After 30 years of neglect, dereliction and oblivion the "Flying Saucer," on top of the summit of Buzludzha in the Stara Planina mountain range, lit up again – to the joy of thousands of young revellers who gathered here for a three-day rock music party (think Sziget in Hungary, Roskilde in Denmark and Glastonbury in the UK).
The Flying Saucer, which in recent years has become one of the Top 10 world monuments for urbex, or dark tourism, was constructed in the early 1980s. It was designed to celebrate the Bulgarian Communist Party, in control of this country from 1944 to 1989. It was supposed to withstand the ravishes of both time and nature for several hundred years, as the Communists, who had commissioned it, thought they would be in power eternally.
But Communism collapsed in 1989 and the House-Monument of the BKP, as the Flying Saucer was known officially, was abandoned. Initially, groups of local thieves purloined whatever could be lifted from the derelict building, including many of the roof tiles (made of metal that could be resold for scrap) and the huge five-pointed red stars in the building's tower (which an urban legend suggested were made of "real" rubies). Then the building fell prey to the elements and became dangerous to enter. Urbexers from far and wide – from Brazil to Korea and from Alaska to Australia – came to Shipka, the nearby town, just to try to (illegally) enter the Flying Saucer and take a selfie inside.
Tellingly, public attitudes to the Flying Saucer have been polarised. The BSP, or Bulgarian Socialist Party – the heir to the BKP, holds an yearly event at the foot of the building in August. Rightwingers scorn the structure and swear it should be instantly dynamited as it evokes this country's Warsaw Pact past.
The Flying Saucer as it looks on ordinary days
Enter Dora Ivanova, an young Bulgarian entrepreneur who graduated architecture in Germany. Her main interest: bringing back to life controversial public monuments, including buildings. Nothing would qualify better than the Buzludzha Flying Saucer.
Ivanova took upon herself the huge effort of convincing the local authorities in Kazanlak and Stara Zagora, which are in charge of the Buzludzha monument, that if renovated and reopened for visitors the building could generate tourism revenue. To make her point clearer Ivanova secured a grant from the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles meant to assist the exploration of endangered cultural heritage.
For several years now a team of volunteers, led by Ivanova, have meticulously secured parts of the building, including the huge mosaics depicting Communist Party leaders and events in Bulgarian history the BKP considered important for its causes.
Obviously, not everyone in Bulgaria is happy. Ivanova's most vitriolic critics emerged not from the recesses of the former Communist Party but from... Democratic Bulgaria, the political grouping claiming to speak for this country's pro-European intellectuals. The DB now maintains Ivanova's efforts at a "toothless restoration and pseudo-museumification (sic)" of Buzludzha will "erase the traumatic, the grotesque and the tragic" aspects of this "special building."
The young revellers at the Flying Saucer festival, which was organised by Dora Ivanova and her organisation as a benefit to raise money for the completion of the Buzludzha project, seem to think otherwise.
Ivanova's plan is to have at least parts of the Flying Saucer opened for visitors by the end of 2022.