St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the Orthodox Cathedral in Sofia. Built in a neo Byzantine style, this cathedral is the patriarchate of Bulgaria and one of the largest Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe. It is a symbol of the city and one of the main tourist attractions. After liberation, the National Assembly (in the city of Veliko Turnovo), made the decision to build the monumental St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It was made to honor the man ve defeated the Teutons during the Battle of Lake Ladog and also the Tsar Liberator, ve shared the same name. The cathedral measures 70 by 55 meters and is more than 2500 square meters in total. The first stone was laid in 1882 but the main construction didn´t begin until 1904. It was finally finished in 1916. In 1924, it was officially consecrated as patriarchal cathedral of the city. It´s obvious by the high quality art that the best Russian and Bulgarian craftsmen were hired for this work. The most beautiful icons are those of the Virgin and Jesus Christ.
A small church in the center of Sofia, near to the cathedral. Unlike the other churches that are in this city, the church demonstrates the strong relacionship this town has had with Russian. It reminds us of typical images of churches we see in a picture in Moscow or other Russian city, architecturally speaking. Surrounded by a small garden in front of a large avenue, which is very busy, it is the only thing that spoils the place, on the other hand its like a fairy tale. Inside like the rest of the country's churches the walls are decorated with paintings, which currently are covered by a black layer caused by smoke from candles (sometthing entirely normal in this country, it is amazing to see the walls of churches are burned). Free admission as in all places of worship in the country.
This is one of the iconic buildings in the center of Sofia. It is one of Sofia's Orthodox cathedrals and has suffered frequent damage over centuries, having been destroyed on several occasions only to be rebuilt. In 1925 it was destroyed by a bomb attack that killed 128 people. It is located in a large square which makes it possible to understand better from any angle its majesty and beauty.
The Tsar's Palace now houses the National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum. Built in 1873, it was the residence of the governor of the region during the Oromana occupation, with administrative offices and police headquarters on the lower floors. Vassil Levski was sentenced to death here. After liberation, it was the first building to be renovated, with a more contemporary Viennese style, and it became the palace of the first Bulgarian prince after the liberation, Alexander Battenberf. The palace was damaged by bombing during the Second World War. Today it's a pleasant yellow building with an art gallery at the top, brightening the place and making it seem less formal.
Banya Bashi Mosque is the main mosque in the city of Sofia. It used to part of a larger complex that included baths, which is why it has the name that it does. It is supposed to have been built by the great architect Sinan Kodja Minar - Janissary, who, according to legend, was from Rodopi, a town of Shiroka Luka. He is well known because it´s said that he built more than 80 mosques during his lifetime, including the beautiful mosque of Selim II in Edirne, Turkey. Sofia Mosque was built in 1576, and as travel accounts note from that period, it was absolutely beautiful. The interior is decorated with excerpts from the Quran that have been written in beautiful calligraphy. Behind the mosque, the remains of the baths have been excavated. Today, the mosque is still used by the Muslim community, which has declined considerably since the country's liberation from Ottoman rule. The mosque is only a five minute walk from the Jewish synagogue and the Catholic cathedral and not far from the Orthodox Church. This proves how tolerant the city really is.
The Sofia Synagogue is the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, and is a very beautiful building. Be careful! the synagogue can be visited every day except the day of the Sabbath, which is Saturday, this is when the city's Jewish community gather to pray. There is a memorial stone in the synagogue wall which records the blessing of the building on September 9, 1909, in the presence of members of Tsar's family. The style of the synagogue is a style called "Bulgarian National Romantic". The project was the work of the Austrian architect Grünanger. The temple consists of a central dome and a rectangular floor plan. The prayer hall is octogonal, separated by four pillars and arches from a central corridor. The altar is of white marble with a very nice parapet. Up to 1170 people can go pray there. Covered by an octagonal dome with a lantern, the dome is 20 meters in diameter and has a total height of 31 meters. The floor of the synagogue is covered with a multicolored mosaic. There is a small museum at the rear telling the culture and history of the Jewish community in Sofia.
On Rakovsky Street, also known as theatre street, if you take the Slavianska you will reach the most beautiful theatre in the city, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre. You cannot miss its stunning pink and white facade. It is the main National Theatre, showing Bulgarian national and international acts. It was built in 1906 in a neoclassical style and looks a little like a Greek temple as it is decorated with figures of Greek mythology. The triangle above the arches shows Apollo with the Muses and the towers on each side represent the goddess Nike. The interior was renovated in 1929 after it was destroyed by a fire six years earlier. The stage curtain is a work of art, woven by the artisans of Panagyurishte and represents the Tsar Ptitsa, or King Bird Stravinsky ballet. The main auditorium is beautifully decorated in a tasteful fasion and seats 850 people at full capacity.
The doors are open from 7 to 22:00 pm the doors of Central Market (Tsentralnihali), one of the busiest markets in the capital. The market is in the city center between the mosque and the synagogue, near the metro stop in Serdika Nedelya square. There are two floors full of food stalls, clothing, souvenirs, etc.. The building dates from 1909 and was restored in 1990. The entrance is Art Nouveau style and is decorated with the city's coat of arms, ending in a 3 sphere clock whose brilliant and original gear mechanism is conserved inside the market.
