Sofia refuses to pay for new glow-in-the-dark eyes for Tsar Samuil statue

The eyes of the statue of 10th century ruler Tsar Samuil in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia will glow no more.

When the statue, the work of sculptor Alexander Haitov, was unveiled in June 2015, the glow-in-the-dark eyes that featured on the four-metre-high figure were quite the talking point.

Covered not only in Bulgarian but also in foreign media, the shining eyes became something of a drawcard for people to gaze on after dark. Others – not a few – condemned the feature as kitsch.

But now, more than three years on, the diodes have died, and the eyes no longer have it.

Sofia municipality is refusing to pay the 3000 leva (about 1500 euro) to put the twinkle back into the eyes of Tsar Samuil.

The symbolism that was apparently intended was that Tsar Samuil is looking on his memory of his blinded soldiers, that horrific episode when the Byzantine Basil II, called Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, is said to have ordered his captive Bulgarian soldiers each blinded in one eye (some accounts say both, with one man left with sight) and then allowed to make their way back to their defeated tsar.

Sofia deputy mayor in charge of culture, Todor Chobanov, has told local media that the approved concept for the statue of Tsar Samuil did not include the glowing eyes, which were Haitov’s initiative.

Re-lighting Samuil’s eyes would require approval from a special cultural committee, but no green light is expected.

Haitov continues to believe that people want Tsar Samuil’s eyes to shine. “If they want the eyes to shine, they should do it so that they shine for 20 years, that’s possible”. While he paid for the light installation out of his own money, he dismissed doing so again. That would be like a musician paying an audience to listen to him, he said.

He also was critical of the lamps illuminating the spot of the statue. “I put projectors as they should be when the statue was put up. I installed them personally, with my own money. They took them down and put up other ones, that cost much more than the eyes. Those two huge lamps could be used to hunt rabbits in the field,” Haitov said.

The municipality responded that the lamps were part of the city lighting and meant no additional cost to the budget.

(Archive photo, from June 2015: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage.