Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sofia, Bulgaria

After wandering around the Rila Monastery, we jumped back in the car we drove to Sofia, the capital and biggest city of Bulgaria. The GPS lost us several times as obviously new motorways have been built since the maps were put in by Garmin, but we ignored it and managed to find our way.

Our apartment was lovely – two big bedrooms on the top floor!  We didn't waste any time, just downed our luggage then set off to explore Sofia at night – walking around and seeing some of the amazing buildings, ancient churches, and we had a bit of fun doing night photography as well.  We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant trying out local food. My health was improving but Anne was now getting sick with the same bug, which I found out later I had caught in Finland as Jaana also had come down with it after we left.

After leaving the apartment we headed down the road to the main avenue - which was not far from the apartment and admired the light of the setting sun on the building which is the National Assembly office building, which has been proclaimed a monument of culture for its historic significance. 

It was designed in Neo-Renaissance style by a Serbian-Bulgarian architect who received his education in  Vienna and Switzerland and whose other works include the Parliament of Serbia building. It was constructed between 1884 and 1886 by Friederich Wilhelm Gustav Liebe, a young builder from Saxony who was only 22 years old when construction began. The site on which the building is now situated used to be a Turkish cemetery.  The building is depicted on the reverse of the Bulgarian 20 leva banknote, issued in 1999 and 2007.

Looking back the other way into the setting sun, downtown Sofia is really beautiful. 

At the top image at the far right edge you can see a doorway. We ducked through that and came to this ancient church in the middle of a square surrounded in buildings. Originally built for public purposes by Romans in the 4th century, it was converted to a baptistery after the recognition of Christianity as a religion in the Roman Empire and eventually became a church. During the Ottoman rule the Rotunda St George was transformed into a mosque. The Christian paintings on the walls were obliterated with white plaster and in their place were painted floral motifs. After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 the Rotunda was deserted until the death of Prince Alexander Battenberg, when it was transformed into a mausoleum. Its restoration began in 1915. These days the temple is operational and performs daily worships in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We were there and a service was going on at the time. The service was chanted/sung by a male and the voice was resonant and beautiful. I wanted to take a photo, but felt I couldn't. We didn't stay long and went back out to explore.

We walked around the church and found the ancient ruins of Serdica, the city that preceded Sofia.

We went out another door and came out closer to the National Assembly office building again.  I can't find anything on the red building next to it, but I'm hoping someone may know and contact me to tell me!

The sun was getting lower but still casting beautiful light. 

We then stumbled across the St Nikolaj the Miracle Maker Church.  A Russian church that was built in 1914 on the site of the Saray Mosque which was destroyed in 1882 after the liberation of Bulgaria by Russia from the Ottoman Empire. It was built as the official church of the Russian Embassy which was located next door, and of the Russian community in Sofia, and was named, as was the tradition for diplomatic churches, for the patron saint of the Emperor who ruled Russia at the time, Nicholas II of Russia. It was designed in the Russian Revival Stye with decoration inspired by the Muscovite Russian churches of the 17th century. The church was supervised by the architect A Smirnov, who was building the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral nearby. The five domes are coated with gold and the bells were donated by Emperor Nicholas II.

Construction began in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1914. The church remained open after the Russian Revolution and during the Communist period in Bulgaria (1944–1989), though priests and church-goers were carefully watched by the State Security police.

The exterior was recently restored by the Russian Government. The interior murals unfortunately are darkened by smoke from candles and from time, and are in need of restoration.

The crypt housing the remains of Saint Archbishop Seraphim is located beneath the Russian Church's main floor. Dozens of people still visit the grave of the archbishop, who died in 1950, praying and leaving notes asking for wishes to be granted.

Walking further down the road we came to the Alexandra Nevsky Cathedral.  This Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral built in Neo-Byznatine style and serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. It is also one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people inside and is the second-largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula.

The cathedral's gold-plated dome is 45 m high (148 ft), with the bell tower reaching 53 metres (174 ft). The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kilograms (22 lb).  The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord's Prayer inscribed around it, with thin gold letters.

The construction of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral started in 1882  but most of it was built between 1904 and 1912.  Saint Alexander Nevsky was a Russian prince and the cathedral was created in honour to the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule.

After a lovely meal in the restaurant we headed back to our apartment, stopping in various places to have fun with our cameras...

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