Although a small village in Bulgaria might not seem a likely canvas for street art, every summer a group of young artists gather there to give the rural facades a new lick of paint.

Formerly chalky white, the beautiful houses are now getting makeovers ranging from paintings of domestic animals to giant portraits of celebrities and politicians of different eras.

It all started in 2015, when Ventsislav Piryankov, an artist and teacher at the University of Fine Arts in Poznań, Poland, decided to decorate the shady alleys of the village in themed street art. Once his grandparents’ home-place, now it is the home of a vibrant mural festival, held every summer between July and August.

Staro Zhelezare Street Art Village Festival

Staro Zhelezare Street Art Village Festival aims at promoting arts for social change. It is the space where world-known politicians can be seen walking along the ordinary villagers, pictured as part of the everyday rural life. There’s UK’s Theresa May talking to a shepherd with a flock of sheep, US President Donald Trump in the company of a cow, John Kennedy’s portrait, carried in a garden cart by an old Bulgarian farmer. And many more abstract paintings of real-life people.

Staro Zhelezare is a different kind of art scene. It is the ‘Village of Personalities’. One can literally lose himself amidst the striking portraits on fences and walls – beatifully painted by the talented art students from Poznań.

Less than two hours southeast of the capital city of Sofia, the village has so much to offer to street art lovers in contrast to the the well-known urban feel. There’s artwork around practically every corner of Staro Zhelezare. Allow yourself at least half a day to see this open-air gallery of whimsical murals.

Until now there have been five editions of the festival:

  • 2015 – In the summer of 2015, a dozen of artists gathered to transform the blank facades into masterpieces, presenting local people in the company of famous politicians, actors, musicians, or culture activists.
  • 2016 – ‘The Village of Personalities’ was the theme of that year’s edition of the fest, organised to promote multiculture and social transformation. Individual borders should disappear to make way to diversity and global tolerance. After all, we are all descendants of migrants in search of a happy place to settle. It doesn’t matter if you are royal or a farmer.
  • 2017 – Continuing the ‘The Village of Personalities’, in 2017 the focus was put on rural art and the idea of reviving the once lively Bulgarian villages. As a part of the avant-guarde project, one can stumble upon some really intriguing slogans around the place: “The village is the real source of progressive ideas”, or “All artists should gather in the village”. To change the socium the artists should be at the barricades.
  • 2018 – The original goal of mural art is to reach people. То take art out of museums. The year of 2018 brought The Museum of Modern Art, New York, (MoMA) to Staro Zhelazare. Some of the most iconic art pieces were recreated on the facades of the houses along one of the village streets: Wassily Kandinsky’s ‘Picture with an Archer’, ‘Reclining Nude’ of Amedeo Modigliani and Alphonse Mucha’s ‘Salome’, the Dutch-American expressionist Willem de Kooning and his “Women”, Keith Haring… This is just a short list of the names in the thought-provoking art collection.
  • 2019 –  The 5th edition was centered around the theme of ‘Utopia’ – dreaming of a brighter future together with longing for the past. The creative nostalgia, inspired by John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and ‘Strange Is This World’ by Czeslaw Niemen, filled the house walls with dancing Jews, La Catrina from Mexian Día de los Muertos, Bulgarian ‘kukeri’ scaring evil spirits away… and ‘Pulp’s Fiction’ emblematic scene of Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing twist.  

Browse the gallery

Where to stay in Staro Zhelezare

There are various accommodations options to choose from around the village – you can either stay in the city of Plovdiv (a must-visit itself), or book a weekend in the nearby SPA resorts like Hissarya.

However, if in addition to graffiti and SPA procedures, you are a wine-lover as well, we recommend you choose Starosel Winery & SPA Complex. The place is gorgeous – there’s a wine tasting tours, open and closed mineral water-pool, jacuzzi and different SPA treatment to pamper yourself, while enjoying the view over the vineyards.

The village of Staro Zhelezare is about 10 minutes away by car.

Written by Marcie

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