Anyone for tennis? In Sofia, locals are finding creative ways to save the city centre

16 August 2019
Text: Liza Premiyak
Aerial photography: Dimitar Karanikolov

Last month, a tennis court appeared in the centre of Sofia, Bulgaria. There were none of the strawberries, champagne, and celebrity-gazing you’d find at Wimbledon, however. This drone shot gives you a view of the court, which on closer inspection is constructed out of toilet paper, held down by stones. Two opponents lie defeated on the ground, but the real battle is beyond the frame. The tennis match was part of a viral performance protesting the never-ending “reconstruction” of the city centre.

The nearby Ivan Vazov National Theatre (named after one of Bulgaria’s most acclaimed poets) is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. Yet this street, situated between the theatre and Sofia University, is constantly closed off for construction. The latest attempt at “beautifying” the street — which is still ongoing — has left it looking like a clay court.

Its terracotta colour inspired locals Dimitar Karanikolov and Momchil Zakhariev to reclaim the street with an impromptu tennis court to raise awareness of the urban problems suffered by the capital. The performance went viral online and made it on to two national TV channels. The stunt revealed that Ivan Vazov is a microcosm for a whole list of urban issues in the ever-growing capital, the result of chaotic planning carried out without any clear idea of how best to utilise the resources available.

In response to locals’ dissatisfaction, the city’s chief architect, Zdravko Zdravkov, recently brought in well-known Danish urban consultant Jan Gehl to improve the quality of life in Sofia. However, Gehl’s suggestion to limit parking spaces by 70 per cent to introduce more green spaces into the capital was met with protest from a large number of locals. The tennis court was a temporary attempt to bring these residents together to battle it out on contested terrain.

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