to observe to the right and left of the main entrance the slogans from large cement Cyrillic letters. I have the impression that they are fewer every time. An attempt to translate would be: (left) «Stand up on your feet despised Comrades, stand on your feet slaves of labor! Repressed and humiliated, resist the enemy! Without mercy and forgiveness let us break down the old and rotten system..» (right) «Workers, men and women, from all countries unite. Forwards! Without fear, Comrades, build our great deeds! To work and create..»

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    To the west of the monument was visible the top of the Shipka Pass and the location where the homonymous monument was set up.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    As we were admiring the view of the surrounding peaks, near our motorbikes parked several Honda motorbikes and we met their riders, who were from Thessaloniki and Serres. It's great to see people from your place when you are abroad and find out they share the same passion for the motorcycles as you.

    [​IMG]

    We left the monument, waving farewell to Dhimitar Blagoev’s statue near Kran. Very close to the road, next to a gas station, i met another monument dedicated to the «Liberators of Bulgaria». Scattered in the Bulgarian province are numerous monuments like those and i wonder what their luck will be in the future.

    [​IMG]

    The route to Plovdiv included some fast riding, since we were already late. We decided to enter Greece from the border station near Drama, having previously used the provincial road 37, connecting the town of Batak with the town of Dospat. The route is stunning and is recommended for a motorbike ride.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    To a future post i will stand, beyond the obvious, that is the attractive landscape and lakes, to what comes to the mind of the average Bulgarian when he hears the name Batak – that is the massacre during the rebellion against the Ottomans.

    [​IMG]

    This ride completely covered me as a biker. We rode 1260 km, mainly on small mountain range roads, we saw enough cement and buildings of Soviet influence and socialist architecture, but what i mainly keep, is that i met new people who i hope to meet again. Also, Ilias, thanks for the company.

    [​IMG]

    This is the route (of a total of 1260 kilometers) that we followed.

    [​IMG]
    #1
    bomose, Shaggie, NSFW and 8 others like this.
  2. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    -part 2-

    Everyday life includes, among others, a never-ending struggle to meet expectations and obligations and an effort to keep satisfied the people we relate to. Often our needs and "i want" are put to second place and it is easy somehow to get away from what makes you really happy. I have come to the conclusion that what keeps me in a balance between personal priorities and obligations is an internal search process that takes place every time i am on the road with my motorcycle. Every biker will of course tell you the same: what makes motorcycle trips unique experience is the different approach to travel, adventure, and discovery. I will take it a little further: when i'm on the saddle of my motorbike, i remain open to experiences and new people, to the elements, smells and colors of nature around me. With a gentle touch on the throttle, i can get where i want, at my own pace, always remaining away from the tourist places and activities. But the main thing is that i come into contact with my real self. Such an internal process was perfectly combined with a solo thre-day ride in Bulgaria. Following the same pattern as the previous trip Bulgaria: Mountain roads and monuments [Part A'], i rode on small mountain roads and visited important historical monuments and buildings from my favorite material, concrete.

    [​IMG]

    Day 1 [km 320]


    I started quite late from Thessaloniki [GR] a Friday afternoon and headed for Promachon Border Station. Just before the border control is a monument associated with the fratricide civilian war, bearing the inscription: «ΦΡΟΥΡΟΙ ΙΔΕΩΔΩΝ ΥΠΕΡΔΙΑΚΟΣΙΟΙ ΑΜΥΝΑΝ ΗΡΩΙΚΗΝ ΚΑΤΑ ΠΑΝΣΛΑΒΙΣΜΟΥ ΑΝΤΙΤΑΞΑΝΤΕΣ ΕΝΘΑΔΕ ΘΑΝΑΤΟΝ ΥΠΟ ΧΕΙΡΩΝ ΑΔΕΛΦΟΚΤΟΝΩΝ ΕΥΡΟΝ ΕΝ ΕΤΕΙ 1944». (An attempt to translate would be: some 200 guardians of ideals, defended against Pan-Slavism and found death here by the hands of their compatriots, year 1944).

    [​IMG]

    After crossing the borders, i remembered that the battle of Kleidi (1014, 29 July) between the Byzantines under the Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarians under the Tsar Samuel, took place very close. I visited the monument that exists in the area, just before the nightfall.

    [​IMG]

    A detailed analysis of the battle you can read here Battle of Kleidion, but i prefer to translate and quote the text from the remarkable blog Κlearchos guide to the galaxy with a lot of information about Bulgaria in general:
    «Summer of 1014.. The Byzantine emperor Basil II of the Byzantine army headed to the town of Kleidion to face the Bulgarian army. The Bulgarians, although they were subordinates of Byzantium, had found the opportunity, due to civil conflicts that collided with the Byzantine Empire, to rise. For almost thirty years they were in possession of the whole region of Macedonia, thus creating the first Bulgarian Empire, while the regions of Thessaly, Sterea and Peloponnesus were occasionally looted. The Bulgarian Empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Black Sea and the capital was originally the city of Skopje and later Ohrid. In 1014, however, Basil managed to suppress civilian conflicts and considered it was time to turn against the Bulgarians, along with his generals Nikiphoros Xifias and Nikiphoros Uranos.. Later in the area of Kleidion arrived General Theophylaktos Botaneiates».

    [​IMG]

    «Bulgarians resisted vigorously and the balance seemed to lean towards them. On that night, however, before the dawn of July 29, General Nikiphoros Xifias, along with three units of the Byzantine army, probably with the help of the Vlachs of the region, found a pass over the mountains of Belasitsa (Valathista) and moved to the back of bulgarian forces. The loop was closed.. On July 29, Basil started the attack and a little later joined forces with Nikiphoros Xifias.. When Bulgarians realized they were surrounded, they threw their arms and run to save their lives.. Finally, 14.000 soldiers were captured while Samuel himself and his son were barely able to escape captivity, most likely by pretending to be dead, and headed to Prilapo (Prilep)».

    [​IMG]

    «Basil ordered every 100 prisoners to blind 99 and leave the 100th with one eye, so he can lead the others.."
    "Samuel was wounded, waiting in distress at the walls of Prilapos for a sign.. Then he faced the horrible spectacle.. His soldiers were approaching crumbling, stumbling and falling by dragging each other.. His heart couldn’t hold any longer and finally died on October 6, 1014''. There are many stories around Basil’s action.. One wants to decide his abominable act when he learned that his friend General Theophylaktos Botaneiatis was killed during an ambush. The other one wants Basil to impose this terrible punishment because he regarded Bulgarian traitors, as they were subordinate to Byzantium and rebelled, and that was the punishment for betrayal. Most likely, however, was that Basil wanted to do something that would kneel Bulgarians, whom he had been facing for almost 30 years. The truth is that after the battle in Kleidion and until 1019, Basil conquered the entire Bulgarian territory. Others, however, want the whole story to be just a legend.
    Emperor Samuel is another personality that our Slav(non)Macedonian neighbors are trying to exploit ... However, history has nicknamed Basil II "the Bulgar Slayer" and apparently not "the Macedon Slayer"».

    [​IMG]

    I followed A3 up to Dupnitsa and then the small country road 62 and 82 to Borovets, where i had decided to stay overnight. On the way, i met a small monument with the Soviet star, considering what its fortune would be in the future.

    [​IMG]

    Day 2 [km 460]

    Early wake and soon i was on the road.

    [​IMG]

    Through the provincial road 82 and 882, which runs along the banks of Lake Iskar, i reached the «Trajan Gate» («krepost Trayanovi Vrata»). It is a historic mountain pass of Bulgaria, near the provincial town of Ihtiman. It was named after the Roman emperor Trajan, who built a fortress called «Stipon» at the borders of the Roman provinces of Thrace and Macedonia.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The passage is mainly known for the battle that took place on August 17, 986 between the Byzantine army led by the Emperor Basil II and the Bulgarian troops under the Tsar Samuel. The overwhelming defeat of the Byzantines postponed the plans to retake the Bulgarian lands. A good description of the battle is given here: Battle of Trajan's Gate.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Then, entering the city of Pazardzhik, i found myself at the memorial of the «Fallen of the Revolution of September 1923». The «September Rebellion» was an armed insurgency instigated by the Bulgarian Communist Party as an attempt to overthrow the government of Alexander Tsankov, who had come to power with the coup d'état of 9 June. Apart from its communist base, the rebellion was also supported by anarchists. The ultimate goal of the rebellion was to «create a government of workers and peasants» and not to transform the country's socio-economic system into communism.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The monument was erected in honor of the rebellion in the villages around Pazardzhik, especially in Muhovo and Lesichevo. There are reliefs on large stone blocks depicting the revolt with stylized images of burned flags and written «1923» - the year of the rebellion.

