Monuments

WOODROW WILSON COMES TO SOFIA

Seen from a US standpoint, the 28th American President is usually being put in the "upper tier" of US leaders despite criticism of his propagation of racial segregation. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who served two terms in 1913-1921, successfully led the United States through the Great War. His foreign policy came to be known as Wilsonianism. He was the leading architect of the League of Nations project.

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BULGARIA'S ODD SCULPTURES

Strange proportions, unusual materials and extravagant designs: quirky sculptures can be found all over the world, and Bulgaria is no exception. In addition to the monumental angular creations of Socialist Realism and the sometimes traditional statues of historical figures, a number of other statues exist in the country, attracting the attention, the ridicule or the fury of passers-by. Many of these somewhat ridiculous monuments, however, were produced with very serious aims in mind. Some of them commemorate a prominent figure, a historical event, or a local curiosity.

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BIRTHPLACE OF BULGARIA'S LAST DICTATOR

You are in an unsightly socialist town where rustic houses are scattered amongst prefabricated housing blocks. Men are repairing Ladas and Moskviches and women are dusting carpets in the patches of green. You head for the town square and discover that it is appropriately covered with the large white slabs to be seen in so many other Bulgarian towns, the result of a 1980s plan by Communist rulers to implement pedestrian zones. But there is something a little out of kilter here. The town is oddly clean and the pavement is not falling apart. There are few stray dogs in the streets.

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PECULIARITIES OF VRATSA

In Bulgaria, there is only one museum besides the archaeology and national history ones in Sofia where you can see a great Thracian treasure in its (almost) full ancient glory. No, this museum is not in Varna, nor in Plovdiv or Stara Zagora.

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IF BULGAR KHANS WERE SCI-FI CHARACTERS...

Japanese tourists just love the Founders of Bulgaria monument in Shumen, the woman in the ticket office says. The Japanese, the lady continues, are smitten. They stare and stare, and only when they get over their initial shock, do they take out their cameras. The lady at the city council-run ticket office was equally bewildered by the reaction of the Japanese until one day a guide explained.

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COMMUNISM'S FLYING SAUCER

Bulgaria has yet to produce an architectural site capable of generating a high-degree wow-factor, with the likely exception of Sofia's NDK, Shumen's Founders of the Bulgarian State monument and the urbanisation solutions seen at Sunny Beach. Yet, the country does have a strong contender for world fame in a new, but growing field of interest: abandoned, ghoulish, straight-out-of-a-dystopian-movie-set constructions visited by folks interested in off-off-off-the-beaten-track tourism and captivated by anything from extraterrestrials to Goths, Communists and urban decay.

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STILL AT BLACK SEA COAST

As you travel along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast you will inevitably pass through Varna and Burgas, the two biggest Bulgarian seaside towns. As you stroll through them, you will inevitably be confronted with a couple of monstrosities that will make you wonder, who or what are those to celebrate? Do they not belong to a bygone era that few Bulgarians want to remember? Should not they be consigned to the dustbin of history, as Marx put it, which seems to be their rightful last abode?

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FALLEN MESSERSCHMITT

There is hardly a visitor to Sofia who has not crossed the vast square in front of the National Palace of Culture, or NDK, and not gasped at the sight of this strange structure that looks as if coming straight out of an urban nightmare piece of sci-fi.

Rising 35 metres from the ground, the tall thing curls somehow at an angle in the air, ending up looking somewhat like a wing. Ghostly human-like figures crawl and pose on its granite surface, where holes gape, revealing the rusting skeleton of steel.

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CONCRETE LEFTOVERS

The children of the 21st Century will have a hard time understanding how such a ridiculous and supposedly omniscient system as the Communist one could hold in thrall a quarter of the world's population for so many decades.

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THE THICK RED LINE

If you thought that the most impressive monuments of the Communist regime were the nondescript suburbs of prefabricated blocks of flats – Lyulin, Mladost and Druzhba being just three of numerous examples in Sofia, you have a point – their message about uniformity, limitations and bad taste is very much evident today.

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TOP 10 EYESORES

You can't miss them: hulking monstrosities of bronze, stone or concrete that tower over town squares, parks and public buildings all across Bulgaria. Once part of the Communist regime's propaganda machine, these monuments to past heroes and future dreams now rank among the most potent reminders of Soviet ideology and its megalomaniacal aesthetics. Some have disappeared – the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum in Sofia was blown to pieces in 1999, The Alyosha in Pleven was torn down, and many busts of Lenin have disappeared, most likely sold for scrap metal.

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