The last tattered remnants of the Cuban nuclear program.
10 April 2012
In a remote corner of the Balkan Mountains, there stands a forgotten village with no name. At an altitude of nearly 800m, the village can only be reached on foot – but the spectacular views easily justify the forty-minute trek from the last inhabited town. The most interesting thing about this village though, is that it has remained untouched; many of these houses have simply been abandoned in the prime of their life, and left to decay unnoticed.
The village consists of a total of probably 15 houses – arranged into two groups, roughly 100m apart. Transport to and from the village is difficult, likely one of the reasons why most of the villagers left their belongings behind. A couple of houses feature padlocks on the doors, but for the most part visitors have a free reign to explore these traditional homesteads.
The remote location also serves as a strong deterrent for looters; as such the entire site is beautifully free from graffiti and other intentional damage. Even valuable objects such as televisions and tools have been left behind, sat for years in exactly the same place where they were last used. Many of the houses have been this way for as long as two decades – when Bulgarian communism fell in 1989 there was a mass exodus, as many citizens moved into the cities for work. More than a million Bulgarians emigrated in those first few years, leaving behind their abandoned mountain settlements and decaying political monuments.
Approaching these old wood and brick houses, one of the first things to catch the eye are the countless paper memorials, pinned to doors and walls. These simple black and white sheets are a Bulgarian funerary custom, printed with the faces of deceased. Like an A4 tombstone they adorn the homes of the departed, as a mark of respect from the living. The problem with this system however, is that it often seems as if nobody knows when to take these morbid decorations down – here the deceased of many years past still cling to the walls, paper fading to dust as their solemn portraits keep watch over the village.
A few of the houses in the village have already given way to the elements. Some say that the snow this year has been the heaviest in living memory; here and there wooden beamed roofs have given way, scattering cascades of hand-shaped clay tiles. A number of the older buildings are now being used as storage space – the derelict barn on the edge of the village is filled with mattresses, while another house contains an array of wooden beehives.
Houses in the village were almost exclusively built in the traditional style of rural Bulgaria; a timber frame is held together with nothing more than stout pegs, and tiles are designed to simply rest in place, overlapping one another along the beams of the roof. Inside the kitchen one will usually find a ‘jamal’ – this old-fashioned heating system consists of hollow clay columns built into the wall, usually fed from a stove set into the wall in the next room. Not only does this provide a stove for cooking on, but hot smoke is piped into spaces between the walls, acting as a form of central heating.
Elsewhere around the site, strange tools and contraptions have fallen into disrepair, and many are slowly becoming enveloped by the vegetation. While much of the village has gone to ruin, there are still odd signs of maintenance here and there. The padlock on one house looks almost new, while the electricity cables connecting the village seem to have fallen only recently – brought down by storms, to trail hopelessly between houses.
The modest graveyard on the outskirts of the village features, ironically, the most recent signs of life – flowers rest on a number of graves, showing that while the village itself may have been abandoned long ago, those who lived and died here are still remembered by somebody, somewhere.
One final noteworthy sight from the trip was an old Sovietesque truck, parked at the bottom of the mountain track. This heavy duty vehicle survives now as little more than an engine on wheels, and has been put to seemingly good use as a tow-truck for a logging team. Vehicles like this are by no means rare in rural Bulgaria – where there is a far greater tendency to fix things, than there are the resources to replace them.