    [​IMG]

    On the right there is a man with a mustache, on his knees, with his hands tied behind his back. On the opposite road, i was «admiring» the multi-storey blocks of flats, a typical example of Soviet-inspired residences, and wondering if those involved in the rebellion could imagine how their struggles, against the centralized power system of their time, would end. On the roof of one of them, in large letters, was written «Добре дошли в Пазарджик» («welcome to Pazardzhik»).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Following the provincial road 37, crossing the Sredna Gora mountain range, i visited the small town of Panagyurishte. The city took its name from the Greek word «πανηγύρι» (panēgýri), meaning a festival or fair.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It draws its reputation as the center of the uprisings against the Ottomans in 1876, which led to temporary independence, lasting only ten days. The revolution was eventually stifled with great losses for the Bulgarians, while the Ottomans burned and completely destroyed the city.

    [​IMG]

    As i was approaching the city, i spotted the Manyovo Bardo hill and the enormous «Apriltsi National Memorial Complex», which was erected in 1976 for the hundredth anniversary of the «April Revolution». I was not able to find the road that leads to the hill, so it became a hint for my next visit.

    [​IMG]

    Moving north and leaving the city behind me, i met some more small monuments.

    [​IMG]

    Particular impression made me the monument of the anti-fascist struggle in the small village of Panagyurski kolonii.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    This is residents' of Panagyurishte city favorite destination, since many have their country houses there. The whole area seemed to have experienced in the past a great deal of growth. I noticed a dam in an artificial lake and a few metalworking factories, which seemed to be left abandoned to their decadent fate. Later on, i read about the terrible water and soil pollution caused by the treatment of copper, gold, arsenic, cadmium, lead and so on, and that it has even affected the springs of the river Evros near the Rila Mountains. In general, the area is considered quite contaminated, occupying position 7 among the 30 most dangerous areas in Bulgaria (source: panda.org).

    [​IMG]

    On the provincial road 6, heading east, i had a stop at the village of Klisura, which is connected with the heroic resistance of its inhabitants in 1876. Shortly before the village, to a point with fantastic views over the mountains of Sredna Gora, there is the 7 meters high monument «Borimechkata», dedicated to the leader of the rebels of the village.

    [​IMG]

    Borimechkata (a well-known character from Ivan Vazov's novel «Under the yoke») was in fact a real person whose name was Ivan Tankov. The nickname «Borimechkata» means «the one who fights with the bear». His voice warned the inhabitants of the village of Klisura, during the April uprising, about the approach of the Turkish army.

    [​IMG]

    Near the monument, i noticed a former military depot and at various points some artillery mounted (probably 76 or 90mm anti-tank / anti-aircraft - WW2 technology). The area was private but accessible. Since it was not a military installation, i was curious why would someone possess such material (even non functional) in his back yard.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The next monument on my list, i had passed it on my previous ride in Bulgaria. This time, i had all the time to visit it. It was located in the village of Kalofer, on the E871, some 50 kilometers east of the Klisura junction. After a brief acquaintance with the local traffic police, i found myself in the birthplace of the Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876).

    [​IMG]

    Originally i met the statue of Kalifer Voivoda. Legends indicate that Kalofer was founded in the 16th century when a group of men led by Kalifer Voivoda were constantly attacking the Turkish caravans. The Sultan, unable to cope with them, gave those lands in exchange for stopping the attacks.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The composition of the monument in honor of Botev («Memorial complex Hristo Botev») is characteristically monumental in size. The statue of the revolutionary, 14.4 meters high, with its base reaching 25 meters, is framed by the «200 rifles», which are a tribute to the participants in Botev's squad. There is also a lion of 3.2 meters, which greatly enhances the patriotic character of the monument. Looking at the poet's monument from the square or the bank of the Tundzha River, you get the feeling that Botev will always be the guardian of his homeland.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, this monument is tarnished by an addition during communist times. It is the composition «Three Epochs», to the right. It is made up of three men with aged and rugged features and each of these figures bears a date - 1876, 1923 and 1944. The first one is really important for Bulgarian history, but the other two can be considered the most tragic in the 20th century . In 1923, the Communist Party of Bulgaria created the conditions for a civil war and in 1944 Russia, with military intervention, was involved in Bulgaria’s political life by placing a government whose influence oscillated the country until the recent past.

    [​IMG]

    Behind the monument you can find the path «white river eco trail», while the area is also worth visiting for the waterfall Raiskoto praskalo and Botev peak. The year 2018 was dedicated to Botev and in many places in Bulgaria events took place for the 170 years from his birth. In particular, in his hometown on January 6, the traditional Bulgarian dance took place in the frozen watgers of Tundzha River. UNESCO specialists, who attended the event, were invited to decide whether to add the dance to the World Heritage Lists.

    [​IMG]
    (photo: https://travelbulgaria.news)

    Continuing my course east, on E871 and shortly after Manolovo, another monument at the end of the road drew my attention. It was set in an indifferent location, in poor condition and without a special dedication to the inscription. I cannot interpret exactly to what it is devoted, perhaps to the anti-fascist struggle of the ordinary people of Bulgaria, while in the inscription i traced the dates 1923-1944. However, the forms in the composition may have something to say. Some men and a woman on the move, holding guns and backpacks, are heading towards a futuristic concrete obelisk. If someone knows more about the construction or the interpretation of the composition, i will gladly welcome his comment.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    On the provincial road 5601, in the «Valley of the Roses» and shortly before the village of Shipka, i took a few minutes to visit the monument dedicated to the Russian - Turkish War of 1878.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    From this point i enjoyed the magnificent views of the peaks of Stara Planina Mountains that stretched before me, while on two of them i could easily distinguish the former congress center - monument «Buzludzha» and the memorial of the battles of Shipka pass.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The last time i was in the area, i intended to cross the provincial road 44 from Gabrovo to Shipka pass. Since i was very close, i thought it was time to ride the famous pass. The passage begins from the village of Shipka and the provincial road 5 leads to Stoletov peak, where the «Monument to Freedom» is located. As i was approaching the village of Shipka, i could discern the Russian orthodox temple of the «Birth of Christ».

    [​IMG]

    It was built between 1895 and 1902, in the 17th century Muscovite architectural style and is dedicated to the 7,500 Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian soldiers who have died facing 40,000 Ottomans in the struggle for the liberation of Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War in 1877-1878. The higher bell tower is 53 meters high. The bells are made of the bullet cups that were gathered from the battle fields. The heavier bell reaches 12 tons. Inside the church, in 34 marble slabs the names of the soldiers who lost their lives are listed. Their remains are placed in 17 sarcophagi in the basement (crypt) of the Temple.

