Bulgaria Stories and Tips

Town and Country: Communist Architecture in Bulgaria

Shumen Skyline Photo, Bulgaria, Europe

During my many travels – the majority of which have been documented in rather excessive detail here on IgoUgo.com – I have lived in two post-Communist countries: China and Mongolia. Certain members of the Central Committee in Beijing may quibble with my use of the prefix 'post', but I think it I am probably on safe ground. I loved both of them for their present-day selves rather than their ideological pasts. I had an absolutely time in both places and truly loved the people in both countries. However, as you may have noticed from many of my other journals, I could never fully quell my interest in their past.

I have always found the Communist era to be tremendously interesting. Obviously, there is a huge historical aspect to this. I find the revolutions that book-ended the era to be fascinating. And, even though it was at times horrific, the history of the era itself is some of the most revealing and moving you could possibly imagine. I am also a huge fan of the design and architecture of the era. Although, if I am honest, I feel the word 'fan' is probably not correct. I think it would be better to say that I find the design to be compelling. For example, I found Sukhbaatar Square in Mongolia almost hypnotic as it strong imposing buildings that could almost define the whole era painted in wonderfully delicate pastel shades.

It is easy to argue that the larger more famous buildings created by Communists have a certain beauty (if not charm). They usually demand respect for their sheer scale and dominance. However, the everyday buildings are often forgotten. In both China and Mongolia I lived in apartment blocks that were built during the Communist era. In both countries there were some distinct similarities. First was the prevalence of cold grey concrete. Second was an abundance of cracks and chips in said concrete. Third was thin windows adorned with dirty and chipped paint. Fourth, and probably most telling, was the blockish lines and complete lack of imagination in their design. They looked like lego bricks – dank, uninspiring lego bricks that no child would wish to play with. However, in both countries, I found that the dour domestic architecture was something to be found predominantly in the city. Once outside, more traditional styles were still on view. In Mongolia it was the ger (a circular felt tent) and in China there were traditional courtyard houses.

When I took a vacation with my girlfriend in her native Bulgaria, I was keen to see if things were the same. I was unsurprised to find that they were. It seemed that despite the geographical differences, the ideological similarities gave birth to architectural ones. When we stayed in the town of Shumen, we stayed with my girlfriend's cousin who lived on the thirteenth floor of a block that was faced in dark grey concrete and which had no architectural lines that strayed even fractionally from the horizontal or vertical. The windows were wooden with chipped paint and one thin pain of glass. The similarities to my time in China and Mongolia were uncanny.

When we stayed with my girlfriend's parents, though, things were different. They lived out in the countryside. This meant that many of the local municipal buildings bore the same unimaginative touches of central design, but that local homes were very different. The disparity between city and country seemed to be the same as in Mongolia or China. Rather than in a dour apartment block, they lived in a two-storey cottage build from hand-made bricks and faced in white paint and climbing vines. The bursts of colour and of personal flair were in such stark contrast to the apartments that were just thirty minutes away.

Been to this destination?

Share Your Story or Tip