Worker holidays. Tourism infrastructure in socialist countries | Jelena Prokopljević

Hoteles en Saturn, Rumanía, 1972
Hotel in Saturn, Rumanía, 1972

Like the right to work, the 8-hour day and two days of weekly rest, the socialist working class had a number of days off for annual rest. The number of days depended on the type of work they performed, their difficulty or danger to health, the level of responsibility of the worker within their unit of work or their position in the hierarchy of the party. With this premise, from the 50s, the new socialist governments began to create the network of holiday establishments for workers-and to renew and expand existing ones-and to encourage interest in tourism among the popular masses.

“In light of the decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee [of 1949], the objective of the General Labor Union is to turn mass tourism into a great phenomenon of movement of crowds (…) It is necessary to show the working class that tourism is a school, that trains personalities, creates good people, develops a sense of direction, courage, initiative, reinforces solidarity and companionship”.1

In the first years, tourism had mainly educational character: it was considered a school of patriotism and collectivism based on direct knowledge of the most important localities of each country. Cultural and historical monuments or mythical places of the revolution were visited on collective trips organized from the places of work or study.

“Know your country to love it more”

it was the Yugoslav motto that encouraged travel. After the great public works and voluntary work, trips were the best school of controlled collectivism. Since the 50 began to build the resorts -resorts- vacation belonging to different companies or groups, such as the communist youth and pioneers, retirees and the union of war veterans. This type of collective vacation was stimulated, from the speeches in the meetings of work and economically thanks to the subsidies of the trade unions.

The development of mass labor tourism was one of the consequences of the urbanization of society, since the workers were driven to travel to rest centers and not to their places of origin, often in rural areas. On the basis of workers’ residences, they began to prefer and develop some zones above others, making tourism more numerous towards the maritime coast. Between the socialist countries two seas crystallized: the Adriatic and the Black (followed by the Baltic) as the preferred ones to spend the summer holidays. From the 1960s these two coasts began to develop their tourist potential and to build, apart from the workers ‘and trade unionists’ resorts, hotels of different categories, campsites and to reform complexes of cultural interest. Between the 50s and 80s, the number of local visitors in the new tourist centers on the Adriatic coast multiplied by 10 descending, in parallel, the number of visits to the collective holiday resorts in favor of more individual trips in the hotels of the coast .

The new hotel complexes were the object of study and experimentation that for three decades generated an interesting debate and a multitude of constructions and solutions that dialogue with the landscape or with the historic centers of the coastal cities. In Yugoslavia, in the 60s, the entire Adriatic coast was planned from Slovenia to Montenegro and the border with Albania with the aim of improving the accessibility to the places, the road network, the water and electricity supplies, to find an optimal relationship between the tourist centers and historic centers and be respectful of the natural environment. The east coast of the Adriatic was especially interesting for the development of tourism, not only national and not only of the socialist countries. The unspoilt landscape of sea and mountains, the abundance of small medieval cities and some Roman along the coast made it attractive also for Western tourism. The political orientation of Yugoslavia – of not belonging to either of the two blocs and advocating the movement of non-aligned countries – favored the opening of borders and the creation of a powerful tourism industry, especially since the 1960s

In the Black Sea, traditional sanatoriums in the Crimean peninsula, especially in Yalta and Alushta, multiplied among the complexes built by different companies and social organizations. They were also complemented with own contents of hotel centers. On the coast of Romania, in the region of the historic city of Constance, several resorts were founded in the 70s: Olimp, Neptun, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. In Bulgaria the new center par excellence was Albena, founded in 1960. The architecture of these centers varied according to the decade, country and place, but a common point was the total design of the environments, both the exterior and the interior, the creation of special spaces with airs of glamor visible especially in the lobbies and hotel restaurants. For the most part, the architects of these hotel complexes were the most prestigious in each country and in the decoration of interiors famous painters and sculptors intervened, so that they became small museums of modern art. The macro-hotels of the socialist countries were, like all public buildings, the showcase of the qualities of the system.

You could talk about typologies: of the hotels that followed the international style, with pure and imposing volumetry on nature, as for example the hotel Pelegrin de Kupari (Croatia) of 1962, the huge hotel Yalta in Yalta (Ukraine) of 1977 and hotels of Saturn or Venus (Romania) from 1970-1972. As a general rule, the new hotel centers were not built in historical centers, to preserve the formal and significant autonomy of both groups, as well as they were also rarely built on the seafront to conserve local ecosystems. Some hotels used the topography to highlight a spectacular form as the famous Druzhba sanatorium in Yalta, built on a slope that descends towards the beach, in 1985 by the architects Igor Vasilevsky, Yurij Stefanchuk, V. Divnov, L. Kesler. The large drum with 6 floors of rooms is supported by three vertical communication cores, between which a hall and a spectacular vertical vacuum are formed. The areas of public use: restaurants and rooms, occupy the separation floors between the levels of rooms, also highlighting the idea so present in the exterior form, of the individual accommodation unit. The main access is through the walkway and from the upper levels of the building.