In front of the St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral stands the Hagia Sophia Church (Sveta Sofia), the oldest church in Sofia, and that which gives its name to the city. It is a building which at first glance does not overly inspire the visitor, as the numerous restorations it has undergone don't show its true age. It was built in the sixth century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian. During the long Turkish rule it was used as a mosque, until the nineteenth century when an earthquake knocked down one of its towers and it was abandoned as a centre of Islamic worship. Restorations began in 1900, and it became an important symbol of independent Bulgaria. Next to the church is the tomb of the unknown soldier.
This beautiful church is at the foot of Vitosha park surrounding Sofia. It is in a very green area, close to the museum of history of Bulgaria (formerly a communist pavilion). The interior paintings are fantastic and really surprised me. The easiest way to access it is by minibuses that have no bus stops but you can stop at any point in their journey, passing through the downtown boulevard Vasil Levsky. I do not remember the bus number but it is easy to ask. It leaves you in a somewhat deserted area and you have to walk about 5 minutes, but the whole experience is worthwhile. Some say the church is the most expensive tourist site in Bulgaria, since all are very cheap except for this one, a tip is to enter as a student and show them a card that looks like you, it decreases the price and they don't check often.
Close to the Sveti Georgi Roundabout is a small park in a courtyard which is the sitearch ofaeological excavations where they have discovered remains of Serdica, the second century Roman city. In this century the Romans were replacing the Macedonians as the main power in southeastern Europe and in 50 AD after destroying the Thracian kingdoms created the provinces of Moesia and Thrace. Serdika is an example of a city built by the Romans.
If you want to take a journey through the country's history, visit these barracks behind Nevski Cathedral. They remain here from the sixteenth century and are are now open to the public after a period of restoration. The revolutionaries and rebels who fought for the freedom of the country were arrested here in 1876. Among them was the pacifist Vasil Levski, a national hero, who was killed at this site. The barracks now represent all of those men who fought to be free. You can enter the barracks as they´re only closed by a gate. They aren´t very big, and probably dozens of prisoners were crammed here together. It was the beginning of a more violent protestation, leading Bulgaria to independence a few years later.
The Statue of Sofia is a recent addition, which was placed in the heart of the city in 2001. At the junction between the main Tzum Mall and the Sheraton Hotel, it stands behind the Nedelja Church. It is a sculpture 24 feet high, made of bronze and copper. The statue weighs than 4 tons and is the creation of the Bulgarian artist Georgi Chapkanov and the architect Stanislav Konstantinov. Sofia has in her hands the symbols of fame and wisdom, and wears the crown of Tjuhe, the goddess of fate. Sophia is obviously the patron saint of the Bulgarian capital. Now crossing, where the statue stands, is undergoing construction work and it does not do justice to thye sculpture , but it is a central neighborhood and when the work is finished it will certainly reappears as the emblem of the city.
Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, has always been a city of great religious tolerence. For example, when the Ottoman Turks invaded the country,they did not attempt to convert the Bulgarians to Islam, and still allowed them build Orthodox churches and keep going to different places of worship. Also, when you are in the heart of Sofia, on the famous Boulevard Marie Louise, you will find the Muslim mosque, the Jewish Synagogue, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. This Roman Catholic church was built very recently, which explains its very modern design. They built it on the site of the old Catholic cathedral that was destroyed during the Second World War. St. Joseph's Cathedral was only opened in May 2006. Building was started in 2002, with the foundation stone being laid by Pope John Paul II, which explains the presence of a statue of him next to the church. The main nave is 23 meters long, and the new bell tower is 33 meters high. It isn't very big, but Bulgaria is a mainly Orthodox country. The Cathedral can hold in excfess of 1000 people.
I like the night markets, it's something different to the morning ones. In the morning, you get this amazing light, people are still half asleep, perhaps the coolest products, but at night it's another thing. People do not come to buy food, fruit and vegetables for lunch the following days, but come to walk, to observe, to buy sweets and chat. During the day, there are some positions that remain there, but the tram passes and some cars so it's not as quiet as night. You can buy a little of everything, candied dried fruit, old books or used clothing. Not a big market at all. Only a few posts on this street that's wider than the rest. Try the grilled zucchini, eaten with salt and spices, very tasty!
At Zhenski Pazar market, you can find just about everything at an incredibly low price. I went with no intention of buying anything, and ended up taking home a bag of meat, sausages, honey, cakes and breads, and everything was delightful! You'll find goods here from all over the country, from potatoes and onions to household products, clothes, and a small second-hand section. On nearby streets, there are food stalls where people eat while visiting the market, with roasts, breads with yogurt sauce, all very fresh because it comes directly from the market. Be careful and keep an eye on your backpack, as it's always crowded, but overall it's worth a visit.
Vitosha Street leads from the peripheral boulevard Bulgaria to the heart of the city. Along its 2.5 km, there are dozens of shops, from international brands stores, fashion shoes and clothes, even the small shops that have been there for ages. A very nice place that is entirely pedestrian towards the center. Only the tram is allowed. Cars are diverted to parallel streets. The street is full from noon. Most shops do not open until 11 am, but they close pretty late, you can get your hair cut until 9 pm, or buy clothes sometimes until 10. There are some takeaway stalls too, and people go around in small groups eating pieces of pizza or pitas. Clothing prices are slightly cheaper than in Western Europe, but this is one of the most expensive places in the city. Cosmetics and luxury goods are more expensive than in Spain.