Svetla Kazalarska

Route 76: From Mladost 4 to Gotse Delchev District The City through the Window of the Bus

Route 76: From Mladost 4 to Gotse Delchev District The City through the Window of the Bus
title: Route 76: From Mladost 4 to Gotse Delchev District The City through the Window of the Bus
year: 2005
place: Sofia
publisher: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia
ISBN/ISSN: 3-86588-237-4
language: english
author(s): Svetla Kazalarska
source: Visual Seminar. Resident Fellows Program 4: The City as a Museum, 2005, Sofia: Institute of Contemporary Art - Sofia, ISBN: 3-86588-237-4

Museums have no windows. I mean, museums are usually housed in buildings without windows. Even if they do have windows, these windows are either closed or blinded, either nontransparent or dark. That is how museums best re-create closed vacuum space, an artificial spatial framework where by means of communication and interpretative tools, certain topoi, situations, and narratives are staged. Museums don’t need windows.
Because a window is an opening through which the other, the real world may peep in, an aperture through which reality may rush in and water down the density of the simulated museum environment. How then to see the city through the “window” of the museum?
How to house a whole city in a single building, as great as its architecture could be, as flexible as its interior plan could be, as hi-tech as the means of interpretation, visualization and communication used by the curators could be? Of course, it is not necessary to place the city inside the museum – there are so-called “town-museums”. Then the museumness goes out on the street, enmeshes it like a spider-web, and entraps the whole city in a time capsule. And like a spider, the museum drains off the life of the town’s body.
But the modern museum is not at all going after such an effect. The modern museum has windows. The modern museum rolls up its blinds, opens all the windows and all the doors wide up, in order to provide the visitor with an open platform for gazing, for better viewing, for experiencing what he is seeing, for being part of what is happening. Thus the modern museum equips the visitor with various gazing tools and prostheses to use at his own discretion, so that finally to figure out by himself the mosaic of what he is gazing upon.

An example for such a “modern” approach is the City Museum of Washington, D.C. that was opened a year ago in the restored building of the former city library. The museum is among the pioneers that introduced decentralized museum experience. In addition to its traditional museum role of conserving collections and organizing exhibits and educational programs, it also functions as the analogue of the virtual “portal” in Internet – it encourages its visitors to go out of the museum and discover the city on their own helped by a rich network of historic and cultural sites and organizations dispersed in the city’s diverse neighborhoods. The visitors eventually realize that the city itself is the museum, the object of their gaze. The application of the concept of the museum as “portal” so far has no precedent in the presentation of the city, although it has already been widely used in the virtual space where so-called “city portals” have been functioning for quite a long time.
It is surprising, however, that a city such as Sofia has no working city museum today.
A city with a thousand-year-old history and a capital city for more than a century by now.
It is not that attempts haven’t been made to this end. One could list a couple of exhibitions that thematized Sofia as city, as cultural heritage, as capital city, and so on, such as “Sofia – Hundred Faces” exhibition in the Sofia City Art Gallery (2004), “Sofia – an European City” exhibition in the National Art Gallery and the “Old Sofia” photo-exhibition in the building of the Central Baths (2003), to mention but a few. If we go back in time, some may still remember the former Sofia Department Store on the crossing of Ekzarh Josif street and Maria Luiza boulevard (Georgi Dimitrov boulevard at the time) where the Sofia History Museum was housed. Of course, one can not forget to mention the ambitious project for relocating the Sofia History Museum into the building of the Central Mineral Baths, which is already in progress. Recently the renovated men’s pool was officially opened by the Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski as part of the project for “Adaptive re-use of the Municipal mineral baths as the Sofia Museum with the active presence of the mineral water”. The idea is to use the pool as an exhibition area where the history of the city will be presented, starting from the earliest times of registered human presence up to the Second World War. Why do it in the Central Mineral Baths? Why present history only up to the Second World War? Why exhibit it in the men’s pool? And so on. These are all questions that I would not and could not discuss in this proposal. I will only note that in its essence this is the well-known conventional museum concept. Such projects result in the confining and packaging of the city and presenting the selected packaged aspects of its history and culture for consumption.

The project I am proposing to the Visual Seminar aims to take the museumness out of its cover, take it out on in the city, though without converting the city into a museum. An already well acknowledged approach to this end is to create cultural heritage trails supported by interpretative panels, linked by a common thematic thread, and in a certain sense substituting the traditional tour-guide. This approach, however, is an artificial intervention into the urban tissue itself. No matter how esthetically pleasing the panels are, or how thematically fascinating the selected information presented is, such trails are often times doomed to be rather short-lived. And since I started with an example from Washington, D.C., here is another one – a good illustration of such type of a trail is the so called “Civil War to Civil Rights” Downtown Heritage Trail – beautiful design, richly illustrated panels with lots of photographs and maps, accompanied by a small trail booklet, thematic variety, perfectly woven into the framework of the overall theme, but nevertheless, very few city visitors and even fewer local residents stop by to look at these panels.

The project proposed here, however, is not going to be the next urban advertising poster with a touch of historical content about it. It will rather take into account the most common mistakes urban heritage trails usually make and attempt to fix them in an innovative way. 

What I propose is to create a cultural heritage trail focused on interpreting the urban history and culture of Sofia, following already established public transport routes. The pilot project will develop the thematic content and design of the interpretative panels that are to be installed at the bus stops of a single public transport route, such as for example, the route of bus 76. Why bus 76? It is one of the relatively old and familiar bus lines in Sofia (“seven-six” has already become a common noun for the frequent public transport commuters in Sofia, constituting a social group that is not to be ignored for its sheer size) and it crosses the city far and wide – starting from one of the outlying residential districts (Mladost 4), running through the center of the city (Eagles’ Bridge, National Palace of Culture), and reaching another outlying district – the Gotse Deltchev district (the former Emil Markov District). The proposed heritage trail is meant most of all for the residents of
Sofia, not so much for the tourists, but the latter could benefit from it as well. The main objective is to awaken the curiosity of Sofianites about the history of their own city, their own residential district, their own bus stop, about the city prehistory as much about its newest history. The interpretative panels will combine scientific and popular information by mixing oral stories, historical sources, photographic materials, various interpretations and re-writings of urban history, even jokes and yellow press articles. The panels will not be focused only on the past, they will also reflect upon events of the day, such as stories of neighbours and citizens, ongoing urban construction, neighbourhood news, infrastructure improvements, changes in the names of streets, etc.

Let me try to illustrate this. The panel installed on the end stop of the 76 bus in Mladost District, for instance, could tell stories around the establishing of the Peace Flag Monument, situated nearby, along with images showing “the golden years” of the International Children’s Assembly organized annually at the Monument, as well as images of the Assembly’s revival in the end of 1990s, and the opening of the monument dedicated to the children victims of terrorism in 2004. The second stop on the route in Mladost District could tell the story of the author and builder of a one of a kind local “ensemble”, comprising a chapel, a woman in a folk costume’s statue, an open-air ethnographic exhibition, well, fireside, children’s playground, flower garden, and what not more. The stop at the Pliska Hotel could interpret the original urban planning concept of the Iztok Residential District, one of the first of its kind in the capital city, along with stories of local residents, recent infill construction, etc. The themes covered by the trail will be very diverse, encompassing culture, architecture, history, politics, sports, industrial heritage, folklore, etc.

The interpretative panels will be installed on the bus stops, thus making use of city infrastructure already in place; there will be no need to make new interventions in the visual landscape of the city. Besides, a good number of people anyway hang out at the bus stops for a couple of minutes at least every day, waiting for the bus, which in fact solves (or at least simplifies) the problem faced by most urban heritage trails, namely that people very seldom if ever stop by to look at such information panels. One further remark, these panels are not meant to be “eternal”, their life expectancy is intended to be half a year at the most, and in the best case scenario – three months, or one season, then the content of the panels will have to be renewed. For that reason it will be necessary to get support from institutions that will be interested in the future sustainability and livability of the project such as the Sofia Public Transport Company at the first place, local schools, universities, the future Museum of Sofia, etc., and to involve them in the continuation of the project after the eventual success of the pilot trail.

The proposed pilot project thus is a provocation to the museum experience of the city – it is an attempt to decentralize the museum gaze upon the city, an attempt to shorten the distance that the museum introduces, an attempt to open the windows of the museum which eventually happen to be our own windows.


Bus Stop Mladost 4 Residential Complex

Mladost 4 Residential Complex

The construction of the complex started in 1975. A newly appointed team at the “Sofproekt” took over its planning and design few years later. Here is what their project envisioned:

The Mladost 4 residential complex, currently under construction, is situated at the foot of the Banner of Peace monumental complex. The Vitosha mountain is incorporated in its architectural outlook. The entire complex is open to the mountain, so that it could breathe in fresh and breezy air. The built up area fades away in the direction of the mountain and gradually runs into its green hills... The new residential groups are designed in the spirit of the old city neighborhoods... With the intention of creating an effect of a closed built-up area, and making the street feel not just as an infrastructure that caters to the automobile, the other two sides of the complex are being built up with single-family houses with small green backyards, green areas and clusters of green trees... With the intention of enlarging the green areas, the earth dug out in the construction will be used to form artificial green hills.

Sofia Magazine, 1981



Bus Stop Block 465

The Sailing Canal

The idea to construct a sailing canal connecting the Pancharevo lake to Sofia was conceived as early as the end of the 1940s. As per the project, the canal starts from the lake, runs near the villages Gorubljane and Darvenitsa, and ends in the Vladajska river in the Pavlovo neighborhood, with a total length of 17 km; sailing vessels as wide as 5 m and as high as 2.5 m were planned to be able to sail along the canal. A 9-km long section of the canal had been constructed by the end of the 1950s – from the Pancharevo lake to the road Sofia – Bistritsa. Due to the lack of water masses in the Iskar Dam as well as the emergence of new large water-consumers such as the Kremikovtsi metallurgical plant and others, the construction of the canal was stopped in the end of the 1960s. Until recently the dugouts for the canal in the proximity of the Block 465 bus stop were actively used as a sliding slope in the winter, and as a playground and hiking area in the summer.

We were like workers at the Egyptian pyramids... Crowds of us, we were bumping in each other, stepping over each other’s feet. There was no equipment – just spades, picks, and wheel barrows – that was it. Furthermore, they weren’t enough for all of us. In the morning, when the buses took us there, the field grew dark with people, but we didn’t do much. Work in vain...

Sega Newspaper, May 2003



Bus Stop Block 202

The American College

In the distant 1860/1861 school year, American missionaries founded a boys’ high school in Plovdiv, three years later – a girls’ high school in Stara Zagora. In 1871 the two schools were relocated to Samokov. The present day buildings of the college in Sofia were constructed in the end of the 1920s and throughout the 30s. The school was closed during the Second World War. In 1947 the school property was confiscated by the Bulgarian government and used by the Ministry of Interior Affairs. The college re-opened in 1992.


Bus Stop Pliska Hotel

Pliska Hotel

The blue silhouette of Pliska hotel has long ago become an urban landmark. The hotel was built in 1965 under the project of architects Hristo Tzvetkov and Lozan Lozanov, and represents the prototype of a contemporary passengers’ hotel in Bulgaria. Until recently one could read the sign “Balkanturist” on the façade facing the Tsarigradsko shosse boulevard, also visible on the picture above. Pliska hotel is an outcome of the modernist wave in the Bulgarian architecture which started in the 60s and grew in 70s to encompass most types of buildings.

Tsarigradsko Chaussee

Even before the Liberation the street then called “Istanbul djadesi” (Tsarigrad Street) was one of the main arteries of Sofia – a continuation of the main market street of the town, and part of the road to Tsarigrad. The street, however, is not as old as we imagine – it was constructed by Polish workers during the time of Mithad pasha in 19th century. In 1889 it was renamed to “Tsar Liberator” and became the most representative boulevard of the capital city. To the southeast of the Eagles Bridge, the Tsarigradsko Chaussee (boulevard “Nikolaj Nikolaevich” in the 30s), until recently known to us as boulevard “Lenin”, leads to Plovdiv along the Thrace Highway.


Bus Stop Printing House 

On the edge of the town, along the roads that lead into Sofia, such as the bridge on the Graf Ignatiev street, or on the Lenin boulevard, where the Printing House is now situated, and some others, there used to be a small booth with a specially appointed clerk sitting there on the watch, a remnant from feudal times. Once he noticed through the window that a carriage came along, he would quickly go out with a can with a tin handle in his hand. There was glue and a brush in it. In his other hand he had blue tickets, as big as the receipts we are given nowadays at the pharmacies. The carriage man was obliged to stop by. The clerk then would spread some glue on the ticket and stick it to the carriage, while the peasant would open up his purse, to pay the fee to enter the town. This fee was officially called by the municipality “oktroa” and “batch” by the people.

Petar Mirchev (“Kniga za Sofia”)

On June 13, 1884 the ground-breaking ceremony for the Cavalier Barracks took place on the site of the present Printing House. A large crowd gathered on the site, but the Minister of Public Buildings did not show up. The ground-breaking ceremony did not run as scheduled – the official documents were not ready, and the public only threw some coins in the dugout, some – their business cards.
The history of the Printing House also started with a fopaux. The opening was planned to take place on December 5, 1954, but although all the arrangements had been made, it did not happen. The memorandum for the ceremony was handed over to Valko Chervenkov, prime minister at the time, on the very day before the ceremony, a fact that aggravated him a lot. “Declined” and “Where had this document been misplaced in all those 25 days?” is written on the document.


Bus Stop Eagles Bridge

The Ariana Lake

Near the entrance of King Boris’s Gardens there was a tree nursery, called “the Pipiniera.” Over the first twenty years after the liberation from Ottoman rule, the Pipiniera gradually emerged as the favorite place for walks for the inhabitants of the capital.[...] The Pipiniera was particularly attrac- tive in the wintertime, when water from the nearby Perlovo river flooded part of the park and froze, to the great joy of skaters. A wooden pavilion appeared nearby, offering refreshments. Later on, an artificial lake was built, which – to the delight of Sofia residents, many of whom had studied in the West – received the melodious foreign name of Ariana. In the first four decades of the 20th century, the restaurant by the Ariana lake was a popular place where people liked to go for a bock and a couple of tasty kebapches.

Petar Velichkov (“The Secrets of Sofia”)

Kebapche is an elongated meatball with a lot of spices typical for Bulgaria and some other Balkan countries. (translator’s note)

The Brewery of the Proshek Brothers

The brewery of the Proshek brothers was one of the first bigger buildings constructed in Sofia after the Liberation (at the crossing of San Stefano and Shejnovo streets). It was built by the Proshek brothers and for a long time had been one of the largest in Bulgaria. The annual production reached 1.2 million liters of beer with a staff of 120 – 150 people. To the south of the factory there was the Proshek’s beer garden, “The Deep Cellar”, a favorite place of Sofia’s residents and most probably one of the oldest beer houses in town.


Bus Stop Graf Ignatiev Street

The Samokov Bridge

On the site of today’s bridge on Graf Ignatiev street and Evlogi Georgiev boulevard, before the Liberation there stood the Samokov Bridge. It was from that bridge that the road to Samokov started. The street in the direction of the town was also named Samokov street. In 1899 it was renamed after the Russian ambassador in Tsarigrad – prince Nikolaj P. Ignatiev. These parts of the town at the time were only slightly populated. To the left of the bridge, where now the Yunak stadium is situated, Russian soldiers were buried. The cemetery was relocated by the end of the century. On January 1, 1901 the first trams were launched in Sofia. The tram network had only six lines, of which tram 1 ran from the Central railroad station to the Graf Ignatiev street, in proximity of the house of Engineer Momchilov.


The old name of Lozenets was Korubaglar, meaning “vinyards in the forest”. Later the name was also pronounced Kurubaglar, or “dry vineyards”.

Over the months of May and June, Kurubaglar was the most pleasant place for walks for the citizens of Sofia. The hill was covered with cherry groves and thickets that bore plenty of fruit. [...] Here and there, one could see small lawns where Sofians liked to go for picnics. Every night in the summertime, and even more so on weekends, large groups of people, sometimes as large as 20 or 30 people, would come there with many baskets full of food, bread, and binliks, sit on the green grass, and devour all they had brought with them. The baskets were carried back empty. On one of the larger lawns there were swings and a cantina. Late into the night, the air above Kurubaglar resounded with songs, guitars, ocarinas, and children’s laughter.

Georgi Kanazirski-Verin (“Sofia 50 Years Ago”, 1947)


Bus Stop Cherni Vrah Boulevard

National Palace of Culture

Underlying the project of constructing the National Palace of Culture stood the idea of Ljudmila Zhivkova to create a center for world cultural dialogue in Bulgaria. The idea got realized within less than four years by architect Barov and his team. Some 10 000 tons of metal construction were used, about as much as is needed for building an Eiffel tower and a half. Due to the shape of its ground plan – two intersecting squares with edges slashed – the palace has four facades and a view to the four cardinal directions. The opening of the National Palace of Culture in 1981 was the climax in the celebrations of the 1300th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state. Although its halls could fit up to 7500 people altogether, the palace remained hardly accessible to the ordinary visitors up until the end of the 80s.

Djebel Vitosh sokagi

The present-day Vitosha boulevard was named “Djebel Vitosh sokagi” before the Liberation. Since 1883 the street was already known as Vitoshka. It was not a very lively spot at first, however, after the construction of the tram line reaching the barracks of the first and sixth infantry regiments, larger one- and two-story houses popped up there. In the beginning of the 20th century the boulevard was named “General Gurko” for a short while, since the General had ridden on the back of his horse along the boulevard in 1878. Intensive construction of multi-storied residential buildings with shops on the ground floor took place in the 1930s. From 1934 till 1946 the boulevard got renamed to “Tsaritsa Joanna”, and later on for 20 years it carried the name of “Stalin”. Its original name was restored in 1961.


Bus Stop Nishava Street (South Park)

The South Park

The construction of South Park started as late as the beginning of 1959, even though the park had been part of urban development plans since the beginning of the 30s. Architectural drawings from the 60s show that the park was supposed to link the Pancharevo-Sofia navigable canal with the city centre. In the 70s, a grandiose idea was proposed: to extend the park all the way to the foot of Vitosha mountain. The pedestrian path from the city to the mountain was to pass through walnut and cherry orchards. Yet, the “green window” towards Vitosha still remains in the realm of dreams. The artificial hills in the park were made using earth from the foundations of the National Palace of Culture.

The asphalt steps back – there comes an unusually spacious pavement with scattered massive hexagonal “flower-pots” and small stone basins. Right beside them – an even more rare of its spatiality meadow ushers the visitor into a real pastoral area of the park, in the backdrop of it – the ostentatious silhouette of Vitosha, so close and tangible.
Maybe one of the most prominent particularities of the South Park is the quick and sudden change of the view. Having just walked along the alley crossing the meadow, the visitor suddenly finds himself in a marshy depression, until not long ago water current with reeds and large willow trees above, a virtual rain forest. A bridge takes the visitor across to another roomy pavement, and here there are the speedy clear waters of the Drenovichka river.

Sofia Magazine, 1984


Bus Stop Gotse Delchev Residential Complex

Gotse Deltchev Residential Complex

In 1920 the villagers of Boyana started selling out their lots to settlers from Macedonia and the western parts of the country. The quarter was populated mostly with tobacco workers, workers in the nearby brick factories, and craftsmen. Later on the quarter was named after Emil Markow, a party activist who died in an exchange of fire with the police in 1943 nearby his residence on the corner of Slavovitsa and Bojan Belijski streets in the once called Brick Factories quarter (nowadays Gotse Deltchev residential complex).


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