The Central Baths (Tsentralnata Banya) – Sofia, Bulgaria
Behind the TZUM shopping mall there are a number of interesting historical sites, one of these being the Central Mineral Baths. With its colorful ceramic mosaics on the facades, it is a landmark in the center of Sofia. Project design commenced as early as 1889 and submissions by an Austrian architect in 1889 and another by a French architect in 1901 were declined. The successful design by architects Petko Momchilov and Friedrich Grünanger in 1904-1905 was approved in January 1906, incorporating the Vienna Secession style but at the same time also integrating typically Bulgarian, Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox ornamental elements. (In 1897, a group of young artists led by Gustav Klimt broke away from classicism and formed the Vienna Secession. These artists and architects rejected academic traditions and sought new modes of expression.) The building’s ceramic majolica decoration were designed by Haralampi Tachev and St. Dimitrov.
The base construction completed in 1908 and a Bulgarian company constructed the complex roof and the mineral water unit. It was opened to the public in 1911 as a public bath with separate facilities for men and women but the officially opening took place on 13 May 1913. It took then another two years before the building was completely finished and a garden installed in front of the Baths.
During World War II, the north wing suffered damage during the bombing of Sofia. It was restored several years later and continued to work as public baths until 1986, when it was closed due to its bad condition and concerns about the stability of the roof.
It is currently being refurbished and will eventually house the first City Museum dedicated to the History of Sofia as well as be used as a hydrotherapy center. Apparently locals queue everyday to collect the warm mineral water at the tapped springs in the park area. There are some benches in the garden where you can sit and enjoy the atmosphere and we did just that, whilst we consumed the snack that we bought from the nearby Halite food market.