The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers

The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers

9, Tzar Kaloyan Str.

The Church of St Petka of the Saddlers (Bulgarian: Църква „Света Петка Самарджийска“) is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

It is a small one-naved building partially dug into the ground located in the very centre of both the modern and the antique city, in the TZUM subway. The church features a semi-cylindrical vault, a hemispherical apse, and a crypt discovered during excavations after the Second World War. The walls are 1 m thick and made from brick and stone.

The church was first mentioned in the 16th century and was constructed at the place of a former Roman religious building. It is today a monument of culture known for its mural paintings from the 14th, 15th, 17th and 19th century depicting biblical scenes.

The church is dedicated to St Petka, an 11th-century Bulgarian saint. The Church of Saint Petka acquired its present name due to it being a patron of the saddlers in the Middle Ages, who performed their rituals in the church.

According to one theory, Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski is buried in the church. The theory was supported by the noted research worker of Levski Nikolay Haytov and to an extent backed by the 1956 excavations that discovered several skeletons in the crypt, as well as by press reports from 1937 retelling the stories of those who carried out the burial. The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology, however, does not support the view, which led to a harsh controversy in the 1980s that did not end with a conclusive decision.

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Fortress Ulpia Serdica

Fortress Ulpia Serdica

The fortress Serdica is an archeological site which is located in the centre of Sofia city. . Originally Serdica was founded as a Thracian settlement, but in 27 BC was conquered by the Romans. By the regime of Marcus Ulpius Trajan (98-117) the settlement was granted a status of the town under the name Ulpia Serdica. The fortress was built in 177-180 by the Roman emperors Mark Aurelius and Commodus.

The east side of the fortress was spreading from the green area in front of Rila hotel to the mineral spring at the cross-street between Serdica and Iskar streets. The north wall was reaching the corner of Ekzarh Joseph Street and Princess Maria Louisa Boulevard, from where the wall was going into south-west and was passing under the “Halite” Market. The western wall follows the directions of the streets Washington and Lavele and reaches today’s Courthouse. The southern wall has been documented that was under the Alabin buildings, in order to connect to the eastern wall at Rila hotel.

In the subway, in front of the former Communist party headquarter, the eastern city gate of the Late Antique Serdica has been revealed. It gives only a partial idea of the great fortress wall, encircling the former metropolis. People were able to enter into Serdica through four city gates, and there is an assumption that each one was decorated on the top with a large stone block with a solemn inscription, documenting the date of its construction. One of these blocks, which is not from the east, but from the north gate is exposed in the subway. The western gate can be seen partially under the level of Washington Street, in the courtyard of the in Catholic Cathedral.

In fact, the original wall was not sufficiently strong and due to that reason it was reconstructed, so the walls stood 10 meters above the ground, and the towers – 14 meters. In mid of VI century, under regime of Emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), Serdica is surrounded by new walls. The town became an important administrative and economic center under the name Triaditsa.

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The Church of St George

The Church of St George

The Church of St George (Bulgarian: Ротонда „Свети Георги“ Rotonda “Sveti Georgi”) is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia,when Sofia was a residence to the emperors Galerius and Konstantin The Great . It is situated behind the Sheraton Hotel, amid remains of the ancient town of Serdica.

The church is part of a bigger archaeological complex. Behind the apses is located a former roman street with preserved canalization system, the grounds of a big trinavel basilica, possibly a public building, as well as other small buildings. One of the buildings has the roman heating system – “hipocaust’. The tiles that lift the floor can be seen even today. The specialists name it as one of the most beautiful buildings in the so called “Konstantin’s quarter” of Serdica-Sredetz. There was located the palace of Emperor Konstantin The Great, and later the one of Sevastokrator Kaloyan. The building is preserved as a whole until this day, it is assumed that some of the most important sessions of the Serdica universal summit was held in here.

The rotunda is part of a big antique complex of buildings dating end of 3rd, beginning of 4th century. It is built with red bricks with complicated symmetric plan. The rotunda itself is a central dome room with an oval plan over square ground with semi-oval niches in the corners. It has been used for christening even in 4th century. The dome rises to 13.70 meters from the floor. During its millennial existence the building has been used as a public, cult, and even a residence building.

In 16th century during the Ottoman yoke it was turned to a mosque

. Mainly famous for the 12th-14th century frescoes inside the central dome. Three layers of frescoes have been discovered, the earliest dating back to the 10th century. Magnificent frescoes of 22 prophets over 2 metres tall crown the dome. Painted over during the Ottoman period, when the building was used as a mosque, these frescoes were only uncovered in the 20th century.

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Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky

Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky

The Church of St Alexander Nevsky is maybe the most popular symbol of the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia and Bulgaria as a whole. It is located in the heart of the city and is the cathedral of the Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch. Its high gilt domes are seen from many spots around the city and a reason for national pride of every Bulgarian.

The idea about erecting this magnificent Orthodox temple appeared right after the re-establishment of the autonomous and then independent state of Bulgaria after the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878. One of the mains supporters of the cause was the notable Bulgarian politician at the time – Petko Karavelov. The decision for starting the construction works of the cathedral was taken by the Constitutive Council held in the last medieval capital of Bulgaria – Veliko Tranovo in 1879. The financial funds were gathered by all Orthodox parishes in the country .

The construction works were symbolically started by the festively laying down of the first stone in 1882. The initial architectural design of the church was created by the Bulgarian architect Ivan Bogomilov. After his death a team of Russian architects led by Alexander Pomerantsev were called to Sofia. They entirely changed the first project. The final architectural plan was ready in 1898 and 6 years later (1904) the real construction works began. The cathedral was completed in 1912, right in the eve of the Balkan War and it can be said that it symbolizes the idea which was conquered the hearts of all Bulgarian at that time and which has not been achieved yet – the unification of all ethnically Bulgarian lands in one country. For the temple were spent more than 5 million leva (the Bulgarian currency).

As a gesture of thankfulness to Russia and its Emperor/Tsar Alexander II, also called “Tsar Liberator”, the temple was dedicated to the most honored Russian saint, a patron of Russia – St Alexander Nevsky. He was a prince of Novgorod in the 13th century and bravely defended the Russians, defeating the Swedish army in the Battle of the River Neva, from where comes his byname “Nevsky”. In 1916, when during the First World War the Russian Empire fought against Bulgaria, the Cathedral was renamed in “St. St. Kyril and Methodius” but only 4 years later its initial name was returned. In the 1990s a part of the wonder-working relics of St Alexander Nevsky was donated to Bulgaria by the Russian Patriarch and it is now kept next to the altar of the church.

A large number of Bulgarian and Russian icon-painters, sculptors, architects and builders took part in the process of decorating and painting the interior of the church. The external facing was started by Italian stonemasons and completed by their Bulgarian colleagues. The plaster casts of the various decorative ornaments on the facade were worked out by the sculptor Wilhelm Gloss. An active role in the construction and decoration works took the prominent Bulgarian architect Jordan Milanov.

The Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky has an architectural plan of a five-nave cross-domed basilica of Neo-Byzantine type, with an accent over the central dome and the belfry. Very expensive top quality materials were used in the interior and exterior decoration, including Italian marble specially imported for the case, onyx from Brazil, alabaster and others. The central dome is 45 m tall and there is an inscription with thin golden letters around it, telling the popular Christian Lord’s Prayer. The chandeliers were specially produced for the church in the German city of Munich.

The church has very spacious interiors with space of more than 3000 square meters. More than 5000 people can stand inside it, . St Alexander Nevsky was the biggest Orthodox church on the Balkans form 1912, when its building was completed, until 1984, when the Serbian Cathedral of St Sava in Beograd was completed. The belfry is the tallest part of St Alexander Nevsky, raising 53 m high to the sky. It has 12 bells bought from Moscow. The biggest of them has weight of 12 tons and the smallest – only 10 kilograms. All bells together weigh 23 tons.

Some of the most valuable works of the Bulgarian icon painting art are exhibited in the crypt of the cathedral. The exhibition is part of the Filial for Old Bulgarian Art to the National Art Gallery. Here you can see more than 300 icons, fragments of medieval frescoes and various elements from church decoration.

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The Russian Church of St Nikolay

The Russian Church of St Nikolay

3 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd

The Church of St Nikolay in Sofia, mostly know as the Russian Church, is one of the most elegant and beautiful Christian temples in Bulgaria. It lines up between the most interesting sights of Sofia, included in the list of the most important national architectural monuments. It is built in the fairytale architectural style of the Moscow churches from the 17th century. Its gilt onion-shaped domes lend even more charm and grace to it.

The initiative for its building comes from the Russian embassy in Sofia. Initially it was meant to be a small chapel only for the needs of the Russian diplomats in Bulgaria but it soon became a centre of the numerous Russian emigrants, who found refuge in Bulgaria after 1917.

The construction works started in the beginning of the 20th century and several years later the church was completed in 1914.. It stands on a plot of land, possessed by the Russian embassy, which is in the very heart of Sofia, on Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd (The Yellow Paving-Stones), close to the Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, the Parliament and the Presidency.

In the 1920s the Church of St Nikolay became the cultural centre of thousands of Russian whiteguard emigrants in Bulgaria. In the church held service Seraphim Sobolev – the archbishop of the Russian Orthodox parishes in the country. After his death he was buried in the crypt of the temple. Although Seraphim Sobolev has not been canonized for a saint, he is actually still honored as such. It is believed that his relics make wonders and heal ill people.

Soon after the Bulgarian political changes in 1944, the Russian Church became part of the diocese of the Moscow Patriarch and it is still possessed by the latter.

The architectural project of the church was designed by Michel Preobrazhenski, professor from the Saint Petersburg Art Academy. He also created the design of the Orthodox churches in Talinn and Florence. Preobrazhenski took an active role in the construction of the church-monument near Shipka, Bulgaria too.

The Church of St Nikolay consists of central domed premises without supporting domes, eastern altar part, western platform for pilgrims, north and south nave. The most remarkable elements from the exterior of the church are the ancient Russian styled domes in the characteristic onion shape, covered by a golden plate. They are five – the central and four smaller side domes. The magnificent mosaics in old Russian style are impressive too.

The church has two entrances – southern and northern. Each of them is covered by a ridge roof with triangular frontons, decorated with splendid icons of St Nikolay the Wondermaker (the southern one) and St Alexander Nevsky (the northern one).

The interiors of the church are painted by a team of Russian artists, lead by Professor V. Perminov. The walls and the ceiling in the northern nave depicts the magnificent composition “The Resurrection”. In the souther nave you can see the icons of St Nikolay, St Ivan Rilski and Christ Pantocrator. The last one dates back to the 18th century and was created by an unknown but very skillful Greek icon-painter.

The beauty of the interiors is very much exalted by the one-row majolica iconostasis. It is gracefully decorated with various multicolored ornaments and gilt. Duplicates of famous old Russian icons from the St Volodymyr’s Cathedral in Kiev are lined up on the iconostasis.IMG_3819 IMG_3821

The National Archaeological Museum

The National Archaeological Museum

2, Saborna Str.

The National Archaeological Museum

(Bulgarian: Национален археологически музей, Natsionalen arheologicheski muzey) is an archaeological museum in the centre of Sofia. . It occupies the building of the largest and oldest former Ottoman mosque in the city, Büyük camii (“Grand Mosque”), built around 1474 under Mehmed II. The museum was established as a separate entity in 1893 as the National Museum directed by Czech Václav Dobruský with its headquarters in the former mosque that previously housed the National Library between 1880 and 1893.

The museum was officially opened and inaugurated in 1905, as by then all archaeological exhibits previously kept all over the city were moved there,

Several additional halls and administrative buildings of the museum were constructed in the following years, which continues to use the historic stone building of the old mosque despite the often unfavourable conditions, notably the humidity in the summer. The museum has five exhibition halls: Central Hall, Prehistory, Middle Ages, Treasure, and a special temporary exhibition. It is managed by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Currently the museum houses the largest numismatic collection in the country with over 300 000 items.

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The Ethnographic Institute and Museum

The Ethnographic Institute and Museum

6A, Moskovska Str.

The Ethnographic Institute and Museum (EIM) is a specific unit within the system of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, where the science ethnology is developing as well as the preservation of cultural and ethnographic treasures of Bulgarians from the past.

The first step towards the constitution of Bulgarian museum was the establishment in Sofia of the Public Library with a Museum (28. 11/ 10.12. 1878). It was in this way the ideas of Prof. Marin Drinov – founder of BAS, for the creation of a museum at the Bulgarian Scientific Society in Braila, could be successfully realized after the Liberation in the capital. The emergence of the National Ethnographic Museum has been laid in 1892 with the constitution of the National Museum at the Public library (3. 09. 1892), with three departments: Numismatic, Ancient and Ethnographic.

The National Ethnographic Museum is situated in the building of the former Royal Palace – one of the oldest buildings in Sofia with quite an interesting history. In 1873 at the same spot was built the Conak where Bulgarian national hero Vassil Levski was imprisoned and convicted. The building was constructed over the foundations of the former Pasha’s Saray which had burnt in a fire in 1816. The central entrance with a big balcony over the gates still exists but renovated.


The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

The palace, which initially served as the residence of the Prince and later – of the King, was among the first symbols of Sofia, following its proclamation capital city of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom.

Located on top of a hill in a place of historical significance, related to the symbols of statehood, the existing building of the Turkish konak, which had been restored in 1873-1875 after a fire, was determined and reconstructed to serve as the residence of the Prince.

In 1879 Prince Alexander Battenberg undertook a thorough reconstruction of the palace and entrusted the Austrian architect Viktor Rumpelmayer with the design. The project was executed by the foreign architects Kollar, Grünanger, Leers, Mayerberg etc. The inauguration of the reconstructed palace was marked with an unprecedented New Year Ball in 1883.

Along with the reconstruction of the building, the “Battenberg Plan” included the surroundings of the palace, which were re-planned and turned into a 2-hectar large park, lined with an impressive iron fence. The park was distinguished for its stately decorative southern part and verdure-abundant northern section. The park was designed by Anton Kollar and Viktor Rumpelmayer and the Prince  invited Karl Betz in 1879, to take care of its upkeep.

Prince Ferdinand I, who acceded to the throne in August 1887, undertook the  further reconstruction of the palace building. The Austro-Hungarian architect Friedrich Grünanger in collaboration with architects  Lazarov and Grais executed the reconstruction, which lasted almost till the year 1900. Upon completion, the built-up area covered 25 000 square meters and had 60 premises.

Prince Ferdinand turned the palace into “the most exquisite and finely kept palace in Europe”. The general architectural outline of the palace is eclectic in essence and combines the dynamism of Viennese Neo-Baroque with the tranquil Rennaissance elements both in decoration and general composition.

The park, surrounding the palace was a key element of the architectural ensemble. Its outline was enriched with plant species, decorative lighting, colourful floral compositions and fountains. It is believed, that Prince Ferdinand also contributed with ideas to the design of the park.

The Royal palace and its surroundings hold a significant place in the city planning and architectural outline. It is not a typical palatial complex, but a homogenous ensemble, incorporating public areas and architectural design of buildings, which form an emblematic public nucleus of the capital city. With a preference for the academic and traditional style, this architectural ensemble has had a lasting impact on the development of the central part of the city.


House museum of Petko and Pencho Slaveikovy

House museum of Petko and Pencho Slaveikovy

138, G. S. Rakovsky str.

Petko (1827-1895) and Pencho (1867-1912) Slaveykovi are father and son. They are great Bulgarian writers, poets, publicists, folklore researchers and politicians from the XIX-th and early of XX-th century.

The museum houses an unique collection of materials of the urban life from the end of 18th to the beginning of the 20th century. The main fund consists of 80 000 manuscripts of father and son Slaveikovy, the personal library of Petko (162 volumes) and Pencho (about 2000 volumes) Slaveikov, 600 original photographs, 150 paintings by famous Bulgarian classics, furniture, items, ethnographic collection, owned by Slaveikov family and the poet Mara Belcheva

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Peyo Yavorov Museum House

Peyo Yavorov Museum House

136 G.S. Rakovski str.

The Romantic poet and revolutionary Peyo Yavorov (1878–1914) lived in this house, located on the famous Rakovski Str. from 29th of November 1912 to the tragic night of 30th November 1913, along with Lora Karavelova. Since 1963 the house is a functioning museum, gathering precious collections of manuscripts, original photographs, poet’s personal library, his first signed editions, his weapon collection. It also houses personal items of Peyo Yavorov, Mina Todorova and Lora Karavelova, paintings, graphic sheets and plastic sculptures by famous Bulgarian artists. The exposition of poet’s cabinet shows the family nest of Yavorov and Lora. Here is recreated the house with the original furniture of the last home of the poet on Solunska Str.