Roman Veillon is a photographer obsessed with disuse and abandonment. A previous journey took him to the sand-ridden Namibian ghost town Kolmanskop, and his website is awash with photos of theme parks left to ruin and industrial sites worked into submission.
Last month he visited the Buzludzha Monument, a building built in 1981 by Bulgarian communists. It sits atop a 1441 metre peak in the Balkan mountains, surrounded by open space, hilly terrain and miles and miles of nothingness. The monument itself looks straight out of old sci–fi – a beacon of an intended future and a place evidently designed to represent a future greatness.
Now the monument lies abandoned and ruined, its doors closed to the public. Legend has it that buried somewhere within the Buzludzha Monument's concrete structure is a time capsule that outlines its significance for any future generations who are wondering why their ancestors built a building so surreal in design.
Veillon spent three days at Buzludzha. We spoke to him to talk about his journey, the mosaics that adorn the walls of the monument and the history of the iconic structure.
Dazed Digital: How did you end up in Buzludzha?
Roman Veillon: It'd been on my list for a long time. I had planned to visit eastern Europe anyway, so I decided to make time for Buzludzha. I have always been amazed by the interior of the monument and its incredible mosaics. I wanted to see them with my own eyes, as it's a unique relic of a forgotten era. I love abandoned buildings and travelling, there's nothing more to it really.
DD: We’d heard that the main door to the building is closed for public access - how did you get in?
Roman Veillon: Yes, the door is closed now. It has been closed by some "friends of the communists" who travel to Shipka each year to commemorate the communist party and clean/preserve Buzludzha. But when they leave, it's easy to get in. I found a small hole on the side of the building where you can sneak in.
DD: Did you manage to speak to anyone while you were there who could give you insight on the people who designed it?
Roman Veillon: I spoke with people who knew its history, but concerning the architecture and design I had to do my research beforehand. The architect was Guéorguy Stoilov – it took seven years and 6,000 workers to build it (mostly paid for by the Bulgarian people). A lot of famous Bulgarian painters and sculptors of the time helped to create the mosaics. The mosaics represent themes central to traditional Soviet propaganda – family, revolution, the struggle between rich and poor, war against capitalism and even space travel. In Buzludzha you can also find the portrait of the former Bulgarian leaders of the Communist party.
DD: Was the atmosphere pretty eerie?
Roman Veillon: Of course! That's what made me come to Buzludzha. I wanted to feel what it was like to stand in the middle of a gigantic room with the hammer and sickle on top of me. There is almost a religious atmosphere, as we were in a temple (also because of the fact that I were alone there and didn't see anybody). But in the end it's more an impression of peace that comes out of it, when you try to envision what it was like before it was abandoned, even if we can still feel the ghosts of some Soviet soldiers in the corridors!
DD: Do you know anything about the time capsule that’s apparently buried in the structure?
Roman Veillon: I read about the time capsule buried in the monument's concrete that's supposed to offer an explanation of the building's meaning to future generations. Personally I never found clues about where it could have been, but I hope it will stay there for a very long time.
Follow Thomas Gorton on Twitter here @angstromhoot