But there’s still a lot to be learnt from it
As I checked into Yo-Ho-Hostel in Varna, the girl on reception said: “You’ve come at one of the best times of the year. There are a number of music concerts going on at the moment and the weather is just perfect for the beach.”
I told her I wasn’t really interested in partying and going to the beach – I could do that another time. I was there for one thing and one thing only; the site no one goes to in Varna.
I asked her about the communist monument known at ‘The Book’, but she didn’t have a clue what I was on about. Admittedly she was from France, so I’ll let her off for not knowing everything about Varna in Bulgaria, but we’re talking about another huge communist site here – it’s not something you can really hide.
As I looked around the hostel, I noticed a few locals sitting around, and it was these I turned to.
“The Book? Hmmm. I know where you are talking about, but I didn’t know it was referred to as the book,” said Dimitr.
‘The Book’, known as such because it looks like an open book, is another communist monument in Bulgaria. It was built in 1978 and it commemorates the site where Russian forces had a military base before the successful attack on Varna during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828–1829.
Constructed for seven months with the help of 27,000 volunteers, the monument is made of 10,000 tons of concrete and 1,000 tons of armature iron.
Getting there is extremely easy. It can be found on the edge of Varna, about 5km out of town, and it takes about an hour to walk to.
After catching up on our travels, I told the girls I was on the hunt for ‘The Book’.
Ceci, being Bulgarian, had been to Varna a number of times before, and even though she knew that place I wanted to go to she had never been there herself, so both Ceci and Malin decided to tag along for the adventure.
‘The Book’ is another colossal communist statue standing high up on Turna Tepe hill. Despite overlooking much of the town, this is the site no one goes to in Varna, and I once again had the place all to myself; apart from the three of us, not a single soul could be seen.
Much like the monument to the founding fathers of Bulgaria at Shumen, there were hundreds of steps leading up to ‘The Book’. I guess on the long walk up you’re supposed to appreciate and marvel at the strength and power of those who built such an intimidating structure; instead, you question what the point of it is – why is the monument there? What does it really symbolise?
At the monument itself, graffiti adorns the bottom of the walls, otherwise it remains grey and imposing, completely without character.
Behind the monument are steps leading down to a walled-up bunker. Apparently there are a number of secrets within, soon to be forgotten with time. The tunnels from the bunker are supposed to go all the way to Varna, and I would have loved to explore these.
Alas, I had to settle for exploring the monument itself.
On the left side of the monument as you’re facing it is a large hole you can climb through.
Once inside, it is pitch black and you need a good flashlight to really explore every corner of this place.
At the top of the monument you can access the balcony. Up there you can stare directly into the faces of four identical communist soldiers and look out onto the country they’re supposed to be protecting.
In one of the rooms, sunlight breaks the darkness casting eerie shadows, and the outline of a communist star at the far of end of the wall can be made out.
Near the entrance is an inscription chiselled onto the wall, it’s meaning completely unknown to me and the girls.
Once again the monument was abandoned, left in a state of despair and disrepair.
It is hard to imagine this building being anything other than the state it’s in, and in my eyes it seems to represent communism more now than ever before; a broken dream, a failed ideology.
I find it staggering that no one wants to visit these monuments, both Bulgarians and foreigners alike. Each one has its own story to tell, each one symbolises something different.
I can understand Bulgarians want to forget their past under the communist regime, or at least not let it define them, but if we don’t understand and learn from our past, how can we ever develop and move forward into the future?
Even though this is the site no one goes to in Varna, there’s still a lot to be learnt from it.