    [​IMG]

    In the same area there is a monastery, which until 1934 was Russian property. Stalin gave it to Bulgaria on the condition that no Russian immigrant would ever be allowed to sit on its council.
    After some 13 kilometers of uphill riding on the magnificent provincial road 5, i found myself at the top of Stoletov peak and near the «Monument to Freedom» (Паметник на свободата – Шипка).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    It is a monumental structure built in the memory of Bulgarians and Russian soldiers who perished during the battles of Shipka in the summer of 1877. The battles were decisive in the Russo-Turkish war for the liberation of Bulgaria.
    The current monument was inaugurated in 1934 and is located at an altitude of 1326 meters. It has the shape of a pyramid tower, some 32 meters high. Above the entrance stands a giant bronze lion (8 x 4 meters). On the opposite side are listed the locations of the most important battles - Shipka, Stara Zagora και Sheynovo.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    On the ground floor of the monument there is a marble sarcophagus, where bones of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers are preserved. On the next floors are various objects, military flags and remnants associated with the epic battles. An important influence on the design of the monument was the «Monument of the Battle of the Nations» in Germany. I preferred not to climb the 890 stone steps from its base, but ride my motorbike almost to the entrance (which is probably not allowed). The years under Communism, stone slabs were added, plates with embossed representations and poems that promoted the conceptual continuity between the Russian Imperial Army that liberated Bulgaria from the Ottomans and the Red Army, which entered Bulgaria in 1944, causing the communist coup.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Enjoying the view of the surrounding peaks, i focused on the «Buzludzha» monument. The fact that it stands so close to «Shipka» but at the same time it is so different, made me think about how extreme changes and situations took place in modern Bulgarian history.

    [​IMG]

    I started to think that my program should be modified. I wanted to visit the «1300 years of Bulgaria» monument that is located in Shumen, but it seemed impossible to be there before night falls. So i decided to return to the «Valley of the Roses» (or «Valley of the Thracian Kings»), south of Shipka. The valley around the city of Kazanlak is known for the rose industry (Rosa Damascena or Damask Rose), which has been cultivated for centuries and produces almost the half (1.7 tons) of the world wheat. It is also of exceptional archaeological interest, as it is the area with the greatest concentration and variety of monuments of Thracian culture. It is said that there are more than 1500 burial tombs in the area and so far only 300 of them had any works of excavation.

    [​IMG]

    Randomly, a road sign led me to the tomb of Seuthus III, the ruler of the Odirsian Kingdom of Thrace (from 331 to 300 BC). What impressed me the most was that the archaeological finds in the area (eg the Kazanlak Tomb) came to light in 1944, when the army carried out works for anti-aircraft facilities in the region.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Just like the previous time, i had a short stop at Kran, at the «Monument to the Liberators».

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Time passed quickly and i had to hurry, if i wanted to get to Stara Zagora. Thracian settlements in the area existed already in the 5th century BC, while the city itself was founded in 342 BC by Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great.

    [​IMG]

    I was particularly interested in visiting the monument «Defenders of Stara Zagora» that is located in Samara district. On July 31, 1877, a force of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers faced a superior Turkish force. After some six hours, the Russian-Bulgarian front surrendered to the Turks. In the three days that followed, the city of Stara Zagora suffered untold atrocities and besides the fire that burned everything, about 14.500 people were slaughtered and another 10.000 were sold as slaves within the Ottoman Empire. Despite the tragedy, the city managed to survive. At the 100th anniversary of the battle, in 1977, «Defenders of Stara Zagora» Monument was inaugurated.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The brutal monument has a height of more than 15 meters and its composition includes, on pillars of cement, a giant Russian officer and around him six Bulgarian volunteer fighters, representing the six units that joined the Russian army that day.

    [​IMG]

    Next to these giant figures is an abstract flag, 50 meters high. It is the flag of the city of Samara, Russia («Samarskoto Zname») and it is of great importance for Bulgarians, since it was given by Russian soldiers to the volunteer fighters to use it as their banner.

    [​IMG]

    The location of the monument was the headquarters of the city's defenders. In spite of the tragic and macabre of that area, going up the 100 steps to get to the monument, i noticed the city’s inhabitants who used the park as a recreation area. Indeed, the space has a special positive aura, it exudes serenity and tranquility, a sense that is, in fact, diametrically opposed to the symbolism of the monument.

    [​IMG]

    Seeing the families in the park, i felt nostalgia for my own. I was sure that my ride met my expectations and it was time to return. Through the country road 66 i arrived in Plovdiv, where i spent the night.

    [​IMG]
    #2
    tsiklonaut, Amphib, sixspeed and 2 others like this.
  3. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    Day 3 [km 380]


    My return to Thessaloniki included some more beautiful mountain roads. I departed from Plovdiv relatively early and my first stop was at the «Red Church» («Червената църква»), two kilometers before the small town of Perushtitsa at the foot of the Rodopi Mountains. The Late Roman (Early Byzantine) Christian Basilica took its name from the color of the Roman brick style used to build it.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Unfortunately, it is only partially preserved, while dating back to the late 5th - early 6th century, probably built during the years of Emperor Anastasios. Apart from the fact that it is probably the oldest church in Europe, it is the only one with the sanctuary facing to the north. It was originally thought to have been built to preserve the remains of a Christian martyr. With the additions made, the basilica reached at a striking size, with the central dome reaching 32 meters, of which 14 have been restored and still standing. The hagiographies were saved and kept in nearby museums, while copies of some of them are still distinguished in their original positions (eg the form of Aaron in the northwest niche).

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I found quite ironic that the church was destroyed by Crusaders during the 4th Crusade in the 13th century. The «Red Church» gave me the impression that its destiny is to face weather phenomena and abandonment, while the place seems to be alive only on the third day of Easter, when people gather from Perushtitsa and the surrounding villages and place candles on the ruins of the Byzantine walls.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Driving through Perushtitsa, for some reason i felt that this place had a very lively feel of past. I also noticed that in several houses there were marble plates bearing the hammer and the sickle, something quite rare now in Bulgaria.

    [​IMG]

    I headed to the top of the hill and soon arrived at the «Monument of Three Generations». The monument is located 500 meters above the city, at Vlasevitsa peak, and was built in 1976 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city's inhabitants' participation in the «April Uprising» against the Ottomans.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The architectural concept is typical of socialist art and the main idea is to commemorate those who died for the liberation of Bulgaria. The monument, however, is not only dedicated to the fighters of 1876, but also to the Revolutionaries of September 1923 and the participants in the September 9, 1944 coup. The last two events were especially honored before 1989. The main idea of the monument was to portray three generations of fighters. The result is, perhaps, the controversial importance of the monument and probably its abandonment in recent years.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The three generations are depicted in three sculptures, arranged in chronological order. Each one is at a different level and there are stairs between them. At the highest point of the monument there is a bell tower, where was once placed a red star until the collapse of communism. Opposite, there are stairs leading to the basement, where there is an ossuary with a marble sarcophagus, above which hung a bronze wreath - now removed. Unfortunately, this area as well as the entire monument are in a very poor condition.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I left the village and headed south, riding the provincial road 37 towards Batak. Last time i passed from here, somehow in a hurry, i promised myself that in the future i would stay a little longer in this little town that deserved the visit. I knew very well that the word «Batak» in the consciousness of average Bulgarians reflects the Turkish atrocities at the expense of the civilian population of the region. I have also been advised that in this city, which today has a strong Ottoman-Pomak sense, locals do not see with a good eye the visitors who "cast" this part of history.
    I searched the internet sources for Batak, and one of the first things to come by was the painting of the Russian painter Konstantin Makovsky «The Bulgarian Martyresses» (1877), which depicts irregular soldiers «Bashi-Bazuk» within a Christian church raping local women.

