TRIP DURATION: 9 days
PRICE: € 1120 based upon minimum of 8 paying participants. Small group surcharge of € 100. Single room supplement € 60. Single rooms are subject to availability.
GROUP SIZE: 5–8
The first day of this unforgettable photographic journey will be dedicated to Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. We will take pictures of the examples of monumental Stalinist architecture in the center, the women’s market and the industrial district around the train station. We will visit the nearby industrial towns of Pernik and Radomir, an openair museum with an exposition of massive industrial buildings – strange “monuments” to Bulgaria’s socialist industrialism of 20 years ago. We will continue to Dimitrovgrad, the epitome of socialist realism in Bulgaria. We will enter the Eastern Rhodopes, here focusing on the abandoned villages situated along the Byala River. We will continue to the Western Rhodopes and Ardino, the abandoned village of Dyadovtsi and Devil’s Bridge, one of the most photogenic places in the Rhodopes. Further along, we will continue to Shiroka Luka, an architectural reserve, and the abandoned village of Kukuvitsa. We will stop by Mugla and the empty village of Chamla. Following that will be the village of Krushevo with its beautiful panoramas of four mountains and the abandoned village of Debren. We will conclude this journey in the authentic villages of Leshten, Gorno Dryanovo and Kovachevitsa.
WHAT THE PRICE INCLUDES:
Group transportation in tour van/microbus; Accommodations based on two people sharing a room; Eight (8) nights including breakfast; Photographic leader in English; Day tours and excursions as shown in the itinerary; Extensive pre-arrival information and services.
WHAT THE PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE:
International air fare; airport transfers; additional transfers or accommodations that may be required by those arriving or leaving out of the tour dates: meals not included in itinerary; personal medical or travel insurance; any expenses of a personal nature, such as room service, laundry, beverages not included with meals, medical expenses, any activities not specified in tour itinerary or listed as optional, or any items not listed in what is included; upon the completion of your trip, modest gratuities to the local guides and the drivers are customary; tips of any kind.
DAY 1 Sofia
This photo excursion will begin in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, at 9AM at the hotel arranged beforehand for participants (all participants on this trip need to have arrived in Sofia the previous day). A local driver will take us to the main sights around the city, with an accent on old, monumental Stalinist architecture in the center, with some of the best-preserved examples of the style in the former communist bloc. However critically the architectural qualities of these buildings may be viewed, they form part of the cultural past of the country and in this way represent its wealth.
We will visit the women’s market, one of the liveliest places in Sofia, where we will have the opportunity to photograph locals in all their vividness. We will also visit the area around the train station (not far from the women’s market) are Sofia’s industrial districts, a strange mix of old buildings left over from the communist period placed in the context of a contemporary industrial landscape. Evening photography session and lodging in Sofia.
DAY 2 Radomir and Pernik
The following day we will travel by bus to the nearby cities of Radomir and Pernik, a region famous for its heavy industry which in recent years has suffered serious decline. This region is practically an open-air museum with an exposition made of massive industrial buildings – ruins left to endure the passage of time, strange “monuments” to Bulgaria’s socialist industrialism of 20 years ago. At times these surroundings can feel downright Orwellian. Evening photography session and lodging in Sofia.
DAY 3 Dimitrovgrad
Early in the morning we will leave for Dimitrovgrad, where we will arrive around 11AM.
Dimitrovgrad has experienced a unique history. It was founded on 2 September 1947 when 40 youths arrived in order to build the “city of dreams”. This enthusiasm for construction grew, with laborers numbering 50000 coming from 963 Bulgarian towns and villages. Dimitrovgrad was built as a kind of architectural textbook, following the norms developed during the time of the Romans, according to specialists. It was held that the principles of Soviet city planning were also applied and whose model was used as the basis for many such undertakings at that time.
The building of Dimitrovgrad is a symbol of the last century because it has turned into one of the most characteristic examples of the architectural transformation of Bulgaria during socialism. We will spend all day photographing this city. In the evening we will set off for Ivailovgrad in the Eastern Rhodopes, near the Turkish border. Lodging in Ivailovgrad.
DAY 4 The meanders and villages along the Byala River
Early photography session in Ivailovgrad. Afterwards, we will head off for the meanders and villages around the Byala River. We will visit the especially beautiful meanders of the river. We photograph the villages of Odrintsi and Mandritsa as well as the cult villages of Dolno Lukovo and Gorno Lukovo. Several of these villages are completely empty, preserving their character and appearance from the very last day before they were abandoned. Here, along with thematic photography you will have the opportunity to practice scenic, ethnographic and cultural photography. We will continue west as we gradually enter the Western Rhodopes. In the evening we will reach Ardino, where we will spend the night.
DAY 5 The village of Dyadovtsi
Early in the morning we will take pictures in Ardino, after which we will set off for Devil’s Bridge and the village of Dyadovtsi (approximately 10 km). The Rhodope style of house seen in the village with bay windows on the second floor was a popular design choice during the previous century, traces of its former greatness which can still be seen, albeit in a decayed state.
