Lisets, Bulgaria – Population: Zero

(All Images Copyright Johann Brandstätter / JB Photography)

I always had an inclination toward history, the big picture as well as the small details. Before I moved to the Balkans, I was exploring shipwrecks during my fifteen-year career as a professional diver.

Now, with my diving days over, I found another field for my urge to explore the leftovers of bygone eras. For a  photo project I call ‘Abandoned – Ghost Villages in Bulgaria’ I research settlements that have been left by their inhabitants, travel there to document the remnants of these villages and try to catch the spirits of the past.

I had my eyes set on Lisets for quite a while, figuratively. During two earlier attempts I could not find the elusive village on the south side of Vitosha Mountain, just opposite from Sofia, but now I am determined to look as long as it takes. The weather is brilliant, promising nice light for the afternoon’s shooting.

After a bumpy drive to Yarlovo, I park my car and begin a brisk march up a dirt track. The path leads through a dense beech forest until after two hours I reach a clearing. Then, following  the path over level ground for some time, I finally spot the first roofs.

I take my time strolling towards the village center, looking for a house to explore a little closer, when I notice something peculiar: there are no power lines anywhere. After a look at several buildings I am convinced that this settlement was never connected to the power grid, there is no electricity!

Imagine to live on a mountain ridge with no proper road or sewage system, and on top of it all, nothing to power your fridge! Also, none of the houses I look into has a bathroom, so I assume there was no running water either.

Hardly surprising that official records show how most people finally seemed to have enough of living here and began to move to more convenient places in the 1960s.

I fight my way through thick underbrush to a two-storey building and start looking for a way in. In this part of Bulgaria every plant seems to have thorns, even the fruit trees have spikes the size of tooth picks and I get thoroughly scratched all over until I finally find an open door.

Before I enter, I try to get a peek through a dusty window and see a bedroom, the beds still made, some belongings of the owners strewn on the covers. Inside I look for old newspapers to help me find out until when the was occupied.

It seems that the man of the house was in the military for some time because old issues of the army newspaper were used for wallpaper. In the living room with a cast-iron stove and a few seats stripped from a car, I find what I am looking for: the date on a newspaper is July 1983.

In the same room I find a booklet about trucks and trailers, in French. Have they gone away to France, maybe while the communist regime was still in place? Or did they take the first opportunity after the revolution in 1989? I am sure that this house was left decades ago and although there are still clothes in the wardrobe, pots in the kitchen and a child’s notebook on the floor, the inhabitants will never come back to get their belongings.