Saturday, April 8, 2017

238. The Monument to 1300 years of Bulgaria


Continuing on with my fascination of Butalist art, today I took a two hour train ride to the inland city of Shumen to have a swoon over another Bulgarian communist-era giant - the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria, also known as the Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument. This mammoth structure is a large monument on a plateau overlooking the city;  built in 1981 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the First Bulgarian Empire.



The monument - designed by Bulgarian sculptors Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov - is built in concrete in a Butalist-Cubist-Communist style and stands at a height of 450m above sea level and can be seen from 30 km away.




It is reached from the city centre by a processional concrete stairway consisting of 1300 steps – about 2km – each step represents a single year for the 1,300th anniversary up until the moment the monument was opened to the public. The climb up took this aged-but-agile tourist about 45 minutes, which included several rest stops so the heart could keep pace with the feet. I had the option to take a taxi to the top instead of the climb – but where’s the fun in that




... must be nearly there surely ...



Eight concrete blocks forming a spiral symbolize the country’s historic prosperity. Major events from the history of the First Bulgarian Empire (681 – 1018 A.D.) are represented by 21 monumental sculptures and a mosaic triptych – the biggest open-air mosaic in Europe. A giant lion statue was placed on the top of the monument. It is made of 2000 granite elements with a total weight of 1000 tonnes – and 50,000 cubic metres of concrete and 2,400 tons of reinforced steel were used to construct the monument – now that’s a lot of concrete and a lot of steel … !!!



Each statue represents one of the founding fathers of Bulgaria - the people who forged the country in the period of the 7th to 10th centuries helping to create the country what it is today.

 


In the Bulgarian mythology, well before the appearance of human beings, the earth was inhabited by a race of giants named the Ispolini and it is difficult not to invoke these mysterious figureheads while walking around the giants’ hall. Added to the enormity of the statues and the walls towering in around me, today, although partly sunny, a gale-force wind was blowing from somewhere very very cold … !!! … once up there and physically exhausted by climb, it took all my strength and balancing powers to keep upright and hold my camera with a steady hand …



Khan Asparuh (who is considered to be the founder of Bulgaria) is depicted first, standing with his sword stuck in the ground, hands raised and pointing in different directions to where the Bulgarian state will be.



  



Next is the 18 metre-tall sculptures of Tervel, Krum, and Omurtag ( Bulgarian khans who reigned in the 8th and the 9th centuries ). They are surrounded by fragments of old Byzantine chronicles depicting a time almost forgotten.


The wise thought of Khan Omurtag, a mantra for the country, is inscribed beneath them: “Even if a man lives well, he dies and another one comes into existence. Let the one who comes later, upon seeing this inscription, remember the one who had made it… And the name is Omurtag, Kanasubigi.”


 




We just don't realise just how old Bulgaria is as a country and this monument really reminds us of that fact. Even though it was built under the communist period, and even though the design is distinctly communist, the deeper meanings of the statues aren't communist at all. The monument of Shumen to the founding fathers of Bulgaria is exactly that – it is celebrating the past, not the communists.




 






The magnificent outdoor three-panelled mosaic - the largest of its kind in Europe - depicts primarily the Byzantine church's influence in the history of Bulgaria .





The site and the access up to the site has been beautifully maintained over the years. Today there were no other visitors whilst I was there – just a couple of healthy types running up the stairs probably on their daily workout … 



 

 

 ... pretty impressive view looking East over Shumen and surrounding lands ...




So we all know the law of gravity – what goes up, must come down – and the thought of descending all those steps left me a bit limp, so I decided to take the long way down and use the twice-as-far-to-the-bottom zig-zag path through the woods …



Back in town, I turned and looked back up to the monument of the founding fathers of Bulgaria high up on the hill - in my eyes, not only are they looking over Shumen but the whole of Bulgaria.


And now it was time for a well-earned icy-cold lager and a large Bulgarian burger with fries, before the two hour train-ride-and-sleep back to Varna …