View from Buzludzha Peak, looking out towards the Shipka Pass

Photographed by Darmon Richter, 2016.

HISTORY OF BUZLUDZHA PEAK

The Buzludzha Memorial House 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 death of Hadzhi Dimitâr, a WWII-era battle between fascists and partisan forces, and most significantly, the foundation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1891.

The following timeline will guide you through events at Buzludzha, from 19th century revolutionary battles, through the foundation of the Bulgarian socialist movement and early memorialization projects, up to the decision to build the final Buzludzha Memorial House.

Second Battle of Hadzhi Dimitâr and Stefan Karadja’s Troops in the Karapanov Forest on 8 July 1868

Painted by Henryk Dębicki, uns. date.

1868: THE DEATH OF HADZHI DIMITÂR

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 July when 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 July 1868. By this point the detachment numbered just 58 men, and they were soon defeated by the much larger Ottoman force. Some were captured, others killed in battle, and Hadzhi Dimitâr himself was fatally wounded. He was carried from the mountain on a stretcher, and later died from his injuries.

Although Stefan Karadzha and Hadzhi Dimitâr never lived to see it themselves, just a decade later the nation would gain its freedom: beginning with the 1876 April Uprising, leading into the arrival of the Russians and the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War that would see Bulgarian independence restored.

“Buzludzha” Peak, derived from a word meaning “Icy” in Turkish, was for a time renamed Hadzhi Dimitâr Peak, and the location became synonymous with themes of liberty and self-sacrifice.

A monument to Hadzhi Dimitâr and Stefan Karadzha (1968), near the village of Basarbovo, marks the place where their detachment crossed the Danube in 1868.

Photographed by Darmon Richter, 2018.

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’s media, and in 1877, Tsar Alexander II of Russia began deploying his troops in the Balkans.

Crossing the Danube to arrive in northern Bulgaria, an army of Russian and Romanian soldiers began liberating Bulgarian cities from Ottoman rule. One of the most decisive campaigns of that war was fought just 10km from Buzludzha, in the Shipka Pass.

The Russian army was unable to advance into southern Bulgaria until it had defeated the Ottoman garrisons that guarded the mountain passes—and the most significant of these passes lay in the middle of the mountain range, at Shipka.

On 17th July 1877, the Russian General Gourko led four divisions against the 4,000-5,000 Turks who made up the Shipka garrison under Suleiman Pasha. After two days of tactical assaults, Gourko’s forces seized Shipka Pass and the Ottomans retreated.

Suleiman Pasha would lead two subsequent attempts that year to retake Shipka from the new garrison composed of Russian soldiers and Bulgarian volunteers.

The Defence of ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ on the Shipka Pass in 1877

Painted by Andrei Nikolaievich Popov, 1893.

On 21st August, an army of 38,000 Ottomans were sent against the 7,500-man garrison, but were repulsed. According to stories, when the defenders ran out of ammo they hurled stones and the bodies of fallen comrades down on the advancing Ottomans. The next month, Suleiman Pasha returned—launching artillery shells at the Shipka garrison from 13-17 September, before attempting a frontal assault. Again, the Ottomans were repulsed by a strong Bulgarian and Russian defence.

A fourth battle was fought in the Shipka Pass from 5-9th January 1878. After defeating the last pockets of resistance in northern Bulgaria, General Gourko was able to move west to Sofia and around to the south side of the mountains.

The Ottoman army at Shipka were pinned between the garrison in the north, and Gourko’s approaching army to the south, cutting off all chance for retreat. The Ottoman force surrendered, and by 3rd March 1878 the Russian coalition had won the war.

In 1934 the Shipka Monument was established to commemorate these events. 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.

Monument to Dimitâr Blagoev (1981) marking the start of the road to Buzludzha Peak.

Photographed by Darmon Richter, 2015.

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 The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels, 1848) and Capital (Marx, 1867), in addition to his own influential work, What is Socialism and Does it Have Roots in Our Country? (Blagoev, 1891).

Socialist groups had begun meeting in Bulgaria by 1886—but they were frowned upon by the tsarist, post-Ottoman state and so they typically met in secret. Some of the key early factions existed in places such as Stara Zagora, Gabrovo, Sliven and Kazanlâk, central Bulgarian towns that lay scattered north and south of the mountain range.

In 1891, when Blagoev decided to unite these different factions into one Bulgarian socialist organization, 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 some of the nation’s most prominent socialist groups.

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, which would later become the ruling power in the country.

The 1891 Buzludzha Congress

Painted by Kiril Buyukliyski and Peter Petrov, uns.

1898: A BUZLUDZHA MONUMENT

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.

1936: THE BUZLUDZHA LODGE

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 Buzludzha Lodge was the first building to open at Buzludzha Peak, on 2 August 1936.

*photograph credits unknown*

1944: THE PARTISAN MOVEMENT

During WWII, Bulgaria was brought onto the side of Nazi Germany… much to the protest of many Bulgarians. A nationwide partisan resistance movement was organized, 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.

Bulgarian partisans celebrating their victory and the greeting of the Red Army.

Photographed by Yevgeny Anan’evich Khaldei, 1944.

1959: AN ARCHITECTURAL COMPETITION

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.

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.

1961: 70 YEARS OF SOCIALISM

On 2nd July 1961—70 years after the foundation of Bulgaria’s first socialist organization—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-Sevlievo partisan forces who had battled fascists here during WWII.

The fourth monument was intended to be larger and more impressive than the others—the specification was for a red star, placed right up on the mountain peak. The competition bid was won by the young architect Georgi Stoilov, who had already demonstrated his prolific talent with a number of hotel designs and other civic projects. Due to its scale and complexity however, his grand Buzludzha monument was delayed, and missed the opening ceremony.

Left: Monument to Hadzhi Dimitâr (1961)

Middle: Monumental Stone Bas-Relief of the Buzludzha Congress of 1891 (1961)

Right: Monument to the Fallen Partisans (1961)

All photographed by Artin Azinyan, 1984.

Top: Monument to Hadzhi Dimitâr (1961)

Middle: Monumental Stone Bas-Relief of the Buzludzha Congress of 1891 (1961)

Bottom: Monument to the Fallen Partisans (1961)

All photographed by Artin Azinyan, 1984.


sources:

  • Bell, John D. (1986) The Bulgarian Communist Party from Blagoev to Zhivkov, Hoover Institution Press
  • Blagoev, Dimitâr (1891) Що е социализъм и има ли той почва у нас? (What is socialism and does it have roots in our country?)
  • Chary, Frederick B. (2011) The History of Bulgaria, Greenwood
  • Roszkowski, W. & Kofman, J. (2015) Biographical Dictionary of Central and Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century, Routledge
  • Van der Linden, M. & Rojahn, J. (1990) The Formation of Labour Movements, 1870-1914: An International Perspective, Brill