Sightseeing in Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia became capital of newly liberated Bulgaria on April 4, 1878 and is the second oldest capital city in Europe, next to Athens. There is a lot to see and do in this compact city and we started our orientation, following the yellow brick road.
In the city centre is the Statue of Sofia holding the symbol of wisdom and fame in her hands. A laurel wreath is interwoven into her hair and she also wears the crown of Tjuhe – the Goddess of Fate. The statue stands on a sixteen-meter high pylon riveted with stone and on which scenes of the city’s thousand-year old history are represented.
The National Assembly, National Theatre and other significant buildings are all linked by the yellow brick road. Also nearby is The Party House which sits on the intersection of two of the city’s main boulevards with the central square. You can’t miss this building as the row of colorful flags is really eye-catching and can be seen from a long distance. Up till August 1990 this was the seat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Today, the building is home to St. Sofia Hall and is used to host concerts and other events.
If you fancy a bit of shopping in Sofia, the TSUM is the biggest department store in the Balkans, it carries everything from religious icons and locally produced spirits to clothing and electronics. The TSUM can be found just behind the flags. We walked in and had a brief look and then it was out again. From the central city district, we walked south along Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard and at the intersection with Benkovski Street we came across the very exquisite and ornate St. Nikolai Russian Church. The roof of the church and area above the doorway are covered with green majolica tiles. These match perfectly with the gold-plated domes which glow in the light. The frescoes were painted in the style of the Novgorod icon school. This church is so beautiful to look at.
A left and right turn then takes us to St. Sofia Church, the oldest Eastern Orthodox Christian church in Sofia. St. Sofia was built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian between 527-565 A.D., however there are many legends surrounding its history. In the 14th century the church gave its name to the city. Minarets were added to the church during the Turkish rule so that it could function as a mosque. Two earthquakes in the 19th century destroyed one of the minarets and the mosque was then abandoned. Restoration work started after 1900. Two large marble lions guard the walkway to the church.
From St. Sofia Church it was an easy stroll to the massive and awe-inspiring St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The cathedral was built to commemorate the Russian Tsar Alexander II, whose army liberated Bulgaria from the Turkish rule. 200,000 Russian soldiers died in this war. It was also named after St. Alexander Nevsky, the patron saint of the Tsar and his family.