Friday, May 3, 2013

Kambanite: International Children's Monument and Park in Sofia

This was only a two-day workweek because of several holidays that got mashed together the first weekend in May: the 1st of May (for everyone outside the United States, this is labor day), the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter holidays (which happened to fall very late this year, about a month after the Roman Catholic ones) and St. George's Day (a religious feast day and national holiday, as St. George is the patron of Bulgaria's military). Anyway, all this celebrating means a six-day weekend and I have already done quite a bit of sightseeing in my time off.

On May 1st Kiril and I went to Kambanite (The Bells) monument and park, dedicated to children all over the world. The monument was erected by Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the former Communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who was deposed in 1989. Zhivkova was a controversial figure but also a respected patron of the arts, and she established the monument through the "Banner of Peace" organization with support from UNESCO.

The park is made up of a circular pattern of bells donated by different countries built around a concrete tower holding seven more bells, meant to represent the seven continents. Having been created during the Communist period, the monument and park were neglected for many years until Zhivkova's daughter (also a fashion designer) started a campaign to restore it. Today many of the original bells are missing, but there are still signs of a bygone era there: a bell from Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and both the German Deomocratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. The are also bells from North and South Korea, Syria, Angola, China, Thailand, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and many other countries around the globe. The United States' bell is quite small compared to Bulgaria's whopping 1300 kg one (commemorating 1300 years of Bulgarian history in 1981). But there are also some new additions, including bells donated by NATO and the Rotary club. I found Poland's bell, too...

On one side of the park there is a wall with plaques acknowledging the accomplishments of young Bulgarian athletes, artists and scientists. One of them is Ivet Lalova, Bulgaria' famous record-breaking sprinter. Read more about her in my post for International Women's Day last year.

These bells represent all the Bulgarian children living abroad. During the Communist period many families were forced to flee the country because of political differences. This was the case for my grandfather, who left Poland when it was invaded by Nazi Germany and could not return after the war when his country had joined the socialist bloc. As a result, there are many Bulgarian, Polish and other Eastern European families living abroad, especially in the United States. Unfortunately, there are still large numbers of young people who have to move abroad for economic opportunities. This is a growing concern within Bulgaria and many other European countries with struggling economies and limited options for employment.

And finally, behind the central tower (which reads "Unity, Creativity, Beauty" in Bulgarian and English) there is a small sign asking visitors not to ring the bells loudly. It also states that only children are allowed to ring the bells. :)

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