A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
7 April 2012
Bulgaria is known for its Black Sea resorts. During the summer months, coastal destinations such as Sunny Beach and Golden Sands become a playground for foreign tourists. Russians, Germans, Scandinavians and Brits descend on these clumsily-named resort towns like locusts, revelling in the hot sun, clean waters and dangerously cheap alcohol.
However, while Bulgarian summers can easily reach heats in excess of forty degrees celsius, the winter can be just as severe; this last winter was a prime example, and as temperatures dropped down to below minus twenty, the sea itself began to freeze over in places.
These pictures were all taken between January and March, and reflect a number of different forays along the beach, through the park, and into the urban sprawl of an off-season resort town.
While the seafront promenade erupts into a chaotic thoroughfare of tourists by the end of May, at this time of year the numerous bars and nightclubs are boarded up against the onslaught of cruel elements. Many properties are even wrapped in thick plastic insulation, stapled in place to deter frost and precipitation.
The appearance is that of a barren ghost town, which seems to age disproportionately through these hard months; tiled floors are pockmarked by frost, and graffiti sprawled carelessly across doorways and plywood sheets.
Most of these premises are merely hibernating, but amongst them are numerous venues that are quite simply beyond repair. These crumbling parlours remain boarded up all year round, and many are used as storage space for furniture and boats.
It’s strange to see this long stretch of beach covered in thick, even snow, and many of the slumbering attractions take on an otherworld character against the monochrome landscape; the giant water ride for example appears frozen in mid-movement, clusters of icicles hanging from its belly.
Further a long the beach, a replica pirate ship has been converted into a rock bar. In January however, this too lies abandoned; a Spanish galleon run ashore on the Arctic tundra.
It is also interesting to note the number of abandoned houses which occupy prime waterfront locations here. Pictured is one such example – a beautiful old building which was gutted by fire some time ago, and remains derelict. Another evening I came back to explore this house in full… turning it into a full report of its own.
It seems strange to someone from a Western European background, that these sites have not yet been bought up for development. After all, locations such as these, placed closed to the tourist centre, would stand to make exceptional business investments. It is easy to assume that their lapse into decay reflects nothing more than an acute state of poverty… or at best, a lack of business acumen.
However, perhaps the reverse is also true; perhaps such a prognosis reflects on the nature of Western materialism, inasmuch as we sometimes struggle not to assess things in terms of a price tag. Only a little over two decades out of communism, it is no surprise that Bulgaria is yet to match us in terms of jaded capitalism.
Situated up a steep incline from the water, parks and gardens stretch the entire length of the beach. Here one can find striking examples of communist-era sculpture, in addition to a range of modern attractions including an aquarium and a dolphinarium. Hidden in the undergrowth at the back of the park, there also stands a curious old brick construction… this derelict platform was once the starting point for a water ride, a series of flumes which wound a twisting path down the side of the cliff towards a pool at the bottom. All that remains of them now however, are odd fragments of cracked tubing, slowing disappearing beneath the oncoming waves of vegetation.
On another visit to the park I found my way into a partially hidden enclosure, overlooking the beach below. I imagine this was quite an exclusive spot back in its prime, with a number of bars and seating areas spaced around a large, open arena, at the centre of which stood a wooden stage – almost like a small, enclosed fairground.
What I found most interesting about this place was that it had remained relatively intact; despite the torn marquee that hung in tatters above the bars and stalls, it nevertheless appeared that the damage here was merely superficial.
There were various buildings and outhouses around the outer ring that still contained furniture, and electrical fittings like televisions and cooking equipment. Strange that items with such an enticing scrap value should remain untouched, but then this was at the Mafia-owned end of the beach. Perhaps looters knew better than to scramble over the rusted fence… as I had.
I didn’t have time to give it a proper look on my first visit, and so I came back a few days later… only to find the site being looted by gypsies. As I approached I saw a dark-skinned young girl with matted hair and a soiled tracksuit keeping guard by the path. Behind her another girl was stood at the fence, taking a bundle of copper pipes which were being passed up by someone inside. I walked on by without bothering to stop – I knew I’d missed my chance.