Plovdiv’s Tobacco Town fire, two years on: Court in the act
The year 2016 saw two disasters befall the Tobacco Town warehouses in the historic precinct of Plovdiv that once was a centre of the Balkan tobacco trade.
In March, there was an illegal attempt to demolish a warehouse in Odrin Street, an attempt that was staved off when irate residents of Plovdiv alerted the authorities. Nonetheless, serious damage was done, and public awareness of the problem of the uncertain fate of the warehouses was raised.
There was further outrage in August, when on the 20th of that month a huge inferno burnt out four Tobacco Town warehouses. Authorities arrested and charged a homeless man with causing the fire through negligence, by alleging tossing a burning cigarette. The man was subsequently convicted, though he continues to protest his innocence.
Three of the properties that were burnt out in the August 20 2016 blaze were owned by Ripa Ltd, registered at Plovdiv’s 77 Ruski Boulevard. This was represented by the former honorary consul of Italy in Plovdiv, Pietro Luigi Ghia. Pietro Luigi Ghia’s warehouse that burnt out is owned by Galaxy Property Group Ltd, registered in Dunav Boulevard in Plovdiv. Its owners also have a cigarette factory.
The Culture Minister at the time, Vezhdi Rashidov, said that an order should be issued to the owners to restore the building. Plovdiv mayor Ivan Totev issued such an order in 2016, which the owners, Ripa Ltd, challenged in court.
Ripa Ltd said that the mayoral order was unlawful, claiming that there had been several procedural violations, that the order did not properly take into account the time limits for the implementation of the activities, and claiming that the buildings were not, under the law, deemed to be of “immovable cultural value”.
On August 14 2018, just six days short of the second anniversary of the fire, the Plovdiv Administrative Court dismissed the application, ordering the applicant to pay legal fees and the costs of the municipality.
This ruling by the Plovdiv court, however, is subject to appeal, which the applicant had 14 days to lodge in Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court.
As with the Odrin Street warehouse, continuing court procedures and uncertainty about when official decisions will be made – and, for that matter, implemented – would leave the warehouses open to the elements for further months.
The severe damage to the Plovdiv Tobacco Town buildings looms large among those Bulgarians concerned about the fate of the country’s architectural cultural heritage. The August 2016 fire was cited by those alarmed by the recent large fire that destroyed the roof of the historic Royal Stables building in Sofia’s Dondukov Boulevard.
In Plovdiv itself, and countrywide, there have been many comments on social networks on the anomaly of the continuing lack of clarity about the future of Tobacco Town, with Plovdiv’s status as European Capital of Culture 2019 just a few months away.
One of the warehouses, dubbed Sklad (for the Bulgarian word for warehouse), has become the new home of the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation in the Tobacco Town precinct.
“The space is used for events, installations, exhibitions and research. People who wish to accomplish an event could present a description and a justification, how they support the goals and priorities of the Plovdiv 2019 programming platforms. #Together we are working Plovdiv to be a meaningful European Capital of Culture,” according to the foundation’s website.