A taste of Communism
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