    [​IMG]
    φωτογραφία: wikipedia.org

    Also, the reports of Western correspondents that were sent to the area after the massacre. As an example, American author and diplomat E. Schuyler wrote at the London Daily News:
    «..On every side were human bones, skulls, ribs, and even complete skeletons, heads of girls still adorned with braids of long hair, bones of children, skeletons still encased in clothing. Here was a house the floor of which was white with the ashes and charred bones of thirty persons burned alive there. Here was the spot where the village notable Trendafil was spitted on a pike and then roasted, and where he is now buried; there was a foul hole full of decomposing bodies; here a mill dam filled with swollen corpses; here the school house, where 200 women and children had taken refuge there were burned alive, and here the church and churchyard, where fully a thousand half-decayed forms were still to be seen, filling the enclosure in a heap several feet high, arms, feet, and heads protruding from the stones which had vainly been thrown there to hide them, and poisoning all the air. ..Ahmed Aga, who commanded at the massacre, has been decorated and promoted to the rank of Yuz-bashi..».
    Another witness to the consequences of the massacre was the American journalist Janarius MacGahan of New York Herald and London Daily News, who described what he saw as follows::
    «There was not a roof left, not a whole wall standing; all was a mass of ruins... We looked again at the heap of skulls and skeletons before us, and we observed that they were all small and that the articles of clothing intermingled with them and lying about were all women's apparel. These, then, were all women and girls. From my saddle I counted about a hundred skulls, not including those that were hidden beneath the others in the ghastly heap nor those that were scattered far and wide through the fields. The skulls were nearly all separated from the rest of the bones – the skeletons were nearly all headless. These women had all been beheaded...and the procedure seems to have been, as follows: They would seize a woman, strip her carefully to her chemise, laying aside articles of clothing that were valuable, with any ornaments and jewels she might have about her. Then as many of them as cared would violate her, and the last man would kill her or not as the humour took him....We looked into the church which had been blackened by the burning of the woodwork, but not destroyed, nor even much injured. It was a low building with a low roof, supported by heavy irregular arches, that as we looked in seemed scarcely high enough for a tall man to stand under. What we saw there was too frightful for more than a hasty glance. An immense number of bodies had been partially burnt there and the charred and blackened remains seemed to fill it half way up to the low dark arches and make them lower and darker still, were lying in a state of putrefaction too frightful to look upon. I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint, and staggered out of the fearful pest house glad to get into the street again. We walked about the place and saw the same thing repeated over and over a hundred times. Skeletons of men with the clothing and flesh still hanging to and rotting together; skulls of women, with the hair dragging in the dust. bones of children and infants everywhere..»

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    But let's take it from the start. What had happened?
    Today's Batak was built in the beginning of the 16th century, a period when Turks conducted violent mass conversions to Islam of people on Rodopi mountain range. A large number of Christians then settled in Batak.

    [​IMG]

    The revolt of Bosnia - Herzegovina prompted Bulgarian rebels to take action. In 1875 a first revolt was prepared to take advantage of the occupation of the Ottomans, and in the spring of 1876 in the south-central Bulgarian lands another revolt, even more disorganized than the previous, broke out.

    [​IMG]

    Batak's role in the rebellion was to take possession of the nearby villages' warehouses and to secure the rebels' supply. Also to block the main roads and prevent the supply of Turkish soldiers. Batak's work was to confront the Pomak villages of Chepino and Korovo, in the event that they would try to prevent the rebellion. If the nearby rebel groups were unsuccessful, the others would have to be assembled in Batak. The only problem was the case that Batak would have to defend against the Turks on its own, but this was a risk to be taken.

    [​IMG]

    After the revolt on April 30, 1876, part of the armed men in Batak, under the commands of Petar Goranov, attacked the Turks and managed to kill part of the Ottoman leaders. However, the Ottomans, who lacked sufficient regular troops due to the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, were forced to use irregulars «Bashi-Bazuk», to defeat the Bulgarians. These troops mostly came from Muslim inhabitants of Bulgarian regions, many of whom were refugees from Chechnya, expelled from the Caucasus by the Russian Empire, or Crimean Tatars, refugees expelled in the Crimean War, or even Bulgarians. In this case, it was a body of 5,000 «Bashi-Bazuk», the majority of them Pomaks - Bulgarian Muslims - under the commands of Ahmet Aga from Barutin village.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After a first battle, the men from Batak decided to negotiate with Ahmet Aga, who promised them to withdraw his troops, provided that Batak would be disarmed. After the rebels deposited their weapons, the «Bashi-Bazuk» attacked and beheaded everyone.

    [​IMG]

    While some of the leaders of the revolutionary committee surrendered their weapons, some managed to escape the village, but immediately afterwards the whole area was encircled. The «Bashi-Bazuk» entered the houses and pillaged them, burned many and shot everyone. Many of the villagers were hiding in the houses of the rich or in the church. On May 2, those who were hidden in Bogdan's house surrendered because Ahmet Aga promised them they would be saved.

    [​IMG]

    More than 200 men, women and children were taken out, stripped of valuables and clothes, so not to get dirty with their blood and then slaughtered. Ahmet Aga asked the rich men of Batak to go to his camp and surrender villagers’ arms. It was agreed that the village would be disarmed and that the «Bashi-Bazuk» would leave. Instead, the Bulgarians were captured and all were beheaded, burned alive or were impaled. The chief of the city, Trendafil Kerelov, tried to negotiate with Ahmet Aga. His son’s wife described how they tortured, impaled and burned her father-in-law: «The words he used (Ahmet Aga) were "Shishak aor" which is Turkish for "to put on a skewer (as a shish kebab). After that, they took all the money he had, undressed him, gouged his eyes, pulled out his teeth and impaled him slowly on a stake, until it came out of his mouth. Then they roasted him while he was still alive. He lived for half-an-hour during this terrible scene». Ahmet Aga's son took her child who was still a baby, and cut it with his sword in pieces in front of her.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The orthodox church of «Sveta Nedelya» was the last retreat for the rebels. The «Bashi-Bazuk» after they destroyed the school, in which 200 people were burned alive, besieged the church. The siege kept for three days, after the lack of water first forced them drink whatever they could find - they dug out on the floor of the church in search of water for the children, drank the oil from the candles and even the blood of those who died. Eventually the thirst won and they were forced to exit the church. All were beheaded and only those who accepted to convert to Islam were saved.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The church was burned, but the stone walls were retained from the fire. When a Russian mission inspected the village, three months later, the Ottoman authorities tried to bury the corpses but could not hide the stench. They also painted the walls of the church, but blood stains appeared later.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After the massacre in the church, Ahmet Aga called all surviving peasants, saying he wanted to record the dead and the widows. The survivors gathered, the women were separated from the men and 300 men that survived were slaughtered. The women who protested, were raped and killed. On the same day another 300 people were killed on the wooden bridge, next to the school, after their hands, ears and noses were cut off.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    After the fall of Batak, Turks slaughtered all the inhabitants, as punishment for the resistance they had raised. According to some sources, both Batak and Perushtitsa, where the majority of the population was also slaughtered, had not participated in the rebellion. Modern historians have calculated the number of those killed in the repression of the uprising between 3,000 and 10,000 people, regardless of gender and age. Batak's massacre was part of the harsh treatment of local revolutions, a policy followed by Sultan Abdul Hamit II. Many of the perpetrators of these massacres were later celebrated by the Ottoman Supreme Administration.
    The reactions of the Europeans were intense. The British, after the reports by their envoys in the region, withdrew their support to Turkey, suggesting that Europe demand the independence of Bulgaria and Bosnia - Herzegovina. The strongest reaction, however, came from Russia, as from autumn of 1875 the movement to support the Bulgarian uprising broke through all classes of Russian society, preparing and leading to the subsequent military intervention and strengthening of the Bulgarians against the Ottomans.

    [​IMG]

    Withdrawing from Batak, i could not help thinking about the macabre events related to the church of Sveta Nedelya. My mind was soon absorbed in the beautiful nature and autumn colors. Later, on the provincial road 376 towards Velingrad, near the shores of Lake Batak, i stopped for a while and admired a group of horses galloping free.

    [​IMG]

    In the main square of Rakitovo village i found another statue - a monument dedicated to a fighter. I could not deduce more from its inscription.

    [​IMG]

    I continued on the provincial road 84 and after Razlog i made my last stop in Bulgaria. There was a monument that was related to the liberation struggles of 1903. It was a composition of cement pilars, which in their interior resembled caged martyr human figures.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    The road that remained for my return was close to nothing while i was already preparing the routes that i would follow (Shumen Province and the Black Sea coast) on my next visit to Bulgaria.
    This was the route (of a total of 1189 kilometers) that i followed.

    [​IMG]
    #3
    NSFW, zakou, Amphib and 7 others like this.
  4. td63

    td63 Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Apr 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    342
    Location:
    Moscow, Idaho
    Hard to "like" a post that covers so much intense brutality, but thanks for your thoughtful history. They've long since moved away but we had a close friend who dated and then married a local Bulgarian Phd. student and he introduced us to the local Bulgarian community, but, despite, that, I couldn't have told you the first thing about that country. Thanks for filling that void.

