Buzludzha Peak (today Hadzhi Dimitar Peak) has a profound significance to Bulgarian history and national identity, due to the dramatic and diverse events that have taken place there since the mid-19th century. In 1959 the government decides to launch a contest to design a memorial on Buzludzha Peak, in recognition of its significance. This monument was intended to be larger and more impressive than any other.
The Buzludzha Memorial House (the Monument) was opened in August 1981, commemorating a location with great significance in Bulgarian history. Three key historic events are linked to this mountain peak: the 1868 last fight of the Hadzhi Dimitâr’ rebels, the foundation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1891 and a WWII-era battle between fascists and partisan forces in 1944.
1868: The Last Fight of Hadzhi Dimitar’s Rebels
In 1396 the Second Bulgarian Empire – a medieval state stretching all the way from the Black Sea to the Adriatic – was invaded by the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria remained under Ottoman control for almost five centuries, but during the second half of the 19th century a strong revolutionary movement was growing in the country.
Two of Bulgaria's most famous revolutionaries, Hadzhi Dimitâr and Stefan Karadzha, formed a rebel detachment in Romania in 1868, before crossing the Danube and launching a series of attacks on Ottoman strongholds in Bulgaria. Their campaign enjoyed some early victories, until 9th of July when Stefan Karadzha was injured in battle and taken prisoner by the Ottomans. Hadzhi Dimitâr led the remaining rebels in one last battle, fought at Buzludzha Peak on 18th of July 1868.
This dramatic fight was important not because of its scale or outcome, but because of the courage and self-sacrifice of the rebels. Although they knew that this will be their last fight, they consciously preferred dying rather than surrendering. This act of heroism attracted the attention of Europe and showed the world that Bulgarians were dedicated to the cause of freedom.
1877-78: The Battle for Shipka Pass
In April 1876, Bulgaria erupted into a nationwide revolt against Ottoman rule. The revolution was swiftly put down by Ottoman forces, and entire towns were massacred as punishment for their rebellion – but these bloody events soon caught the attention of the world and in 1877, Tsar Alexander II of Russia began deploying his troops in the Balkans. One of the most decisive campaigns of that war was fought just 10km from Buzludzha, in the Shipka Pass.
The defence of the “Shipka Pass” was one of the most heroic and decisive battles during the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation 1877-1878. The combats that took place from 09/21 to 13/26 August 1877 between the pass defenders and the Turkish army, entered the Bulgarian history under the name of the Shipka Epopee.
The task of the small-number Russian-Bulgarian detachment under the command of Gen. N.G. Stoletov, about 7,500 people strong, was to deter the Suleiman Pasha army that was overpowering it by its numbers (approx. 27,000 people and a reserve of 10,000), and not allow it to cross the Balkan Mountains and join forces with the Turkish units in North-East Bulgaria, in help of the Osman Pasha army besieged in Pleven.
The defence of Shipka continued also during the autumn and the winter of 1977. That period went down in history as the “Winter Shipka Standing”. In spite of the cold and fog, in spite of the snow-storms and blizzards, the Shipka defenders guarded heroically the pass.
Although the 1981 Buzludzha Memorial House was never explicitly dedicated to the battles in the Shipka Pass, it nevertheless built on a strong sense of Bulgarian nationalism already tied to this mountain location – and both Monuments are now co-represented by the National Park-Museum Shipka-Buzludzha.
1891: The Dawn Of Bulgarian Socialism
The first socialist groups in Bulgaria had begun meeting by 1886. The political philosopher Dimitâr Blagoev was instrumental in shaping Bulgaria's socialist movement. He published the first Bulgarian-language translations of books such as Karl Marx's Capital and The Communist Manifesto, in addition to his own influential work “What is Socialism and Does it Have Roots in Our Country?”
In 1891, when Blagoev decided to unite these different factions into one Bulgarian socialist organisation, Buzludzha made the logical meeting place – a discrete and convenient location, already steeped in national significance. The annual celebration commemorating the sacrifice of Hadzi Dimitâr was used as cover for bringing together 15 delegates with voting rights and 10 observers.
Bulgaria's first socialist congress (as the gathering would later be known) was held on 2nd August 1891 at Buzludzha Peak, resulting in the official formation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers' Party: a precursor to the Bulgarian Communist Party, who would later seize complete control over the country.
1936: First implemented memorial project
By the late 19th century many Bulgarians were already making the pilgrimage to Buzludzha Peak. In 1898 Bishop Kusevich of Stara Zagora proposed the creation of a Monument at the site – an obelisk with a cross, a chapel, and memorial gardens commemorating the sacrifice of Hadzhi Dimitâr's brigade. An 8-metre statue of Hadzhi Dimitâr was planned too, overlooking the mountain. The reign of Tsar Ferdinand was beset by economic crises however, and the project was never completed.
The first memorial project on Buzludzha Peak to reach completion was a guest house, the 'Buzludzha Lodge,' that was opened in 1936. The building was created to accommodate the many visitors who by then were already travelling to Buzludzha Peak in order to pay their respects to Hadzhi Dimitâr and his detachment. The completion of the Buzludzha Lodge was intended to facilitate educational tourism in the region. The hut is still operating until today.
1944: The Partisan Movement
During WWII, Bulgaria was brought onto the side of Nazi Germany, much to the protest of many of its citizens. A nationwide partisan resistance movement was organised, in which the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party – by then known as the Bulgarian Communist Party – took a significant leading role.
On 25th January 1944, partisan detachments from the towns of Gabrovo and Sevlievo ambushed fascist forces engaged in training exercises on Buzludzha Peak. A fierce firefight ensued, during which three partisans lost their lives. In September 1944 the Soviet Red Army entered Bulgaria as they pushed the Nazi forces back out of Eastern Europe. The victorious partisans formed a coalition government over the following years, with the Bulgarian Communist Party swiftly taking the lead. In 1946 a national referendum abolished the monarchy, and a single-party system was established.
1961: Three monuments were built
The new regime erected many Monuments to celebrate the victory of Bulgarian socialism. In particular, Buzludzha Peak was considered a highly significant location, as the birthplace of the socialist movement in Bulgaria. On 29th January 1959, a competition was announced that would welcome design proposals for four new Monuments celebrating the history of this mountain.
On 2nd July 1961 – 70 years after the foundation of Bulgaria's first socialist organisation – three out of four of the Monuments were unveiled: a statue of Hadzhi Dimitâr, an engraved relief of Dimitâr Blagoev's 1981 Buzludzha Congress, and a Monument dedicated to the Gabrovo and Sevlievo partisan forces who had battled fascists here during WWII. However, it took 15 years from the decision to build a monument on Buzludzha, until the construction actually began.
1974: Construction of Buzludzha monument
On 23rd of January 1974 the architect and engineers started preparing the construction site. The mountain peak Buzludzha was shrunken with 9 meters (from 1441m to 1432m) and 15 000 cubic meter of rock was dug out for the foundation of the monument. A total of 70 000 tons of concrete, 3 000 tons of reinforced steel and 40 tons of gilded glass were used in the process.
The construction of Buzludzha was financed with public donations, with the intent that it would become a nationwide cause. Due to its structural complexity and the limited working period allowed by inclement winter weather, the project took more than seven years (January 1974–August 1981). Over 6,000 people laboured on the monument, including some of Bulgaria’s finest architects, artists, sculptors and engineers.
The Buzludzha Monument consists of a spherical body, symbolizing a wreath in commemoration of the historical events that happened on Buzludzha Peak during the XIX and XX centuries; while an external attached tower represents a flag decorated with the world’s largest illuminated red stars. Its interior was decorated with astonishing artistic mosaics representing both major Bulgarian historic episodes and relevant persons related to the Communist era. Its main original purpose was to show the magnificence of Communist achievements.
1981 to 1989: Utilization of Buzludzha monument
During the Monument’s eight years of use it was visited by more than 2 million people, serving as a political museum and ceremonial venue. There was a strict schedule for every day during the opening hours: 9 to 12 am and 1 to 4pm, except for Monday and Tuesday, when the building was closed. No entrance fee was required, but an advanced written notice. The admission was at every full hour. In the building the groups had to stay together and walk a fixed route with a tour guide. The 70-meters-high tower was not open to the public and accessed only for technical reasons.
30 years of neglect
After the political changes in 1989, the new democratic government had no interest in maintaining the most significant symbol of the previous ideology and the Monument was abandoned. In early 1992 the Monument was nationalized under the Totalitarian Organizations’ Property Confiscation Law and since then it is a state property, administrated by the Regional administration of Haskovo and then of Stara Zagora.
Soon afterwards the last employees were were released and the doors were locked. From this moment on, numerous acts of theft and vandalism took place. First of all, loose parts of the inventory were stolen. Then all metal elements from the building were cut off and sold for scrap, including the 2500 square meters of copper roof covering. Wherever it was possible marble and granite plates were taken off and reused in housing projects. Everything that could be reused or sold were taken out, so that today we have mainly the unusable materials - concrete and mosaics.