March 2, 2017

Behind The Fence (Infiltrating Aytos' Military Past)

The long green fence is one of the clearest memories from my childhood in Aytos. Strewn along the stone-paved “Hadzhi Dimitar” street, it spanned the whole length of one of the biggest streets in this relatively small town. Today, the paving stones have long given way to the more modern asphalt surface, but the fence still remains, guarding the secrets of the past. Back in the day, as far as we children could see through the narrow gaps in the proverbial wall, there existed a different world on the other side. It featured wide green meadows, various obstacle courses and outdoor exercise equipment, imposing tall buildings and the occasional youthful-looking soldier, wandering around the large courtyard, or, sometimes, hiding behind the other side of the fence, waiting for an opportune moment to scare a kid that had dared to walk onto the concrete base of the partition.  

In the town, at least from what I can remember, the otherworldly and highly-intriguing complex was known simply as ‘the barracks’. These ‘barracks’ actually began life as the buildings of a hospitality and agriculture school for girls in the 1940s. In 1951, the newly-formed 21st Infantry Regiment of the Bulgarian People’s Army moved into the complex of the former school. The 21st Infantry Regiment existed until the changes of 1958-1960, when it was replaced by the 21st Mechanized Infantry Regiment, as part of the Third Army. The 21st Mechanized Infantry Regiment was itself disbanded in December of 1960, vacating the military base it was housed in. The 24th Tank Brigade, created in the beginning of 1961, took over the complex, remaining there until the end of its existence in 1998. During that year, the center was converted into a basic training center for recruits of the then still mandatory military service.

This final transition marked the beginning of the end, and the complex closed its doors permanently a few years later, giving way to a slow-but-certain disintegration and oblivion at the hands of time. During the years, my fascination with this place, first awakened when I was still a child in my home town of Aytos, never left me. On the contrary, the desire to explore the abandoned stories of the past and, once and for all, verify for myself the contents of the world behind the fence, grew even stronger after the closure of the military base. During the summer of 2016, along with my friends and colleagues from, I decided that it was time to finally investigate the remains of Aytos’ glorious military past. The former home of the 24th Tank Brigade has long been sitting in abandonment,  and time forgives not. Weeds have now completely taken over the grounds, some rising well-above a person’s height, and almost completely obscuring what were once impressive and grand-looking structures. It is obvious that the buildings will soon give way under the constant pressure exerted by the elements. But despite the ruined and dismal state of what was once the home of a proud part of the Bulgarian Army, I was glad that I was finally able to see behind the infamous fence, before time completely buries the memories in its inevitable finality.    

I will let the images present what we discovered on the other side:

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