Archaeology of Communism - Expedition to Communist Monuments of Bulgaria

Period: Modern (1945-1989)
Code: ACOM.EXP 17
Session: 17 June- 1 July, 2017
Academic credits available: 6
Admission fee starting from: 1349 EUR (approx. 1484 USD)

The Project and the Course

General Information

Project type: Field school & series of field trips to be acquainted with the cultural heritage of the Socialist (Communist) period in Bulgaria with focus on monumental art and architecture. Suitable for adults (18 +) interested in arts, history, art history, architecture, cultural anthropology of the Eastern Bloc between 1945 and 1990 as well as photography (documentary, artistic and architectural). Participants' profiles can vary from students and professionals to connoisseurs.

Site/s: eight to ten monuments and monumental complexes located in Bulgaria, from the capital Sofia in the west to the Black Sea coast to the east. Travel arrangements to these sites will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School. The entire journey is approximately 1000 kilometers (620 miles) across the whole country.

Period in the Project's Focus: The socialist period in Bulgaria (1945-1989)

Project venues: Sofia, Buzludzha, Stara Zagora, Shumen, Varna

BHF partners in this projectNew Bulgarian University

Major field school topics/activities: A comprehensive introduction to the Communist-era history, art and architecture in Bulgaria and the role of photography and propaganda. Field trips to and photo-sessions at significant and impressive Bulgarian sites from the period located in spectacular urban and natural environment, behind-the-scene visits and meetings with artists and historians all the way from the capital Sofia to the Black Sea.

Directors: Emilia Kaleva, architect; Nikola Mihov, photographer

Dates: 17 June to 1 July, 2017

Application Deadline: Until the places are filled or 10 May, 2017   

Minimum length of stay: Two weeks   

Minimum age: 18

Number of field school places available: 12   

Project language: English

Experience required: None.

Special requirements: The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the outdoor activities. Participants should bring clothes and toiletries suitable for warm and sunny weather but should also prepare for rainy, windy and chilly days. They are also expected to prepare for the field school by reading as many recommended readings as possible before the beginning of the project. Bringing a personal laptop (with a mouse and a USB flash drive) and a personal camera is recommended but not mandatory (DSLR, compact, a smart phone with recent generation photo camera). All participants will be asked to release the copyright on all graphic materials they create/work on during the expedition (maps, drawings, photographic images etc.) to the Balkan Heritage Foundation for non-commercial use.    

Note, citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand don't need entry visa for Bulgaria! Citizens of countries not mentioned above should check in advance, whether they will need entry visa for the country!

Historical Context

The end of Second World War (1939-1945) marks a turning point in the history of East Europe. The Iron curtain and the Cold War divides Europe into two parts. The new socialist, pro-Soviet regimes to the East put the region in isolation from political and economic consensus of Western Europe – the so called Eastern Bloc is created. The ideology of communism is imposed in all spheres of public life and lasts almost half a century. As in all any other eras, culture and art are mirrors of social processes and for 45 years in East Europe they remain highly subordinate to the communist ideology and control of the ruling Communist parties. Today the most visible and intriguing evidences of this period are the giant monuments and monumental complexes built to last along with the Communist states. After the collapse of the socialist regimes in East Europe many of these monuments lost their meaning but still deserve attention for their aesthetics and artistic value. Abandoned and left with no or poor maintenance they crumble down and disappear from the public memory while the ongoing debate about their destiny in East European countries continues.     


During the Cold War, Bulgarian art culture existed on the curious border of overlapping centres. Split between the East and the West, the local and the global, Bulgarian art and architecture is successfully manifested as domestic interpretations of the global trends at the time. As a result, one can witness peculiar reflections of Socialist Realism followed by late Modernism. The monumental memorials are no exception to these tendencies. They commemorate iconic figures and important dates and events in the national and Communist party's history. The mass construction of large-scale monuments in the country begins immediately following the Communist coup d'etat in September 1944 and follows the historic anniversaries in the next decades. The peak is the nationwide celebration of the 1300th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state in 1981, seen by some historians as an effort to intertwine the history of the Communist party with that of the Bulgarian nation. Probably most iconic symbol of this celebration is the Memorial House of the Bulgarian Communist Party on the peak of Buzludzha.   


