The Water Tower of Lozenets belongs to another era patiencetips
Issue 51-52, December 2010 – January 2011
by Gergana Manolova; photography by Anthony Georgieff
The capital gets its steady share of visitors all year round, drawn to the cluster of attractions in the centre with the shiny domes of Alexandr Nevskiy cathedral, the ancient rotunda of St George and the surrounding shopping streets. Those of a more curious disposition venture to Boyana Church and the National History Museum, and maybe wrap up the tour with a cable car ride to Cherni vrah.
But if you are prepared to explore off the beaten track, you may discover hidden gems that even the locals know little about – such as the Lozenets Water Tower.
At first sight the Water Tower looks incongruous, surrounded as it is by the peaceful, everyday atmosphere of the Lozenets neighbourhood. The tall, brooding structure, wrapped in vines, stands in its small green square among the residential buildings. It is a remnant from another Sofia – one that flourished eighty years ago.
Back when it became the capital after Bulgaria's liberation from Ottoman rule in 1878, Sofia didn't have the infrastructure of a major city. Its motto "Grows but Does Not Age" proved to be all too true, though, at least at first. By the 1920s the population had increased ten-fold to 200,000 and the sprawling city was in desperate need of a water project sufficiently large to supply all the citizens. The task fell to hydro-engineer Ivan Ivanov, who was deputy head of the water supply department of Sofia. The idea of supplying Sofia with the clear water from the Rila mountains was discussed as early as 1918, but implementing the general plan for the water supply had to wait until 1923. The final plan incorporated changes in the supply as well as its dispersion within the city to accommodate the needs of the new metropolis.
Until 1926, when the first part of the Rila water system was completed, all of Sofia's water came from Vitosha mountain. Both the earlier and the later systems relied on gravitation for the flow of water to the buildings, but the neighbourhood of Lozenets represented a real problem. At 610 metres, the hill here is one of the highest points in Sofia, and in the 1920s it was already populated with two- or three-storied houses. Sofia's engineers, headed by Ivan Ivanov, decided on a practical solution – build a water tower.
The design of the Lozenets Water Tower was Austrian, but construction drew on the French tradition of water tower building, using reinforced concrete and bricks. Building the 27-metre tower took a little more than a year – from 20 September 1928 to 20 November 1929. The operating premise was simple enough. A pump moved water from the reservoir at the Sofia Seminary to the storage tank at the top of the tower, which was 15 metres higher than the highest land point. The tank had a capacity of only 100 cubic metres, but it was not intended for long-term storage. Instead, it would service houses during the high-demand period of the day and the pump would fill it up again during the night.
Today the tower looks much the same as the day it was built, though it is lacking its storage tank. A staircase around the hollow interior takes you to the third floor, where you can get out onto the narrow balcony that runs all the way round. Braver souls could tackle the vertiginous winding steps that lead one floor up, to the space under the dome where the tank was mounted. If you crave the extreme experience take the short iron ladder which brings you still further up, to the top windows under the roof.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers