THE BULGARIAN STATE MONUMENT
by Philipp Altheimer & Shana Chandra for S/T
Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument
From amidst layered shards of angular concrete, 18 metre high figures emerge. Part children’s transformer toy, part ancient Easter Island Moai and part futurist sculpture by Umberto Boccioni, these modern monoliths depict khans, the medieval rulers of Bulgaria’s beginnings. The sculptures were made in 1981 by Krum Damyanov and Ivan Slavov to commemorate the 1,300 year anniversary of the ex-Communist state’s founding.
With twenty-one sculptures in total, each help tell the story behind the defining moments in the creation of the Bulgarian nation between the 7th and 10th century. The founder, Khan Asparuh is depicted, his hands directing us to where the Bulgarian State will be. A lion, made of approximately 1000 tonnes of granite guards his rulers.
But the figures evoke Bulgarian mythology too, which tell of wild tales of a race of giants called the Ispolini, that inhabited earth before humans. Imbibed with supernatural powers, the Ispolini had voices so powerful they could communicate from far-away mountain tops. The monument, built on a hilltop in central Shumen, can be seen from 30km away, where one could imagine being able to hear these Ispolini roar too.
It seems fitting that the traditionally nomadic Bulgars, who saw Romans, Byzantines, Thracians and Turks all pass through their state, destroying and transmuting with its people as it did so, build a brutalist monument of their foundations during Communist rule. Fragments of old Byzantine chronicles pepper the site, but the inscription under Khan Asparuh asks people to remember; “Even if a man lives well, he dies and another one comes into existence. Let the one who comes later, upon seeing this inscription, remember the one who had made it…”