    Gotta ask: is Bulgarian particularly full of monuments or do you simply have a gift for seeking them out? :)
    #4
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  5. Bt10

    Bt10 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2012
    Oddometer:
    973
    Location:
    Saranac,MI
    Wow, thank you for your report. Excellent history lesson many of us in the west may never see in person.
    #5
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  6. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    First i wanna thank you for the read&comment!
    There are maybe hundreds of such giantic and bizzare monuments scattered in the territory of Bulgaria, mostly inspired of the so-called 'socialistic architecture' that happen to admire. They are placed sometimes to places hard to find, so this gives me the motive to go out of main roads and, lets say, hunt them down. So we have small roads and monuments, 2 in the price of 1
    :rofl
    #6
    Amphib likes this.
  7. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Thank you!

    Part 3 is on its way...
    #7
    Amphib and sasho like this.
  8. mk23

    mk23 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    261
    Location:
    WA, USA
    That is a beautifully written and illustrated AAR! Thank you Very Much, for showing me places I have not seen in a long time.

    I was born in Plovdiv in the mid 70s and moved to the States in the late '80s. We also had a cabin in Yudola, next to Velingrad.

    It's was very interesting stomping grounds.
    #8
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  9. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer Super Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2007
    Oddometer:
    4,476
    Location:
    Okie near Muskogee
    Very nice report! Amazed to see the time, money, and effort put into many of those colossal structures of concrete. They sure have a special kind of beauty to them no matter what they where intended to symbolize.

    Just like when a replace a post on the farm, I can’t stand to put in a wooden post that I know will rot out much sooner than a heavy steel pipe post anchored in concrete that will last many generations to come. They may only remember me for my posts I sat.

    Thanks for sharing your trip. Have wanted to make a trip to the region for years and hope to do so one day.
    #9
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  10. sixspeed

    sixspeed Put on the WHOLE armor

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2011
    Oddometer:
    525
    Location:
    Exiled from the land of gum bands & bottle of pop
    Absolutely beautiful Stara Varos.

    We plan on someday before we are called home to get over to Eastern and Central Europe and do a big tour through the land of our ancestors.

    The natural beauty of mountains, great beer, food and some of the most beautiful architecture, Churches, Shrines and Iconostas. What's not to like!
    #10
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  11. NorthIdaho800gsa

    NorthIdaho800gsa Bad influence

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2018
    Oddometer:
    1,036
    Location:
    bonners ferry, idaho
    Awesome report. all history needs to be remembered. you should be thankful to be able to see these things. here in the u.s., the communists are trying hard to erase our history and tear down statues.
    #11
    Amphib, Bt10, sixspeed and 1 other person like this.
  12. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece


    im glad you liked my post and even more if anything reminded you familiar places or even home!
    If you 'll ever be on this side of Atlantic, id love to ride BG toghether.

    Thanks for the comment @mk23 , more stuff about Bulgaria soon :-)
    #12
    Amphib and mk23 like this.
  13. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    Those 'comunist' monuments have so much in common. They are massive, made of concrete, they are geometric structiures to the point of being a bit brutal, or even depressing.
    For me they are just bizzare achievents of architecture of the time that were built and i try to keep a safe distance from the frames of the communist propaganda that created them.

    Anyway, if ever in BG or Balkans in general, gimme a heads up, as im always around!

    thanks for the read and comment @Throttlemeister
    :-)
    more about Bulgaria soon....
    #13
    Amphib likes this.
  14. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    cant agree more @sixspeed :-)

    i wish you to make your trip plans true and remember beers are always cold in Thessaloniki Greece :clap
    #14
  15. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    i have always believed that people denouncing their monuments (etc) are just narrow minded observers of History in general, but in the end Thruth always prevails.

    Thank you @NorthIdaho800gsa for the comment, for me is like a push to come back with more stuff..
    :-)
    #15
    Amphib and NorthIdaho800gsa like this.
  16. sasho

    sasho Dual Personality

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2009
    Oddometer:
    1,679
    Location:
    MT/Bulgaria
    :lurk Looking forward to it. As a Bulgarian, I appreciate your narrative and photos about your travels through Bulgaria, and its history.
    #16
    Amphib and Stara Varos like this.
  17. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    -part 3-
    #17
  18. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece
    The definition of a pattern is someone or something used as a model to make a copy, a design, or an expected action. I consider myself a creature of habit, so, following the pattern of my previous rides [Part A’][Part B’] in Bulgaria, i rode my motorcycle on small mountain roads and visited important historical monuments and buildings from my favorite material, concrete. With this third part i wish to complete my trilogy for Bulgaria, by covering mainly the regions of Black Sea and Shumen.

    [​IMG]

    Day 1 [434 km]

    I departed from Thessaloniki, Greece and as i was aiming to reach the Black Sea, i entered Turkey and spent a night in Edirne.

    Day 2 [332 km]

    Leaving Edirne, i was soon to Bulgarian borders near Lesovo and i followed the provincial roads 7 and 7072 to reach Chargan. There, on Druzhba peak (497,8m.), allowing spectacular views to the city of Yambol and the valley of Tundzha river, i found the «Bakadzhik Monument».

    [​IMG]

    Built in 1987 and some 37 meters tall, this monument is celebrating the 1300 years of Bulgarian state foundation or the 110 years of the Liberation from Ottoman Turkish occupation.

    [​IMG]

    The 32 tons bronze figures depict events related to Bulgarian history.

    [​IMG]

    Among others i saw a Russian soldier and a Bulgarian guerilla fighter (symbolizing the victory over Ottoman forces and also the victory of Christianity on Bulgarian lands over Islam) and a woman with a child (symbol of Bulgarian continuity over the centuries or maybe the resurrecting Bulgarian nation).

    [​IMG]

    The weirdest figure was a Cosmonaut. I am not sure if Bulgaria had a space program at that time, so maybe it stands for the Russian achievements on that field.

    [​IMG]

    On October 8, 2011 a bronze bust of Yuri Gagarin was installed in Varna, so my initial thoughts of observing there the first monument for the Hero of the Soviet Union in Bulgaria, was just incorrect.

    [​IMG]

    Leaving the monument i noticed some abandoned facilities that maybe deserved some exploration.

    [​IMG]

    Later I found out it was holiday residencies for the workers of the chemical factory «Yambolen». At the base of the hill there is a monastery (dedicated to the Russian saint Alexander Nevski), that surely had hard times during the communist times in Bulgaria.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    If you can spare some time there, try visit the famous cave well, or even stay there as a guest. Heading east on the 7072 provincial road, passing villages like Irechekovo and Nedyalsko, when abandonment gave me the impression that time for that places stopped somewhere back in the ’60’s. In Zornitsa i had to stop for a while to suck everything in. The main square had a rusty, forgotten playground, an artillery cannon next to a monument of a fighter.

    [​IMG]

    I just cannot understand how this statue, like many other small monuments scattered all over Bulgaria, served the causes of the political powers of their times, especially in a place with a population of few hundreds, and if finally the resources spent for their making were justified. This one maybe was dedicated to guerilla fighter Zhelio Bozhkov (i couldn’t find anything about it) and its role now is to guest a stork nest. Across the main square, standing a crumbling fate, was the most modern building - a typical example of socialistic architecture - maybe a cultural center or some kind of library, now turned into a market.

    [​IMG]

    On its walls there were, except some ads for funeral services, some marvelous murals that used to glorify socialist virtues.

    [​IMG]

    My next goal was Burgas, where to its promenade i would find the «Pantheon» monument.

    [​IMG]

    The city was maybe the most developed one after Sofia and i was really impressed how clean and tidy the beachfront was.

    [​IMG]

    To the seaside park, after a series of well restored old mansions, i found the monument dedicated to people that supported and died for the ideas of the antifascist movement.

    [​IMG]

    I really liked the gigantic monstrous figures on its round roof, fighting each other or trying to escape from their concrete base.

    [​IMG]

    It was built in 1981 by the sculpture Valentin Starchev and architect Vladimir Milkov, but after the political situation in 1989 the Eternal Flame burning to its center and the 24h guards were removed.

    [​IMG]

    Locals call it «Пантеона» and the plaza and alleys around it are a great meeting place.

    [​IMG]

    On the provincial road 9, riding by the sea for some 35 km, i reached Nessebar. Entering the city i noticed a Mig plane. The Bulgarian air force on 2015, 18 December held a ceremony to mark the retirement of its last Mikoyan MiG-21 fighters.

    [​IMG]

    Following the Bulgarian retirement, Flightglobal's Fleets Analyzer database records 18 nations as still operating a combined total of around 550 MiG-21s. The more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebar, situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria).

    [​IMG]

    At the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city became a Greek colony. The city’s remains, which date mostly from the Hellenistic period, include the acropolis, a temple of Apollo, an agora and a wall from the Thracian fortifications. Among other monuments, the Stara Mitropolia Basilica and the fortress date from the Middle Ages, when this was one of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea (source unesco). After Nessebar the provincial road 9 become interesting as it involved continuous twisty uphill turns. My next pin was placed for the city of Varna. I also selected a stay that would give me limitless views to another concrete giant of socialist times, the monument of the «Bulgarian - Soviet friendship».

    [​IMG]

    It was initially designed as a monument to Soviet Army, commemorating Russia’s support to Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–9. Nowadays is considered as a symbol of friendship between the two peoples.

    [​IMG]

    It was already about two months of the Siege of Varna when Russian forces arrived north of the city and set up their camp on Turna Tepe (Mount Crane). The original idea was to built the monument to that place, that later became a mass grave for the perished in the conflicts.

    [​IMG]

    Like other socialist-era structures, this «pametnik» (Bulgarian word for «monument»), stands out with its impressive, almost terrifying, dimensions. Works lasted for 4 years and the monument was solemnly inaugurated on November 13, 1978. Around the monument were planted 20.000 trees, same as the number of Russian troops and some 27.000 volunteers were involved in constructing the 10.000 tons of concrete and 1.000 tons of steel monument.

    [​IMG]

    The majestic image of the 48 meter wide monument was completed by the 180 spotlights that were illuminating it by night, making it visible from many kilometers away from the shore into the Black Sea and by the park’s public address system that was playing the Symphony № 7 by the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

    [​IMG]

    From the base of the hill to its top, 305 stairs make up the «Victors’ Staircase» that lead to the dynamic 23m high composition of Varna sculptors Alyosha Kafedzhiiski and Eugene Barumov, resembling a bird.

    [​IMG]

    There are four figures of Russian soldiers with empty cold eyes to the north and three women figures to the south wing. The women bear gifts for the soldiers: bread, salt and rose, the national flower.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The orientation of the monument was said to be towards USSR, but in reality the 11m figures more likely look to the east and Turkey. Before them there was a bronze cube feeding with gas the eternal flame. Decaying letters on the walls, once read «Friendship for centuries, throughout centuries», no longer make any sense.

    [​IMG]

    It used to tell about the developing over the centuries connections between the Bulgarian and Russian people. As Georgi Dimitrov (first communist leader of Bulgaria) once said: «Friendship with the Soviet Union is as essential as is the sun, air and water for the living creatures». The once internal spaces used for the Communist Party gatherings, as well as the long corridor descending deep in the hill, once serving as nuclear shelter, now were heavily graffitied, damaged and barricaded.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Here are some aerial footage from the monument, or if you are more fond ofcrazy acrophobic stuff, check this guy.
    #18
    tsiklonaut and Amphib like this.
  19. Stara Varos

    Stara Varos Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2017
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Thesaloniki, Greece

    Day 3 [288 km]

    From my room i was staring this monument with that strong symbolism, now just a concrete remnant and i was reflecting the degree of abandonment and vandalisation that occurred after the political changes of 1989, as an inevitable result of the «soviet» orientation of the monument. Also, is worth mentioning that after WW2, Varna was named for a short period «Stalin», while in 1947 Tito and Dimitrov signed the «Varna Agreement», which created the vision of the unification of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, as a first step for a Balkan Federation.

    [​IMG]

    Early wake as today’s program was quiet heavy. My next stop was at the national archeological reserve «Madara», located 75 km from Varna and some 15 km from Shumen.

    [​IMG]

    The origin of the name Madara is maybe connected to the ancient Greek epithet «madaros» meaning «naked», «bald-headed», or «treeless», when others claim a Bulgarian origin to the name, meaning «Holy Cliff» or «Holy Place». The location is famous for «Madara Rider», an early medieval (early 8th-century) large rock relief featuring several epigraphs of historic importance written in Medieval Greek; the relief most likely dates to the reign of Tervel of Bulgaria.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The relief depicts a majestic horseman, of almost natural size, 23 m above ground level in an almost vertical 100 m high cliff. The horseman, facing right, is thrusting a spear into a lion lying at his horse's feet, and on the left a dog is running after the horseman.

    [​IMG]

    One legend has it that a Roman emperor was hunting on the plateau when he fell off the cliff and died. His relatives memorialized him by engaging a master to carve his image on the cliff.

    [​IMG]

    It was created some 1300 years ago, before Bulgaria’s conversion to Christianity, so this adds to the mystery of its creation, as it was a sacred pagan site prior.

    [​IMG]

    The area had a very special atmosphere, with the towering cliffs and the beautiful natural surroundings, like an energy vortex.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I tried to climb to the top of the rock, where it used to be a fortress, using the carved on the rock steep steps, but as i was in a full motorcycle gear i soon quit my plan and just sat halfway to enjoy the views.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The «Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria» («Паметник 1300 години България»), also known as the «Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument» («Паметник на създателите на Българската държава») over the city of Shumen, could be seen clearly from that point and it was my next destination.

    [​IMG]

    In 1981, to celebrate the 1300-year of the founding of Bulgaria, tons of pure concrete in a Cubist style, designed by a great team of designers, engineers and architects under Bulgarian sculptors Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov, completed with mosaic works and 21 figures of early Bulgarian rulers, finally formed this majestic structure that is said to be the heaviest communist monument on Earth.

    [​IMG]

    It mainly represents the foundation, recognition and prosperity growth of the First Bulgarian State, between the 7th and 10th century. The dimensions of the memorial (140 meters long and 70 meters tall), for which construction some 2.300 cubic meters of earth were excavated, and 2.400 tons of reinforced steel together with 50.000 cubic meters of concrete used for the completion, just underline the passion of the communist government to demonstrate their power through the size (yes, sometimes size matters).

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Once between the 8 concrete blocks that form two semi-halls, the giant sculptures like frozen in time, will give you the impression that they will forever guard the Bulgarian nation.

    [​IMG]

    The most impressive one is the massive figure of Khan Asparuh, the founder of Bulgaria, who stands with his sword stuck in the ground and his hands pointing the boundaries where the Bulgarian State will be expanded.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The imposing feelings that create the statues of Kings [Boris I - ruler of the first Bulgarian Empire, King Simeon I - ruler of Bulgaria from 893 to 927], and the figures of the Khans [Asparuh, Tervel, Krum and Omurtag] are complete when the mosaic work is faced.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Standing really high, almost like hanging from the sky, this composition of 3 panels is considered to be the largest triptych in Europe.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    To the first panel («The Victors»), warriors acclaiming the Khan dressed in crimson. The second one is related to the conversion to Christianity, and the third one is dedicated to the builders of the «Golden Age», the brothers Cyril and Methodius and their disciples.

    [​IMG]

    At the higher part of the monument there is a granite lion statue, symbol of both Christianity and Bulgaria.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Stepping away from the concrete «giants» i was thinking that this memorial even though it was a creation of socialist rule, it remains in spotless condition, maybe because it reflects elements that make its inheritors nationally proud and lacks of communist symbolism.

    [​IMG]

    Leaving the center of the city of Shumen and near where the 1300 steps that lead to the Memorial «1300 Years of Bulgaria» were, i found the composition «Monument to the Red Army», created by the architects Nikolai Shmirgela, E. Kotsev, A. Zankov and completed in 1949.

    [​IMG]

    On the provincial road 7 on my way to Targovishte, next to the passage «Boaza» and near the ancient bulgarian castle Misionis, i noticed a statue of a horse rider.

    [​IMG]

    Some say it is dedicated to Khan Krum, while others claim it’s a 2007 work of Vasil Radoslavov depicting a Bulgarian woman – warrior that symbolizes freedom. Later on, leaving the provincial road 7 for the 706 and 48, some 5 km southeast of the town of Kotel, i met another stone statue, named «Khan Krum and his soldiers».

    [​IMG]

    It was erected to glorify his victory over the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus in year 811. Other sources mention that is dedicated to the Bulgarian King Ivaylo, who on July 17, 1280, in the Stara Planina Kotlensky Pass, near the fortress Diavena, defeated the Byzantine army of 10.000 soldiers under the commands of Emperor Michael VIII Paleolog.

    [​IMG]

    Personally, i support the second version as i tend to trust the stone inscription placed near the statue, where we read «King Ivaylo and his soldiers».

    [​IMG]

    Kotel itself was a really pleasant place that worthies a stop, as it has a beautiful architecture from the period of the late Bulgarian rebirth. In the middle ages, there were numerous defenses and fortresses in this part of the Balkan Mountains, which protected the Bulgarian capitals in the north (Pliska, Preslav and then Tarnovo).

    [​IMG]

    A good example of the places i prefer to ride my motorbike is the provincial forest road 484, that connects Kotel and Maysko. Its around 25 kilometers long and because it was heavily damaged it took me almost 45 minutes to cross it.
    After Maysko, still on the provincial road 55, there is a small village called Konstantin. As the Russo-Turkish War came to its end, Turks set fire to Bulgarian villages on their way retreating south. Such was the fate of the village of Bebrovo, some 5 km away of Konstantin and its inhabitants, back in 1878, were between rebuilding their houses or finding a new place to start over. Russian Konstantin Adrianovich Rudanovski is considered the founder of Konstantin, as he helped people of Bebrovo to resettle there. Once he visited Konstantin in 1915, he donated the land and money for the construction of a building that served as a municipality, church, community center and school and decided after his resignation from the army to also settle there.

    [​IMG]

    His intentions didn’t come true as he died not long after, leaving a big sum of money to the village, that also never reached to its people because of the events in Russia in 1918. A statue for the «Soldiers of Konstantin», who participated in wars of 1912-3 and 1915-8, is placed near General Rudanovski’s land.

    [​IMG]

    Like the Christian Saints Konstantin and Helen, after the village Konstantin followed the small town of Elena. The town lies in the lovely valley of the Elena River and has managed to preserve the greater part of its architectural heritage. For Bulgarians, Elena is a place preserving the national pride and the revival spirit. I didn’t have much time to see more than the road signs that delimit the city.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Continuing my course on the 551 provincial road, i was soon to Veliko Tarnovo where i would spend a night. Starting from the very center, i found on Vasil Levski str. the monument of «Mother Bulgaria».

    [​IMG]

    It is dedicated to those fallen in war: the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, the Serbian-Bulgarian War of 1885, the Balkan wars of 1912-1913 and WW I, 1915-1918. The central figure is a crowned woman who personifies Bulgaria, holding up a banner and a laurel branch. Around her are represented Bulgarian soldiers on military scenes.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Walking the main roads on my way to Yantra river and the «Monument to the Asen Dynasty», i was admiring typical examples of socialist era residential buildings, like the brutal design of the «Interhotel Veliko Tarnovo», as well as some fine murals, striving not to decay and maybe steal a little from the commercial ad’s glitter.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Trying to find sources around the «Monument to the Asen Dynasty» (Паметник на Асеневци), i came across an interesting article in wiki that describes the Byzantine branch of the Asens, that i quote: «.. the Asens in Byzantium largely descend from Ivan Asen III, who ruled briefly as Emperor of Bulgaria before fleeing to Constantinople as Ivaylo's uprising was gaining momentum in 1280. A despotes under Michael VIII Palaiologos, Ivan Asen III had already been married to the Byzantine Emperor's eldest daughter, Irene Palaiologina. The couple's five sons and two daughters were the progenitors of one of the highest-regarded Byzantine noble families of their time, along with the Palaiologoi.. A smaller branch descends from Elena Asenina of Bulgaria, wife of Nicaean Emperor Theodore II Laskaris.. The Asens of Byzantium intermarried with other prominent noble dynasties, including the Kantakouzenos, Doukas, Laskaris, Tornikios and Raoul families ..».

    [​IMG]

    Regarding the monument an excellent post is published by grreporter.com under the title «The four Tsars of the Asen Dynasty that defeated Byzantium», from where I quote:
    «A remarkable monument to the Asen dynasty stands out in the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire Veliko Tarnovo. It was built in 1985 on a rocky promontory at one of the bends in the Yantra River to celebrate 800 years since the rebellion of the Asen and Peter brothers. The uprising of the brothers broke out on 26 October 1185 and took place during the Byzantine rule over the Bulgarian lands in what is now northern Bulgaria. Their insurgent activities lasted two years and culminated with success, and in the spring of 1187, Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos concluded a truce with them, thus recognizing the resumption of the Second Bulgarian Empire north of the Balkan Mountains.

    [​IMG]

    The state was headed by the older brother, Asen, who took the name Ivan Asen I. However, the composition of the monument includes two of the rebel brothers’ heirs to the throne, namely Tsar Kaloyan, the younger brother of Tsar Ivan Asen I, who ruled Bulgaria after the death of the first tsar of the Second Bulgarian Empire. While the first two tsars of the Asen dynasty sought to establish state centralism in the national politics and restore the previous Bulgarian borders in terms of foreign policy, their younger brother Kaloyan continued to successfully implement their policies, being able to significantly expand the territory of Bulgaria. However, the policy of the first three members of the Asen dynasty was finally realized during the reign of their successor Tsar Ivan Asen II, who is the forth figure in the composition of the monument. He conquered huge territories thus expanding the borders of Bulgaria to three seas, and in 1230, during the Battle of Klokotnitsa, he defeated the Byzantine army and captured emperor Theodore Komnenos and his family.
    The construction of the monument took place under the guidance of Professor Krum Damyanov and the overall layout of the surrounding area was completed within one year. It took just two months to make the monument, which turned it into a unique example in global practice. A revolutionary technical solution in this monument is that it is composed in such a way that two of the riders are standing, balanced only on the horses’ hind legs. In Europe there are few such structures made of special Japanese steel, which acts as a spring.


    [​IMG]

    In the middle of the composition of the monument there is a high metal sword, with its edge upwards, that symbolizes the power and the rise of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the zeal for eternity of the Bulgarian nation. Under its handle there is a granite figure of Virgin Orans, the heavenly mother, who creates and protects life. The reasons for placing it there are not clear, as this symbol is relatively unusual for the social realism monuments in Bulgaria, as they in no way admit the belief in a religion or in something that is more senior than the communist party is. Sometimes the figure of a woman is put in the centre of some monuments of this kind, symbolizing the image of "Mother Bulgaria" suffering for her sons and daughters who died in the name of their homeland.


    [​IMG]

    The four equestrians are placed on granite pedestals that are 7 metres high and the total height of the monument is 15 metres. The equestrians surrounding the high metal sword are made of bronze and weigh about 11 tons, and each of them is depicted in a different way, to underline the individual contribution to the Second Bulgarian Empire of each of them. The eldest brother of the Asen dynasty, Peter, is depicted with a blessing gesture that symbolizes the belief in the Christian religion and God's help for the Bulgarian rebellion activity. The younger Ivan Asen I boldly holds the bridle of his horse and his sword, ready to act, which symbolizes his strong will to preserve the independence of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The two brothers are on the two horses of the composition that stand on their hind legs and balance their weight through a special technology.


    [​IMG]

    The youngest brother, Kaloyan, belligerently looks at the territorial expansions of Bulgaria and is in a cautious readiness to protect them whereas Tsar Ivan Asen II is on top of his glory as he wears a crown and spear with which he pierced the parchment of the broken peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Latin Empire.