The so-called Devil’s Bridge was built in the 15th century along the route to the Aegean Sea; this bridge is 56 m long, 3.5 m wide and 11.5 m tall at the top of its arch. Its stone construction includes a second arch with openings to allow water from the turbulent Arda River to pass. Although it is not directly related to the theme of this trip, the surrounding natural environment together with the bridge are interesting from a photographic perspective, which is why we decided to include it in the itinerary. At noon we will continue to the architectural reserve of Shiroka Luka, where we will have a photo session.
Not far from Shiroka Luka is another abandoned Rhodope village, Kukuvitsa, which we will also photograph. Together with the enchanting little villages in the region we will also have the opportunity to take pictures of magnificent Rhodope landscapes from perhaps one of the most photogenic parts of the Rhodopes.
After lunch we will head toward the village of Chamla, abandoned about 20 years ago, located above the village of Mugla, not far from Smolyan. It is situated on the fields of Mursalitsa; at 1850 m, this is one of the highestaltitude villages in Bulgaria. Its buildings are relatively well-preserved, one of which served as the municipal building. Five or six years ago a Frenchman lived in there for an entire year, even during winter.
In 2002 the village was ironically called the Kingdom of Chamla by the Destination Bulgaria Foundation. The Municipality of Smolyan granted the village school to the foundation for a period of ten years. Evening photography session and lodging in Smolyan.
DAY 6 The abandoned old village of Debren
Early in the morning we will set off for Gotse Delchev via the small mountain towns of Devin and Dospat. We will travel slowly, stopping frequently alongside the road in order to enjoy the beautiful mountain views. From Gotse Delchev we will take a detour to the village of Krushevo, famous for its panoramic views of four mountains. The locals say that from here one can observe the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the Rhodopes. The bus will leave us here and we will walk to the abandoned village of Debren (50 min. descent).
About 44 years ago the people here decided to leave their village and move 4 km away further down into the valley to build a new settlement. This is perhaps the only voluntarily abandoned village. After taking pictures we will continue our descent even further down to the new village of Debren, from where we will board the bus. We will head north and after about an hour we will arrive in the ancient and scenic village of Leshten. Because of its authentic and photogenic appearance, this village is often featured in movies and music videos.
We will have an evening photo session in this settlement’s narrow streets. There will also be a discussion of the pictures taken up to that point of the trip during our photography critique session. Lodging in the village.
DAY 7 Gorno Dryanovo and Kovachevitsa (10 km)
In the morning we will set off for Gorno Dryanovo, a picturesque village with a predominantly Muslim population located only about 10 km from Leshten. Even though the village lacks preserved old houses, it is especially interesting because of the lively activity carrying on along almost the entirety of the main street. Unlike villages with a primarily Christian composition, villages with large Muslim populations are full of life as the people there rarely leave them to live in big cities.
We will continue toward the goal of the day’s trip, the village of Kovachevitsa, one of the most photogenic villages not just in the Rhodopes, but in all of Bulgaria. The village has preserved its authentic appearance from the 18th and 19th centuries and is one of the most famous and beautiful villages in Bulgaria. Kovachevitsa is an architectural reserve with very well-preserved Revival architecture. The houses are almost completely built of stone, including the roofs, only the highest floors being made of wood.
We will spend the whole day taking pictures in the village and its vicinity. For those who like, in the evening we will return to Gorno Dryanovo (only a few kilometers away) to photograph the village’s enlivened central street before dark. There you will have exceptional opportunities to practice ethnographic photography among the local Muslim population.
DAY 8 Travel to Sofia (approximately 205 km)
Early morning photo session in Kovachevitsa. Arrival in Sofia in the afternoon and conclusion of the trip.
SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE SUBJECT
The aim of this itinerary is to provide participants with opportunities to photograph what remains of the communist regime in Bulgaria, a system that insisted on the integration and compatibility of the modern urban landscape with Bulgaria’s towns and villages. The photographic subjects can be divided into the following categories:
А) Socialist industrial landscape – old, active and inactive factories and plants and their surroundings. Some of these buildings and complexes are remarkable photographical subjects placed in the context of the modern urban landscape.
B) Socialist collective housing construction – half– destroyed and completely destroyed old homes and public buildings with their typical large size and style.
С) Socialist realism – huge public buildings, generally situated in the downtowns of big cities, especially in Sofia. This Stalinist style of architecture is not typical for Bulgaria, but some of the most impressive examples of the type can be found here.
Also included in this category are the monumental sculptures and memorials spread all over the country. Bulgaria’s ghost villages – abandoned villages, situated mainly in mountainous regions of the country. During the time of the socialist cooperative agrarian movement, these villages were active and included municipal buildings such as hospitals, movie theaters, etc., regardless of their remoteness.
Today, existing in an open market, they have been abandoned, and as sad as they may appear, a photographer can find in them an endless supply of inspiration for visual interpretation. There are not many such places in contemporary Europe. The number of depopulated villages in Bulgaria grows each year. The latest data from current demographic statistics shows that as of 2009 there were 148 villages with no inhabitants.
BOOKING AND MORE INFO
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