The pyramids: hotels Eliza, Nona and Boryana of Albena in Bulgaria, of the 60s, or hotels in Olimp or Jupiter on the Romanian coast of the 70s, share the relationship with the terrain (this time flat) that highlights the shape of the building that develop in different wings to satisfy the desire to have the maximum number of rooms oriented towards the sea. These hotels also begin to highlight, in the external form also, the individuality of the spaces destined to the vacations. Several of the hotels built in the 70s on the Yugoslav coast were completely integrated into the topography. Following the inclination of the land, the hotels like Libertas of Dubrovnik, Adriatic of Opatija in Croatia or As of Perazića Do in Montenegro, developed their contents downwards: from the main entrance on the road and in the highest part of the set, towards the lower levels that reach the beach. Reflecting Habitat ’67 of Montreal or the ideas of metabolism, its form was generated starting from the particular room as the module for the construction of the whole. The individual character of the holidays, in contrast to its initial collectivism, thus had its formal representation.

Contrary to the compact typologies, some resorts were designed in the form of villages, several pavilions, houses or small hotels grouped around a central street – sometimes with shops and cafes – that led to the central pavilion that grouped the collective uses as dining rooms , different rooms and technical spaces. Several of these groups were built on the Adriatic coast, on the Babin Kuk peninsula near Dubrovnik or in Budva in Montenegro, using local forms and materials. In addition, in Montenegro an old fishing village – San Stefan – was converted into a hotel and was reserved only for Western tourists. A special case was the Haludovo resort on the island of Krk, with the Palace hotel opened in 1972. The resort was promoted by the American entrepreneur Bob Guccione, editor of the Penthouse magazine and in fact carried that name: Penthouse Adriatic, with the objective to attract the well-to-do class of the US or Western Europe, basing a good part of the expected revenues on the game. The hotel was known for its design -the architect Boris Magaš- as well as for all kinds of luxuries and extravagances and decadence. The advertising campaign exploited its position “behind the Iron Curtain” (although erroneously), to reflect the magazine’s own vision that la dolce vita will smooth the systemic and political differences.

The holiday macro-structure built to promote mass tourism fulfilled a contradictory role: to respond to overcrowding and at the same time integrate into the landscape, respect the views, materials and local structures. Its scale and position had an important impact on the functioning of the nearby coastal nuclei, creating their own environments, in some cases more glamorous and attractive than the historic cities themselves, because of the better supply of consumer goods or the possibility of mixing people from different origins. The centralized planning, but very careful from the town halls and from the local architectural and urbanistic institutes, tended that the macro holiday structure was controlled and limited from the historical, social and ecological point of view. The change to the economy of the market has readjusted these balances, densifying the structures in the places of greater demand and leaving to the oblivion some mythical hotels. However, the vast majority have been the material basis for the tourism industry of the new capitalist countries emerged from socialism and its structure has allowed the total adaptation of these centers to the technologies and content of today’s tourism.

Jelena Prokopljević. PhD Architect.
Barcelona. August 2014


Adelina Oana Stefan, Imagining the “Class”: Social Tourism and the Making of the Working Class in Socialist Romania during the 1950s-1960s.



blog LA76’s


Modernism In-between The Mediatory Architectures of Socialist YugoslaviaWolfgang Thaler, Maroje Mrduljaš, Vladimir Kulić; Editorial Jovis, 2012.

Jelena Prokopljević

Arquitecta e investigadora serbia, titulada por la Universidad de Belgrado, y residente en Barcelona, miembro del Comité de Expertos del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público Urbano desde la edición del 2014. Se doctoró en 2006 en la ETSAB, ciudad en la que reside y trabaja. Ha colaborado con la plataforma Eurasian Hub en proyectos de transformación urbana y ha sido responsable del área de arquitectura y urbanismo en la Casa del Este, organización radicada en Barcelona y dedicada a promover la cooperación con la Europa Central y Oriental. Entre sus publicaciones más destacadas, consta el libro Corea del Norte: Utopía de hormigón; arquitectura y urbanismo al servicio de una ideología (escrito con Roger Mateos, 2012) y el artículo «Espacio público en la ciudad socialista: entre la abundancia y la indefinición», publicado en URBS, revista de estudios urbanos y ciencias sociales. Además, suele impartir conferencias y participar en coloquios en lugares como la ETSAB, la Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), la fundación Amigos de la UNESCO de Barcelona o la Universidad Ion Mincu de Bucarest. Prokopljević es miembro del Comité de expertos del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público Urbano desde su edición de 2014.

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