Olli Thomson


When Constructivism gave way to the dreary and tedious Socialist Classicism at the instigation of  Josef Stalin, Bulgaria was not spared. Stalin spread his malign architectural influence across the Soviet Union and beyond up until his long overdue death in 1953. In Bulgaria, the Communist Party decided that they needed some dull and unimaginative Stalinist architecture of their own and identified a site in central Sofia which had suffered bomb damage during the war. The Party was a little late to the party and only one of the three main buildings planned for the site was completed by the time Stalin keeled over. Already committed, they continued with their project and finally completed it in 1957 at a time when Khrushchev was enthusiastically rubbishing all things Stalinist, including Socialist Classicism.

The three buildings, collectively known as the Largo still stand. The former Party headquarters is now an administrative building for the Bulgarian National Assembly. The former State Council building is now the President’s Office. Across the street the former TZUM department store building now houses an upmarket shopping mall and the Council of Ministers, though it is still known as the TZUM building. The complex forms three sides of Nezavisimost Square – in English, Independence Square.

Beneath the Square lies the centre of the ancient Thracian city of Serdica. The Bulgarians have been excavating these ruins since the late 90’s when many of them were uncovered during the construction of the Sofia Metro system. As part of a wider redevelopment project three curved glass canopies were placed over part of the ruins and the underground walkway that leads to them. Below ground you can look out on the sky and the surrounding buildings of the Largo. Above ground the canopies are partially mirrored and reflect the sky and and the Largo, the reflections being much more interesting and creative than the actual structures.

Here are some pictures. First, a general view of the square showing the three buildings, with the old Party headquarters in the centre, and the glass canopies.

Next, a couple of pictures taken from underground looking up and, in the second image,  showing the underground walkway with the wall of the ancient city of Serdica straight ahead.

And here are those reflections. In the first image, as well as the ‘self-portrait’, you can see through the canopy to the ancient ruins beneath.

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