Being relatively new in the city of Sofia, and after hearing about the Sofia Free Tour from our supervisor, we decided it was about time to see more of the city. Therefore, in no time, the three of us were on our way to the Sofia Court House, where the tour was about to start. What we did not expect was to find so many people gathered in front of this beautiful institution, closely chatting to each other in small groups, and impatiently waiting for the tour guide to lead the way.
Once he appeared, what we noticed about him was that he was a very cheerful, happy, and very interesting entertainer. Before we actually began the tour, the members of the Sofia Free Tour introduced a poster with some note written on it, and soon enough it was all as clear as ice. They were celebrating the 100,000th guest of the tour. For this particular event, they introduced a game. We were all supposed to write our names on a piece of paper, put the papers into a ‘magic hat’, and wait until the end of the tour to find out who was a winner, and what the prize was. After taking a photo in front of the poster, we started our tour.
St. Nedelya Church was second place to see on our list. It is an Eastern Orthodox church in Sofia.
After that, we headed straight to the Saint Sofia Statue, which left us speechless. This grandiose statue was erected in 2000, and stands in a spot where a statue of Lenin used to be
.The church “St. Petka Samardzhiyska” was built on the remains of a Roman cult building and dates back to the 11th century. The wall paintings, which can nowadays be seen in the interior, were painted in the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century. The temple is operational. Its memorial day is celebrated on 28 October – the day of St. Petka.
Quite close to the church St.Petka is Serdica Ancient Fortress. The remains of the ancient fortress Serdika are presented in the underpass between the Presidency and the Council of Ministers in Sofia City. Serdika was the favorite town of the Roman emperor Konstantin the Great (306 – 337), who loved to say “Serdika is my Rome”.
Across the Balkans, religious tensions stubbornly keep on rolling alongside life. They seem to not be able to just stay the matters of the past. But in Sofia, there are four active religious sites in the city center, and Sofians proudly called it the Square of Tolerance. Those four religious sites are:
- Banya Bashi Mosque – part of a bigger complex featuring a big public baths building (still here but not functioning), hence the name ‘banya’= ‘bath’.
- The Sveti Yosif (St Joseph) Catholic Cathedral was completely destroyed by the Americans in a bombing of Sofia during WW2 and was rebuilt only recently.
- The synagogue is the biggest Sephardic temple in Europe.
- The Sveta Nedelya Cathedral was blown in an assault carried out by the Communist Party in 1925, (which we have already mentioned in the beginning of the article).
The next steps took us to the old Public Bath, a natural hot spring, build in 1913. It was designed by the distinguished architect Petko Momchilov. The Bath combines the Neo-Byzantine style with the Secession art movement and Oriental elements.
The St. George Rotunda is a 4th century church, making it the oldest building in Sofia preserved together with the roof. In the Roman Empire, the church was one of the main centers of Christianity.
One of the things that took our breaths away was The City Garden. It is a beautiful place to take a break from the rush of the city and the turbulence of the modern quick life.
A beautiful park filled with flowers, cafes, swings, flowerbeds, and a lovely fountain, where the usual sight are men gathers for a game of chess. The City Garden is surrounded by the City Gallery, The National Theater, the Bulgarian National Bank and the Ministry of Defense. The most recognizable sight is a sculpture of a female dancer in front of the National Theater Ivan Vazov.
The theater opened for performances in the early 20th century (1907). It was build in the 6th century and was quite fascinating at that time.
The theater, build in Neoclassical Style, was designed by two famous architects from Vienna – Helmer and Fellner.
The church “St. Sofia” (God’s Wisdom) is situated in the center of Bulgaria’s capital, in close proximity to the Monumental Temple “Alexander Nevski”. It is one of the oldest churches in Sofia and its history is closely related to the history of the city. Nowadays the temple is considered one of the symbols of Sofia. This is a basilica, which, if seen above, resembles a cross. Bellow the current construction two older temples have been discovered.
Our two-hour Sofia Tour came to an end at the St. Alexander Nevski Church. The first stone of the cathedral was laid down in 1882, but it was finished in 1912. It was designed by the Russian architect and it is named after a famous Russian prince from the 13th century, Alexander Nevski.