Introduction to the Book (Extract)

Seaside architecture and urbanism in Bulgaria and Croatia

[…] The People’s Republic of Bulgaria, centrally governed and arguably the Soviet Union’s closest satellite in the Cold War era, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, pioneer of the Non-Aligned Movement and the ‘Third Way’ between capitalism and Soviet-style socialism, both began developing large-scale modern tourism facilities in the 1950s, and quickly set about marketing them internationally. Although, as this book explores, each country adopted a different sales angle, their seaside destinations were underpinned by an essentially fordist conception of leisure – namely they offered guests temporary respite from the ardours and boredom of everyday life in an industrialized, urbanized society. However, the planning, organization and ownership structures of each country’s tourism sector reflected its own particular brand of (state) socialism. Opportunities for recreation and repose and hence for the reproduction of domestic labour – which mainly took the form of state-subsidized holidays or convalescence trips – were created side by side with a complex, competitive market product (comprised of a built infrastructure, supply systems and services) that was designed both to meet economy of scale criteria and to appeal to an international clientele.

© photos: Turistkomerc archive / ccn-images Zagreb, Hrvatski muzej arhitekture HAZU Zagreb, Daniele Ansidei, Nikola Mihov, BTA (Bulgarian News Agency), Lost Bulgaria (

[…] The focus on beach tourism, with its brief high season, was common to both countries. Yet their coastal landscapes differ significantly, and the architectural and urbanist approaches chosen to open them up for tourism likewise diverge. Bulgaria’s 380-kilometre coastline largely offers gentle slopes and comparatively long stretches of dunes and sandy beach, interspersed by the major cities of Varna and Burgas, and historically important towns such as Nessebar and Sozopol. In the 1950s and 1960s, this topography was an open invitation to plan large holiday resorts on an urban scale, with capacities of up to 30,000 beds. In the framework of comprehensive urban plans drawn up by Glavproekt, the central state institute for architecture and urban planning in Sofia, tourism development was purposely concentrated in a few distinct locations so as to preserve as much as possible of the coast’s natural assets. In the case of Croatia, countless bays, peninsulas and offshore islands together amount to some 6,000 km of coastline, among whose dramatic steep cliffs, gently rolling hills and flat, pebbly beaches nestle beautiful historic port towns, such as Pula, Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, to name but a few. Here, the varied topography virtually calls out for a diverse range of architectural typologies, such as has in fact generally been realized in comparatively small holiday resorts along the coast. Unlike in Bulgaria, commissions for such projects were awarded to a broad spectrum of planners, including those operating privately on a small scale. Croatia’s strong federalist tradition, the local authorities’ considerable political leverage and the economic model of workers’ self-management created favourable conditions for individual architectural solutions, respectful of local traditions.

[…] More generally speaking, and despite these differences in the scale of the resorts and their architecture, a broad range of comparable holiday facilities was developed in both regions from the 1950s to the 1980s. The spectrum ranged from the nationalized relics of aristocratic and bourgeois tourism culture to the relatively Spartan trade union holiday houses, chalet parks and camping sites, to modernist high-rise hotel with conference and spa facilities, or architecturally ambitious Structuralist complexes and luxury hotels; and it further included a quite substantial number of private holiday homes, apartments and rooms for let. Occasional joint ventures with Western companies, such as ClubMed and Penthouse, also came to fruition. Such diversity reflects the various holiday practices of the day: in addition to the ‘social tourism’ organized by the state respectively by trade unions and the package tourism developed for the international market, a fair range of options were available to individual tourists, whether domestic or foreign. The majority of tourists in Bulgaria hailed from Comecon countries and hence could enter their ‘sister state’ easily. The tourism economy there was centrally organized and structured by a very few state enterprises until well into the late 1980s, first and foremost by Balkantourist. Yugoslavia, by contrast, attracted more guests from the West, largely from central and northern Europe, and its tourist economy was overwhelmingly in the hands of smaller, regional and local enterprises. The governments of both countries made substantial investments in creating modern holiday resorts for international visitors, which were expressly designed to showcase the nation’s achievements. The resorts’ appeal as stylish, cosmopolitan places to meet and mingle was not lost on the countries’ domestic publics either. Maroje Mrduljaš therefore describes tourism infrastructures inter alia as a ‘social condenser’ of Yugoslavian society.

[…] In order to underscore the modernity and international standards of the holiday resorts, architects and urban planners created distinctive modernist structures, directly embedded in pleasantly landscaped parkland or natural settings. How these fit seamlessly into the global architecture trends of the post-war period is demonstrated in Elke Beyer and Michael Zinganels’ introductory chapter on the general prerequisites and typologies of modern seaside hotels and resorts worldwide.

[…] In the late 1960s and 70s, the coastal regions of both Bulgaria and Croatia saw a surge of playful themed architecture as a backdrop for the gastronomy and entertainment options that were fast becoming an important feature of the tourist product: simulacra of fantasy worlds, garnished with luxury sports, casinos and mildly salacious stage acts. As a result, both the Bulgarian and the Croatian coast represented late-modern tourism landscapes par excellence. In many respects they resembled the commercial tourism machines of the West, yet insofar as they synthesized aspects of that consumer culture with basic socialist premises, such as the public ownership of land and property, and extensive rights and benefits for employees, they were also a typical instance of European Late Socialism.

The disintegration of the socialist community of states and the war that broke out in Yugoslavia in June 1991 initially plunged the tourism sector in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia into a deep and long-lasting slump. The different political paths pursued by Bulgaria and the newly independent state of Croatia went hand in hand with different approaches to the privatization of former nationalized assets respectively, in the case of Croatia, of its ‘socialized companies’ under ‘workers’ self-management’ – as Elke Beyer, Anke Hagemann and Norbert Mappes-Niediek highlight in their contributions to this volume. Bulgaria’s major resorts were mostly broken down into smaller units before the pace of privatization was stepped up in 1997. Thereafter, a construction boom set in in the tourism regions. The expansion of existing hotels in combination with new developments and only scant regard for the urban layout and maximum capacity guidelines established in the state socialist era ate up most of the remaining open space in the large resorts. In addition there began a veritable bonanza of speculative property development, with holiday apartment complexes sprouting even on hitherto unspoiled sections of the coast. When privatization got into swing in post-war Croatia however, after 1999, tourism operations were generally sold off in large clusters, as a single package. This effectively cleared the field for a few major investment companies to acquire monopoly holdings that, in the new capitalist climate, far outweighed the local traditions of federalism and workers’ self-management. Unresolved legal disputes continue to hamper investment in Croatia today, while less welcoming local planning authorities impose very strict limits on construction activity. Therefore, the primary problem there at the time of writing is not so much major tourism developments but the random sprawl of smaller private residences. Upon EU accession in 2013, opponents of international investors’ ambitions will have a hard time standing their ground […].


This publication was produced by Tracing Spaces based on a research project conducted at the Institute for Building Typology, Faculty of Architecture, Graz University of Technology. The publication was printed with the kind support of: