Freelance writer and avid adventure-seeker Darmon Richter is well-versed in the art of ” urban exploration,” or the practice of exploring “derelict, closed and normally inaccessible built environments” (in other words, scaling the fence and ignoring the DO NOT ENTER signs).
His fascination with the road less traveled (usually for legal reasons) has taken him to a Buddhist Hell Garden in Thailand, a stone forest in Bulgaria, and a local market in North Korea where tiny little old ladies happily sold him several large bags of weed.
Richter is now scouring Eastern Europe for its darkest and least hospitable attractions, and recently came across a Soviet-era circus languishing in disrepair in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau (a 15th century town with its own macabre history). Designed in 1981 by Semion Shoikhet and A. Kirichenko, the circus once entertained nearly 2,000 people per show with clowns, trapeze artists, bears, lions and elephants. Today, the arena sits in darkness, its once grand staircase collecting dust while its graying murals are covered in anarchist graffiti and decapitated tigers.
Richter acknowledges that the dilapidated building “may give the impression of a faded monument to a forgotten regime.” But a deeper exploration of the building, as seen in these photos, and the circus’ history, reveals “that the Chisinau Circus is not as dead as it seems — but rather, merely sleeping.”
The circus in Chisinau, Moldova stands derelict -- surrounded by a large paved area which had once teemed with life.
Above the entrance to the circus a crest is formed from the figures of two clowns, one of them now missing its head.
The ticket desk, inside the circus building, displays faded posters for past shows and performances.
Adorning the arch above a staircase, a grand mural details circus animals such as elephants, tigers and monkeys.
A close-up of the mural reveals the extent of the damage. The lower-hanging figures have been smashed, seemingly the work of vandals.
Inside the circus ring. Designed to seat 1,900 spectators, this arena hasn't seen a performance since 2004.
There are a number of secure storerooms in the backstage area. Some of these would have housed performing animals.
A dressing room on the top floor of the circus seems to have been used more recently as an art studio.
The soundboard of a piano lies abandoned in one of the backstage corridors near the top of the building.
The walls are adorned with circus scenes: featuring clowns, exotic animals and even mythical creatures such as mermaids.
Another large, sculpted installation depicts jugglers, monkeys and birds, as well as a girl apparently taming lions.
Peering into the main arena, from the first floor balcony. This is the view that would have greeted spectators on arrival.
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