Alexander II

From an article by Luca Ponchiroli, publisher and author of a book on the “Socialist Monuments” in Bulgaria and of a tourist guide about Bulgaria.

The chronology of an international contest

Long was the road to this triumphant national celebration.

At the turn of the century, the Tsar Osvoboditel Committee was set up to take the necessary actions so that a huge and imposing monument be erected, dedicated both to Alexander II and to the epic battle for national liberation. Its honorary chairperson became Tsar Ferdinand himself.

On January 15, 1900 the Committee took its first decision: the monument was to be erected in front of the Parliament, right in the centre of Sofia. The qualities and abilities which an artist should possess in order to be eligible to fulfil such a task were agreed. The fee was set at three hundred thousand levs.

Following that, an international competition was announced. Some ninety artists, whose names were not disclosed as per the statutes, took part in it. After the preliminary selection there remained 32 representatives of 13 different nations.

The plaster scale models were put on display in the great hall of the Royal Palace to be viewed by the public between September 1 and September 20.

On September 24, 1900 the decision was announced in a special decree. The winner was Design number 11, called Rome. The author’s name was made known: Arnaldo Zocchi. The public, the critics and the jury were unanimous: this was the design which would best embody the spirit of the initiative.

On October 15, 1900 the overjoyed Zocchi received an official notification of his success in the competition. Without any delay a request was sent from Bulgaria to Russia for photographs of the persons who were to be immortalized in the monument. The response was immediate: the photographs were delivered directly to Rome.

Before the lonely artist were years of incessant work on designing the model; additional time was required for the accurate execution of the sculpture and for the structure that was to embrace it in the heart of the Bulgarian capital.

At long last the inauguration was set for August 30 (September 12), 1907. Important guests arrived from Russia, first among them Vladimir Alexandrovich, son of Alexander II, together with his family.

Ultimately the 12-metre memorial was revealed before the eyes of the ‘proud and excited’ populace, as the chronicles of those times described it. There was even the solemn musical composition performed during this long day of festivities; it was written specially for the occasion by Dimitar Georgiev and set to the lyrics of the national poet Ivan Vazov. There were also parades, banquets, music.

Arnaldo commented at that time: ‘How exciting it is to see so many people passing, proud and silent, as if climbing the stairs to a church entrance. This moved me to tears. I shall never forget it. And in the evening, at the official dinner, the Bulgarian Tsar raised a glass in my honor, to art and culture.

The monument became, or was declared that day, a shrine to the romantic faith of the nation, an icon that needed no novelties or originality.

The statue has been restored in 2012.

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