Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture said on March 7 2016 that a tobacco warehouse in Plovdiv’s “Tobacco Town” on which demolition work began the previous day had been declared a monument of culture in 1977.
The ministry said that it had ordered an inquiry into the matter and had established that it had been given cultural monument status in 1977, confirmed by documentation from the year 2000 that listed it as part of the Philipopolis-Trimontium-Plovdiv group monument zone.
This contradicted documentation presented by Plovdiv municipality earlier on March 7, following widespread public outrage in the city and elsewhere in the country after demolition work began the previous day on the building, part of a precinct where the large warehouses are valued not only for their architecture but also for their place as a reminder of city’s pre-eminence in the tobacco trade in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Ministry of Culture said that it had ordered the suspension of the demolition of the building, on Plovdiv’s 8 Odrin Street and would take up the matter with the Prosecutor’s Office.
Earlier on March 7, the Regional Prosecutor’s Office said in an official statement that it had begun an investigation into the demolition, with a 30-day deadline to come up with findings.
Reports from the site said that employees of the Avramov 1 firm, hired to carry out the demolition, had left the site.
Police who had been deployed to the site also withdrew, according to a report by Plovdiv news website podtepeto.com.
Participants in a human chain that had been formed to protect the building said that they would continue to patrol the site and residents of nearby buildings, who also supported the defence of the building, said that if they detected any activity at the building, they would alert the media and send out a message via Facebook.
Foreign expatriates, including US citizen and architect Megan Luenbarg and Germany’s Philip Zimmerman, joined in the human chain to protect the building.
According to podtepeto, Luenbarg wrote a thesis on the Trakiya area of the city and said that she loved Plovdiv. “I think that people have to react to what is happening here, as there is glass and new concrete everywhere. But this culture and spirit, only here. I do not understand how anyone could encroach on it,” she said.
Zimmerman, a student, was involved with the Move BG project and has taken an interest in the Tobacco Town precinct. He saw the building as a true urban diamond that should be preserved along with the vibrant cultural environment.
Meanwhile, the project for a 60-metre building, reportedly intended as a 10-storey hotel, was removed from the website of the owners of the building on March 7.
Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev said that the municipality would “do everything in its power” to get the investors to rebuild the ruined tobacco warehouse, as long as this was theoretically possible. The municipality would seek all legal means to stop the construction, Totev said.
Totev received a group of protesters who came to the city hall carrying bricks from the destroyed facade of the warehouse.
In talks attended by two deputy mayors, chief architect Roumen Rusev, members of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation, officials, several architects and people from Plovdiv’s cultural world, Totev said that there was a “technical error” that meant that the warehouse at 8 Odrin Street was not a monument of culture, and this had not been corrected.
The demolition had been possible because of this and the property’s owner had a legal basis to continue destroying it, Totev said, some hours before the Culture Ministry’s announcement.
He said that the issue was “very emotional” and added that the municipality would not be deviated in any way from Plovdiv’s priorities for 2019, when the city will be European Capital of Culture.
“But we have no information that the building is a monument of culture. That’s the problem,” Totev said. He disclosed that a month ago, the municipality had been informed that the building would be demolished and “the investor has every right to do so”.
Totev said that the municipal administration had held meetings each of the owners of the buildings to seek the best solution for the tobacco warehouses. Restoration, however, would cost millions.
The mayor was sharply criticised by people attending the meeting for failing to inform the public about the plans to demolish the warehouse, which could have accelerated clarity about its status.