The sudden change in the political system from socialism to democracy after 1989 places these material traces of the past period in an ideological vacuum - they are deprived of their ideological charge and of official public admiration. Today they have become interesting and valuable double documents of two successive epochs in the history of Europe and Bulgaria in particular. That is why there is a growing interest of these sites from a wide range of specialists: sociologists, culturologists (cultural anthropologists), art historians, architects, etc. as well as artists and travelers from around the world. The topic is getting increasingly attractive and popular for student research, graduate theses and doctoral dissertations in foremost colleges and universities.

The Field School

This field school provides a unique glimpse into the history and art of the Communist Bulgaria. It aims to open the door to the heritage of the socialist period in Bulgaria and the Balkans to an international audience and contribute to the balanced evaluation in the ongoing public debate around its preservation or demolition across Eastern Europe. The goal is not to support any political ideology but to support the objective valorization of Communist-era monuments regarding both the historical context and contemporary values. The provocative project title: Archaeology of Communism considers the current condition of the monuments in focus - deteriorating and disappearing many of them look like archaeological rather than like historical sites.    


The field school will take place for the first time in 2017. It is envisioned as the initial phase of a long-term project around the former socialist countries in the Balkans. It will be led by:

1. Emilia Kaleva, architect. She deals with cultural heritage preservation and re-integration of communist-era architectural sites. In 2006 she completed a research projects on the architecture and art of the largest Bulgarian Communist-era monument on the peak of Buzludzha; 

2. Nikola Mihov, freelance,  award-winning photographer whose work combines artistic approach with archive research. His first photo-book "Forget Your Past - monumental monuments of Communism" (2012) became a reference on the field school topic. The book was selected among the best photobooks of the year by The British Journal of Photography and nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography prize (2014) – one of the most prestigious prizes in the world of photography. He is is co-founder of the virtual museum of the socialist era graphic design in Bulgaria www.socmus.comBoth of them play significant role in growth of public interest towards the Communist-era heritage and the related debate about its evaluation and preservation among academic and artistic circles.


The Archaeology of Communism - Expedition to Communist Monuments of Bulgaria Field School Project includes the following modules:

1. Lectures and talks (introductory and specialized) on cultural and historical context of socialism in Southeast Europe; art, propaganda, architecture and monuments of socialist Bulgaria, etc.

2. Screenings of thematically related documentaries that will be combined, when possible, with meetings with their authors. Lectures and screenings in Sofia will be held at iconic venues of Sofia cultural scene.

3. Study visits to sites/monuments (in Sofia and the countryside) combined with specialized onsite lectures about their history, context and artistic value.

4. Photo-documentation sessions under professional supervision of Nikola Mihov for students interested in documentary photography. It is an opportunity for all to learn and apply methods of documentary, artistic and architectural photography when "meeting" the monuments.   


All participants will receive:

  • The photo album FORGET YOUR PAST by N. Mihov;
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited;
  • T-shirt.


The Program

Topics of presentations and study-visits during the field school:

  1. Introduction to the Historical and Political Context of Communist-era Bulgaria;
  2. Introduction to the Cultural and Artistic context of Communist-era Bulgaria;
  3. The Communist-era Monuments as Part of the Visual Propaganda of the Time;
  4. Introduction to Bulgarian Communist-era Architecture;
  5. Themes and Approaches in Monumental Architectural Complexes in Bulgaria between 1945 and 1989,
  6. Тhematic Onsite Lectures. History and Specifics of:
  • The Monument of the Soviet Army, Sofia, 1954 
  • The National Palace of Culture Complex and Monument “1300 Years Bulgaria”, Sofia, 1981
  • The Monument “Banner of Peace”, Sofia, 1979
  • The Monument on the Peak of Buzludzha, 1981
  • The Monument “Defenders of Stara Zagora”, Stara Zagora, 1977
  • The Monument “1300 Years Bulgarian State”, Shumen, 1981
  • The Park-monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship, Varna, 1978

The Agenda


17 June 2017

Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm at Hostel Mostel, Sofia.

A pick-up can be arranged from the Sofia airport, train or bus stations upon request.

18 June 2017

Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School, the project partners, the leaders and the participants.

Ice-breaking and orientation.

Opening lectures.

19 - 24 June 2017

Sofia Downtown Walking Tour.   

Indoor lectures, presentations and screenings of documentaries.   

Visit to the Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia.

Study visits to monuments in Sofia with outdoor lectures on the spot:

1.The Monument of the Soviet Army;

2.The National Palace of Culture Complex and Park;

3.Monument “1300 years Bulgaria”;

4.Monument “Banner of Peace”. Picnic in the park near the monument.

Leisure time - opportunity for additional sightseeing and entertainment in Sofia.

25 June 2017

Study visit to the area and monument on peak Buzludzha. Arrival and check-in at Stara Zagora

26 June 2017

Study visit to the monument “Defenders of Stara Zagora”. Arrival and check-in at Shumen.

27 June 2017

Study visit to the monument “1300 years Bulgarian state” near Shumen. Arrival and check-in at Varna on the Black Sea Coast.

28 June 2017

Study visit to “Park-monument of Bulgarian-Soviet Friendship” and the Common Grave in the Sea garden.

Visit to the Retro museum in Varna.   

Free time in Varna.

29 June 2017

Workshop and time for processing of photographs.   

Time for preparation of presentations of the project's results and beach time.

30 June 2017

Time for preparation of presentations of the project's results and beach time.

Presentation of the project results. Farewell Dinner.

1 July 2017

Early morning departure to Sofia. A direct drop-off to the Sofia airport, train or bus stations. Departure.

Reading Background   


Books and Publications:   

Vasileva, Nedyalka (2013) On the Instability of Monuments. Monuments in Bulgaria from the Period of the Communist Regime 1944 - 1989. MA Architectural History Final Report, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Vukov, Nikolai/ Toncheva, Svetlana (2007) Town squares and socialist heritage: the reworking of Memorial Landscapes in Post-socialist Bulgaria, in: Schroeder- Esch/Ulbricht (ed): The Politics of Heritage and Regional Development Strategies. Actors, Interests, Conflicts, Hermes publications 2/2007 pp. 121-136

Zinganel, Michael / Beyer, Elke / Hagemann, Anke (2013) Hollidays After the Fall, Seaside Architecture and Urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia, Jovis

ICOMOS (Germany, 2010), Bildersturm in Osteropa, Berlin 1993, conference papers

ICOMOS (Germany and Poland), Architecture of the Second Half of the 20th Century - Studies and Protection, Leipzig, conference papers

ICOMOS (Germany and Poland, 2012) “Protection, conservation and changing interpretation of post-war-heritage in European post-socialist countries”, Leipzig, conference papers

ICOMOS JOURNALS OF THE GERMAN COMMITTEE LVIII (2013), Socialist Realism and Socialist Modernism. World Heritage Proposals from Central and Eastern Europe, Berlin, conference papers

Arnold Bartetzky, Christian Dietz, and Jörg Haspel in cooperation with John Ziesemer (Hrsg. / Eds) (2014), From Rejection to Appropriation? The Architectural Heritage of Socialism in Central and Eastern Europe, (Visuelle Geschichtskultur 12), Köln Weimar Wien

Transnational survey (2012), project ATRIUM (Architecture of Totalitarian Regimes of 20th century in Urban Managements)

Hatherley, Owen (2015) Landscapes of Communism: A History through Buildings. Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books

Stiller, Adolph (2007) Bulgarien: Architektonische Fragmente/ България: Архитектурни фрагменти, Salzburg: Verlag Anton Pustet

Canizaro, V. (2007) Architectural Regionalism. Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity and Tradition, New York: Princeton Architectural Press

Lefaivre, Liane, Tzonis, Alexander (2003) Critical Regionalism. Architecture and Identity in a Globalized World, Prestel Publishing

Groys, B. (1992) The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Golomstock, Igor (1990) Totalitarian Art: in the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People’s Republic of China, London: Collins Harvill

Sygkelos, Yannis (2011) Nationalism from the Left. The Bulgarian Communist Party during the Second World War and the Early Post-War Years, Leiden-Boston: Brill


Photo Books:   

Mihov, Nikola (2012, 2015)Forget Your Past - Communist-era Monuments in Bulgaria, Janet 45

Stancheva, Magdalina (2012)Logo Book Stefan Kanchev, Janet 45

Chaubin, Frédéric (2011)Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, Taschen 

Kempenaers, Jan (2010)Spomenik, Roma Publications
Bezjak, Roman (2011)Socialist Modernism, Hatje Cantz

Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities    


Project venues: Sofia, Buzludzha in the Balkan Mountain Range, Stara Zagora, Shumen, Varna on the Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria.   

Nearest air terminal: Sofia, Bulgaria - don't forget checking the low cost flight options!

How to get there? If participants arrive at either the Sofia airport or bus/train stations, a taxi transfer to the project hostel in Sofia Downtown may be arranged by request (please, specify this in your application form!). Transfer fee is 10 EUR. Otherwise, participants can use Sofia public transport (subway) to easily reach the hostel. Details will be included in the Info-sheet disseminated to all participants approx. a month before the project starting date.   

Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page.     


Accommodation & Meals

Accommodation and Food: in comfortable rooms with two to four beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV) in a hostel located in the downtown of Sofia, which also provides free Wi-Fi, during the first week. Then participants and instructors will travel together around the country and stay at cosy downtown hotels/ guest houses in Stara Zagora, Shumen and Varna. Laundry service is available once a week. Staying an extra day costs for shared/single occupancy 25/40 EUR. Single rooms are available upon request for the supplement of 220 EUR per week.

*See all accommodation options on our Information page!   

Meals: Three meals per day are provided and covered by the admission fee. Brown-bag lunches are provided during the field trips and days off. This field school can accommodate vegetarians, vegans and individuals with lactose-intolerance. It is impossible to accommodate kosher and gluten-free restrictions.

*Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!       


Free Time & Trips

Free time: Sofia and Varna, where the field school will take place most of the time, offer a lot of opportunities for good entertainment, sports, sightseeing and shopping.   


Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.

Weather: Temperate climate with hot summers (30-35° C /86-95° F) dominates in the region. Rainy and chillier days in this season are not unheard of.

What to bring?

  • A pair of working shoes (sneakers, running shoes) and a pair of comfortable shoes for walking/hiking;
  • Clothing suitable for an outdoor working environment: sun-hat and light clothes with long sleeves and legs (protecting from the sun and insects), including a light raincoat (consider weather conditions - hot and sunny, but rain may fall as well);
  • Medication - only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.
  • Don’t forget to bring a converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed.   
  • Digital photo camera and laptop having at least 10 GB free disk space with a mouse are not mandatory for all but recommended for those who intend to take photographs during the field school.
  • A good attitude for work, fun, study and discoveries ;)

The Admission Fee

BHFS admission fee includes: Educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project handbook and issue of Certificate of Attendance, administrative costs and excursions included in the field school program plus relevant entrance fees.

The fees in USD are approximate.Please check current exchange rates!


Early Bird Special - by March 31, 2017:


Early Bird Admission fee is 1349 EUR / approx.1484 USD


Regular admission fee - after March 31, 2017:


The regular admission fee is 1499 EUR / approx.1649 USD.

Admission Fee Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- Online transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.

For further information contact Admissions Office at: [email protected]!

Discounts off the regular admission fee:

* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in more than one BHFS project in 2017 (5% discount is valid for all project sessions to be attended).
  2. Membership in the Archaeological Institute of America.

* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in any BHFS project in the past.

* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Group participation (three or more people, who participate together in one BHFS project in 2017). The discount is valid for each participant.

* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:

  1. Group participation (three or more people, who participate together in more than one BHFS project in 2017). The discount is valid for each participant for all projects sessions to be attended.
  2. BHFS alumni, who participated in more than one BHFS project in 2017. (15% discount is valid only for the second, third etc. project to be attended).
  3. BHFS alumni, who participated successfully in a three or four-week session of the same project in the past.




For more information about scholarships, low-cost flights, hotels, etc. please feel free to contact us or look at our recommended links

Academic credits


New Bulgarian University grants 6 ECTS credits to students for attending the field school. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee starting from 282 EUR for six ECTS credits. For details please read carefully the Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.




Archaeology of Communism - Expedition to Communist Monuments of Bulgaria

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