Bulgaria as you’ve never seen it before: An aerial peek behind the former Iron Curtain with a drone reveals fearsome Soviet statues and stunning landscapes

  • Amos Chapple captured images with a drone in one of the last places where unlicensed use is still permitted 
  • ‘Vampire grave’ in Sozopol includes skeleton whose teeth had been knocked out, just to be on the safe side 
  • Sculpture of ‘The Forgotten Communist’ lives up to its name as jungle vegetation grows over subject’s head 

From the natural beauty of the beaches abutting the Black Sea to the crumbling relics of Communism and with everything in between – including evidence of ancient civilizations – Bulgaria has it all.

Something that’s even more apparent when the country is viewed from above, as an avid photographer with an eye for the unusual and the use of a drone has shown.

Amos Chapple skilfully commandeered one to uncover the former Soviet state’s most unusual offerings during a recent eight-day trip, helped by the fact that Bulgaria is one of the few places on earth a drone’s use is not licensed. 

There is everything from fishing villages with ‘vampire graves’ to a fortress nestled into a gnarly rock formation – the stuff of fables – from which the Romans ruled the region. And there are spectacular statues, including ‘The Forgotten Communist’ – who lives up to his name, his face obscured by overgrown vegetation – which is a nod to a previous era of Soviet domination. 

Aside from the Russians and the Romans, Bulgaria has also served as a base to the wine-guzzling Thracians, pals of the Trojans, and the Ottomans – all of whom have left their indelible mark on the landscape.  

‘Massacre after massacre’ is how Radio Free Europe photographer Chapple describes the Bulgarian history his work documents. ‘It shocked me just how much the country had suffered at the hands of the Ottomans,’ he said, before moving on to discuss later dynasties, culminating in the era of Soviet oppression. ‘There was a level of religious brutality that was all the more shocking for how recently it took place.’ Scroll down to take in the photographer’s enchanting aerial pictorial tour.

The remains of a Thracian burial area near the town of Ardino. Bulgaria is dotted with remnants of the ancient, wine-guzzling Thracian tribes. Famous Thracians include the poet Orpheus and Spartacus, the rebel slave

Sozopol, an ancient fishing village,  made headlines in 2012 when a medieval ‘vampire grave’ was unearthed. Archaeologists uncovered the skeleton of a man whose teeth had been torn out and had had a metal stake hammered through his chest, apparently to stop him rising from the dead – just to be on the safe side

Kaliakra, a headland that juts into the Black Sea. The long peninsula gave rise to the legend that God stretched a finger of land ahead of a favourite saint who was fleeing from the Ottomans 

‘The Forgotten Communist’, a roadside monument, lives up to his name, as vegetation reclaims him in northeastern Bulgaria 

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This gilded statue of a strident woman, supporting a black bird of prey, overlooks a typical urban scene

A stone bridge links two isolated neighbouring hills, with visitors seen approaching and crossing it (left) 

An Eastern Orthodox structure, featuring elements reminiscent of Italian bell tower, borders road and ravine 

The Aleksandr Nevsky Cathedral, a gem in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia 

A gulag-style concrete monument shows opposing soldiers in relief.  A Bulgarian Banksy has daubed the monument’s interior 

The Vitosha Mountain TV tower with Sofia sparkling in the background 

A vast concrete lion (top right) clambering from the Founders Of The Bulgarian State Monument on a hill above Shumen

An aerial view of a restaurant showing al fresco dining by a less than picturesque functional corrugated iron structure 

An orange-roofed chapel perched on the edge of a hill is a nod to the survival of Christians persecuted under the Soviets 

A fisherman watches the reef roll by beneath him by Pomorie as his colleague steers out into the Black Sea 

A cross above Momchilovtsi in the Rhodope Mountains. The settlements of the region are a jumble of Christian and Muslim villages, after many were forcibly converted to Islam by the Ottoman authorities in the 16th and 17th centuries

A remote crumbling village house near Kardzali in a small encampment of typical dachas. Such scenes are a common sight in rural Bulgaria. Since 1990, the country has lost two million residents. A steadily declining population now stands at 7.1 million 

A fishing boat slides into the Black Sea from the village of Shabla

The Rila Monastery nestled in its valley, glowing gold in autumn

Varna’s Dormition Of The Mother Of God Cathedral in the gloom of an overcast morning

Sharp contours of one of Bulgaria’s mountain ranges tower over a valley-based village

Bulgarian watery terrain – a patchwork of green and black – shown in all its glory from a bird’s eye perspective

The Assens Monument in Veliko Tarnovo, built to mark 800 years since its crowning as the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire

A goatherd leads his flock down a dirt road near Kazanluk

A Soviet-era monument above the highway running past Blagoevgrad

Veliko Tarnovo’s fortress on a misty morning. The town was once dubbed a ‘third Rome’ (after Constantinople) for its cultural influence on Eastern Europe

A typical example of classical Eastern Orthodox architecture nestled in the Bulgarian hills

The abandoned Soviet-era monument of Buzludzha in the Central Balkan Mountains looks like a spacecraft about to take off in the mist. The peaks witnessed several furious battles during the war that would eventually free Bulgaria from Ottoman rule

The Belogradchik Fortress, nestled into a gnarly rock formation, is reminiscent of Middle-earth. The fortified watchtower was built when Romans ruled the roost

Hills and scrub recede from hinterland into town and sea in a spectacular view across the topography to Bulgaria’s coast

Night descends in Bulgaria moving through an iridescence of hues of pink, purple and blue

A woman clings to a horse on the hillside in another example of a forgotten monument tucked away in Bulgaria’s countryside

A sculpture of hand-held torches beneath the previously shown UFO-style monument

Alyosha, Plovdiv’s monument to Soviet soldiers, under a gunmetal sky. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been two attempts to remove the monument, which at one stage had a band of volunteers guarding it by night

The skeleton of a walled encampment demonstrates the linear segregation within the structure, safely nestled atop the hill

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