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Bulgarians Form Human Chain to Halt Demolition

Locals in Plovdiv formed a human chain Monday to stop the demolition of an iconic 1920s warehouse, embarrassing the authorities into taking action.
Protesting citizens managed to block the demolition on Monday. |Photo: Lina Krivoshieva, The Plovdiv Project

Local people in the southern Bulgarian city Plovdiv formed a human chain on Monday to stop the demolition of a much loved tobacco warehouse, built in the 1920s.

The destruction of the landmark building by its private owner started on Sunday and provoked outrage from artists, architects and ordinary people in Plovdiv, who organized a protest on social networks.

“This building is a part of the face of Plovdiv, a part of our identity and a monument of culture, as important as any other,” Denitsa Toneva, who participated in the human chain on Monday told BIRN.

The bulding’s private owner started the demolition on Sunday, causing public outrage. |Photo: Lina Krivoshieva, The Plovdiv Project

The building is a part of the so-called “Tobacco Town”, a complex of warehouses of Orient Tobacco – once one of the world’s biggest tobacco exporters – and is included in Plovdiv’s program as a European Capital of Culture in 2019.

In September 2015, Mayor Ivan Totev pledged that the complex would be turned into a new urban art zone and all the buildings, abandoned to decay in the past 20 years, would be renovated.

It turned out, however, that the warehouse is the private property of the company “PJ Trade”, which was given permission for construction on the site in 2010 and which informed the municipality of its plan to demolish the building in February.

Media reports say the investor’s plan is to replace the warehouse with a 10-storey luxury hotel.

According to Ivan Totev, the owners of the tobacco warehouse have the legal right to destroy it, as it was not listed as a cultural monument due to a “technical mistake”. Instead, another building on the opposite side of the street was put under state protection, he explained on Monday.

The warehouse is a part of Plovdiv’s program for European Capital of Culture 2019. |Photo: Lina Krivoshieva, The Plovdiv Project

As a result of the public pressure, the municipality halted the demolition and Plovdiv’s regional prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the permits granted to the owners to demolish the site.

The Ministry of Culture halted the demolition after declaring that the building had been designated a monument of culture since 1977. 

Experts and activists expressed doubts that the Plovdiv authorities had not been aware of the special status of the warehouse.

The city’s chamber of architects has called on the municipality to force the owner to restore the building whose facade has been destroyed almost completely. 

All construction activities related to buildings which are designated as a part of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage have to be coordinated with the National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage.