Town Mouse

A taste of Com­mu­nism

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

AMEMORABLE trip to Bul­garia cul­mi­nated last week in a short visit to Sofia. It’s a city of far greater charm and in­ter­est than I had ever imag­ined and a med­ley of churches, mosques (one now a won­der­ful ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mu­seum) and a syn­a­gogue tes­ti­fies to its char­ac­ter as a cul­tural cross­roads. A par­tic­u­lar high­light was the Na­tional His­tory Mu­seum. The build­ing was quite as com­pelling as the col­lec­tion: it oc­cu­pies the palace con­structed in 1973 for the last Com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor of Bul­garia. This is a for­bid­ding pile—mag­nif­i­cent if you have mega­lo­ma­niac tastes—ap­proached up a short av­enue. The en­trance lobby opens into a vast stair­case hall and beyond is a se­ries of im­pos­ing but dis­tinctly joy­less in­te­ri­ors for en­ter­tain­ing on a grand scale.

To the rear is a for­mal wa­ter gar­den in gen­tle dis­re­pair and en­cir­cled by no­tices warn­ing visi­tors that they may be shot if they tres­pass into the sur­round­ing park (home to the prime min­is­ter and pres­i­dent). Sit­ting in what is now the mu­seum cafe, I was con­fronted by a writhing sculp­ture— per­haps the spirit of Com­mu­nist Bul­garia —emerg­ing in­con­gru­ously from be­hind a care­lessly placed drinks ma­chine. I in­wardly de­bated whether Ozy­man­dias’s fate was more dig­ni­fied. JG

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