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Nowadays, the monument to the Asen dynasty is one of the most attractive places in Veliko Tarnovo and every tourist has a picture against its background. Every year in late May, all graduates come here to say "farewell" to their school years, and many young couples marry at this place all year round. For several years already, during the day of Veliko Tarnovo on 22 March, which is associated with the victory of Ivan Asen II over the ruler of Epirus Theodore Komnenos in the Battle of Klokotnitsa the same day, the monument has become the scene of 3D mapping and a laser show».

    [​IMG]

    The best view to the monument, as well as the bends of Yantra river, is from the oldest street in the town, ulica Gurko.

    [​IMG]

    I closed my day strolling the cobbled street and admiring the, decaying but still marvelous, period houses. This atmosphere achieved to transfer my thoughts back at the time when they were built, when things were much simpler and people only cared for what is truly important.

    [​IMG]

    Day 4 [305 km]

    The day’s program involved some mountain riding, leaving Veliko Tarnovo for the Stara Planina mountain range. The provincial road 55 and then 552, some 55 kilometers away from V. Tarnovo, brought me to Tryavna. It was my second visit to this nice little town. Last time i was there was from a much harder road, the 609 coming from Tsareva Livada.

    [​IMG]

    What makes Tryavna really special is that it keeps almost intact its Revival period spirit. I don’t want to be unfair to other places, but i consider it my favorite place in Bulgaria. Here is some aerial footage, mainly over Tryavna’s symbol, the St. Archangel Mihael Church, that was built in the late 12th century after Bulgarian Tsar Asen defeated the Byzantine forces under the Emperor Isaac II.
    Some kilometers west, still on the 552 road and near Torbalazhite village, i found the «Monument to the executed collaborators of partisans».

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I couldn't find any sources around its creators, and by the inscription «09-06-1944» i just assume it is dedicated to the Anti-Fascism movement of that time and the casualties civilians suffered.

    [​IMG]

    Very soon i was once again on E85 – 5 road, also known as «Shipka pass».

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    This kind of mountain roads is something i really enjoy and a video of mine [1080p] riding the specific mountain ridge of Stara Planina [Shipka to Buzludzha], follows:





    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    As always, i couldn’t keep my time schedule and my plans to explore a little the back roads around Sofia, had to be postponed. I was directed to Sofia via the provincial road 6, bypassing some of my favorite places, like the village Klisura and Kalofer.
    This time exploring the city of Sofia had also to be added to «skip it» list. Some places i would recommend around the city are: The Serdika Metro Station, where the ruins can give you an idea of how old is the city, before becoming Bulgaria’s capital and a little bit out of the center, the Museum of Socialist Art, where you can find in its courtyard numerous statues and other remnants that used to decorate the streets of Sofia, like the massive Red Star that adorned the top of the Communist Party Headquarters, where a Bulgarian flag flies in its place today.

    [​IMG]

    To a future post i will include relevant material of the places mentioned above, as well as from the Monument to the Soviet Army, which became quite popular when the statues of its composition, were painted like Marvel’s Superheroes.
    At the time of my visit i spent most of my time around Vitosha pedestrian road and the park where the National Palace of Culture is located.

    [​IMG]

    To be honest this structure reminded me that it was a common practice, as part of the Socialist propaganda, to create such community centers, both for recreational purposes, as well as for some political indoctrination. You can see a typical example of those former USSR structures, also a bit of decaying, to my post about Pripyat, Ukraine by clicking here.

    DAY 5 [366 km]

    My plan was to return to my hometown Thessaloniki, Greece, but waking up early gave me the opportunity to explore more. I headed north to the small city Slivnitsa, where i found the memorial complex «Heroes of Slivnitsa».

    [​IMG]

    It was built in 1935 to commemorate the Bulgarian soldiers and officers who perished in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885. It is made of granite, standing some 20 meters high. The composition consists of memorial plaques, two statues of soldiers and an artillery cannon. Bulgaria’s finest poet Ivan Hristov's words «Bulgaria, they died for you», are written on the east side of the monument, while the cannon is facing west, towards Serbia and where the war conflicts took place.

    [​IMG]

    Next stop Gurgulyat village and the temple-like monument «Pantheon - Mother Bulgaria», or «Pantheon of the Immortals», or «Pantheon to the Heroes of the Serbian-Bulgarian War».

    [​IMG]

    It was designed by the architect Georgi Stoilov [the person responsible also for some other massive monuments in Bulgaria, like the Monument to the Dead in the Fatherland War (Dobrich - 1964), the Arch of Liberty (Beklemeto Pass - 1980) and of course the famous Buzludzha conference center], in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Unification and the Serbian-Bulgarian War and of the soldiers, officers, volunteers and citizens of Gurgulyat killed at Slivnitsa positions. Built in 1985 of red cement in the shape of a 29 meters pyramid, like a temple open towards the sky.

    [​IMG]

    In the center is placed a statue symbolizing Mother Bulgaria, grieving over the heroes that perished defending her. The statue is made of quartzite presented by the Soviet Union (Kazakhstan). After the political changes this monument was left to decay and be forgotten. The night projectors and the letters of the soldiers' names are stolen and walls start to crumble.

    [​IMG]

    Leaving the area i tried to spot the ruins of the ancient fortress of Petlyuka gorge or the sanctuary of the Greek god of Healing - Asclepius, son of Apollon, that are said to be close to the monument, but with no luck.

    [​IMG]

    My last stop, before exiting Bulgaria, was to the province of Kyustendil, on the provincial road 62 near the village Panicarevo, for the monument called «Flame» or «Monument to the Antifascists». The road leading to it, as well as the monument itself, is in bad shape. The whole area seems completely abandoned, letting looters remove some of the commemorating plaques and sculptures of the composition.

    [​IMG]

    From the sources i found later around its creation, the monument was a creation of Alexander Barov, who designed, among others, the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. It is dedicated to the 16 partisans from the Dupnitsa detachments that were killed here by fascist forces.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    Closing Thoughts

    The monuments presented to my 3 parts of exploring Bulgarian provinces share something in common, that is the time of their creation during the Communist regime. My interest in visiting them was originally sparked by many publications around them and soon enough i was out on the road chasing them and getting lost, trying to locate them, sometimes having to reach the most remote locations. As my photo archive got bigger and bigger by their shots, i really couldn’t understand why some of them were doomed to decay and crumble, get looted or sprayed, in some occasions guarded by the police, while others enjoyed a better fate, renovation works or sometimes even won the love of their heirs. Having spent much time and getting dedicated to create a descent presentation of these «Concrete Giants» i finally came to a conclusion by comparing them, so let’s take as an example the Buzludzha Conference Center with the Shumen memorial. Both are made of pure concrete and are emphasizing to their size, as a symbol of the power the Communist Party possessed at that time. The factor that determined their fate was the message and their main focus.

    [​IMG]

    Where it was just a demonstration of authoritarianism, imposed by the communist leadership, or even had a more «we owe everything to the Russians» feel around them, those monuments were vandalized after the democratic changes or, in best case scenario, they were just abandoned and let forgotten to rust. But where the message was focused on historical events, battles and the continuity of Bulgarians through the centuries, without any decorative communist symbols, those memorials got loved and even survived to fulfill the purpose of their creation.
    I couldn’t find a better way to close my trilogy of posts dedicated to Bulgarian monuments, nature and small provincial roads than sharing a video of mine riding the road leading to Devil’s Throat near the city of Trigrad, on the Bulgarian side of Rhodopi mountain range, a place of exceptional natural beauty.





    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    thanks for the read :)
    #19
  20. cyclopathic

    cyclopathic Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    7,003
    I was earlier this year at Buzludzha.. there were thousands of people ascending the mountain in red t-shirts or with flags. You could not find the place to park; buses, cars police was directing traffic and at the end we had to wait for 2 hours until they opened road down. Completely surreal.

    Turned out it was 100 year anniversary of Bulgarian communist party.
    #20