“Good news! We’ve reached the sixth floor!” Apart from our motley crew of lamps that included an old Nokia cellphone screen, it was absolute darkness. It wasn’t really a staircase. That’s far too generous a term. More a collection of rusty steel ladders. Later, on our way back down, we timed the descent to the basement. It took 20 minutes, and it probably takes about double that to reach the roof of the tower component of perhaps the world’s most spectacular abandoned building: the former Bulgarian Communist Party Headquarters known as Buzludzha.
Atop Mount Buzludzha in the geographic heart of the nation of Bulgaria, I found myself with an unlikely team of experienced urban explorers. Our members were from three nations: Australia, Romania, and England. We had been planning our infiltration of Buzludzha via Facebook and email, and now it was actually happening. I had dreamed about this moment.
- “How do you know what floor we’re on?” I shouted to our Romanian leader, who was now a couple of floors ahead.
“There’s a six on the wall.”
“How many floors are there?”
“At least six.”
- “Do you want the good news?”
“We’re not at the top yet.”
We were laughing like naughty high-school kids. It was quite surreal; I was with a group of people I had just met, being led in darkness upwards through the enormous abandoned Communist meeting house, seemingly quite a long way from reality.
We continued up the ladders and across the rusty landings, getting higher and higher. I’m not sure how many levels it was to the top — maybe 12 or 14. On the way, there were plenty of strange unidentifiable noises coming from the pitch black. Bangs, clangs, metallic pings, cracking sounds. Roll calls continued intermittently, as our team spread out over two or three floors at a time. We were all looking out for each other, and it just added to the surrealism to be hearing a Romanian accent calling out, “Nate! Are you still with us?” every now and then.
Of course, we made it to the top of Buzludzha, and captured the spectacular view — the roof of a UFO-shaped decaying concrete structure, surrounded by a pristine Bulgarian mountainscape. I could describe the history of Buzludzha, and all of the various chambers we traversed within the grand structure. But I think in this case, the photos really do give a sense of just how ridiculously cool this place is.
I’m certainly not the first person to have visited Buzludzha. However, with the rapid amount of decay that has occurred, I unfortunately may be among the last. It’s not exactly a “safe” environment inside, and it’s getting worse by the day. But apart from a few cuts, scrapes, and bruises, our team had no incidents. Buzludzha looked after us all on this day.
When we finally exited the darkness through a hole in the concrete close to ground level (I was the last to leave), Phillipa was waiting outside, getting to know our friendly team members. I noticed an enormous concrete ‘n’ sitting on the ground. Just one of a collection of letters spelling out a message of Communist propaganda on the walls at the now-sealed entrance of Buzludzha.
- “Phillipa, take a photo of me sitting on this ‘n’, it will be great to show the scale, and it’s my initial as well…”
My new Romanian friend overheard what I had said, and interrupted our moment with a serious tone.
- “Nate, that’s not an ‘n’. In Cyrillic, that’s a ‘p’. Please respect our language Nate.”
I was unsure. “I didn’t think you used the Cyrillic alphabet in Romania?”
“No…we don’t use that crazy alphabet.”
I like this guy.
Finally, I absolutely have to say — exploring abandoned Communist party headquarters is not for everyone. It can be a dangerous hobby. Those of you on my Facebook page have seen the photo I posted from the dark basement of Buzludzha, showing the shrine of remembrance to the two French urban explorers who tragically died inside Buzludzha.
These environments are dark, toxic, rusty, slimy, and dank. So if you decide to jump on the Bulgaria bandwagon (and you should), and visit Buzludzha (you should), make sure you’re with a team of people who have experience in exploring abandoned spaces.
Sure, be adventurous. But whatever you do, don’t go solo. You just never know what might happen.
* This post was originally published at yomadic and is reprinted here with permission.