Alexander Battenberg Square – Sofia
The Alexander Battenberg Square was called the 9th September Square during the communist era. The old square played a central role in military parades and celebrations of that era. A large white neoclassical mausoleum that used to stand here was built in 1949 to house the body of Georgi Dimitrov, Bulgaria’s first Communist prime minister after WWII.
Dimitrov died whilst on a business trip to Moscow, and there were speculations and suspicions surrounding his death. His body was returned to Sofia, embalmed, and put on display inside the mausoleum for the public to parade past, similar to Lenin’s body in Red Square. Dimitrov’s family removed his remains in 1990, cremated and buried them next to his mother in the city graveyard.
In 1999, the government decided to tear down the mausoleum claiming that it was a “symbol of autocratic totalitarian power” and the “negation of parliamentary democracy.” The general public thought otherwise, believing that it was necessary to preserve all of Bulgaria’s history, even the Communist bits.
Several attempts were made to destroy the mausoleum and it was discovered the structure had been reinforced to withstand a nuclear blast. This is amazing considering that the mausoleum was constructed in six days. Inspite of public protestation, the mausoleum was finally bulldozed with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers and the final cost was estimated at $400,000.
A year later, in an attempt to beautify the area, an international garden festival was installed. Many of the foreign diplomatic missions participated by creating small gardens, typical of their homelands. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding the gardens were left without maintenance and security and today only remnants remain of what the area could have been.
The Square is within easy reach from the Sheraton Hotel and is a good starting point for a walking tour to many city sights, following the yellow brick road.