Sofia is only 1 hour away from Raduil
Sofia became the capital of Bulgaria after the liberation in 1878. Before the liberation, Plovdiv was biggerr in size and importance, but it remained under the rule of the Ottomans for two more years. By then a new capital was needed, and naturally Sofia was chosen.
Sofia is on the main crossroads of the Balkans, in a strategic location and hence its importance. From it there is a road to Thessaloniki on one side and Belgrade on the other side, to the Black Sea on one side and to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia on the other side. For this reason it is also a good departure base not only for tours in Bulgaria, but also in northern Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.
Sofia was built as a City by the Romans and especially by the Byzantines, who turned it into a governmental and religious center. Today it is the largest City in Bulgaria, the capital City of Bulgaria and a center of culture and art. Underneath the bustling City, parts of the Roman City have been excavated and restored, to which you can descend from street level and see the Cardo (Main Street of the Roman City), the walls and the gates.
Underneath today’s city is being excavated these days, especially in the central area, the ancient Roman city of Serdica: multitude of streets and houses, walls and gate;. and among other things, the ancient bath houses. Sofia is famous for its hot healing springs.
In the Byzantine period, with the conversion of the Romans to Christianity, the Emperor Constantine built a unique church here in the form of a Rotunda. Some say he planned to make Sofia his capital. The church is called St George and it is in the backyard of the Sheraton Hotel and the house of the President of Bulgaria.
About 200 years later, the great Byzantine emperor Justinianus built the Hagia Sophia church after which the city is named (its construction took place at the same time as the construction of the Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople). The church has been preserved to this day, and you can go down to its basements, where parts of the old city, paintings, mosaics and buildings from the beginning of Christianity were discovered.
The city became one of the important centers of the First Bulgarian Empire. In the 10th century, the Bulgarian Patriarch lived for a while in Sofia, and it was the center of the Comitopoli brothers. During the Second Bulgarian Empire, Sofia maintained its importance and became a religious center. From this period you can find the small church of Sveti Petka – the saint of the Balkans – in the center of the city, as well as other churches with art treasures on Mount Vitosha, which became a center of mystical monasticism, a kind of holy mountain. During the Ottoman period, mosques and synagogues were built in Sofia and it became a cosmopolitan city, with a large Jewish and Muslim community.
With the liberation of Bulgaria and the transformation of Sofia into a capital, it was rebuilt in a neoclassical style, including wide boulevards, beautiful buildings, sculpture and art, making Sofia one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe. At that time, the Art Academy was established there under the management of Boris Shatz.
During the communist period, Sofia began to grow, and culture and art centers were established with the encouragement of the Minister of Culture – the ruler’s daughter Lyudmila Zhivkova, a huge cultural hall was built and the former king’s palace became an international art museum. The ancient mosque of Sofia has become an archaeological museum, where treasures of the Thracian kings are displayed. The Art Academy acquired paintings and sculptures from all over the world, the “Bulgaria House” theater was built for musical performances and the Opera House – for operas.
The transition to capitalism was good for the city, which today presents a multitude of cafes, bohemian style streets, bustling shopping centers, modern buildings and industrial plants. The palace of the former communist rulers at the foot of Mount Vitosha has become the National Museum of History. Modern Sofia contains about a quarter of Bulgaria’s population, close to 1.5 million people, and is a bustling metropolis.
History and Archeology Museums
The Archaeological Museum of Bulgaria is housed in the ancient mosque building from the 15th century in the heart of the City. Outside the Museum there are a lot of Roman artifacts and inside the Museum you can see a relief of the horse from Madara, with the highlight being the gold and silver treasures found in the tombs of the Thracian kings. There are also finds from the prehistoric period, through the various periods up to the Middle Ages.
Another important Museum is the Museum of National History located at the foot of Mount Vitosha. In this Museum is the Varna treasure, the oldest gold in the world, and many other important finds from prehistory that prove the existence of the Goddess culture. In addition to this, you can find halls with treasures and findings from the Thracian and Roman periods, and more. The Museum is inside an impressive and special building, which used to be the Palace of the communist rulers, and its windows open to the wonderful view of Mount Vitosha.
In Sofia there are two art museums that are close to each other, but not related to each other, and yet both are “worth” a visit. One is the National Art Gallery located in the former King Alexander Palace building in the heart of the city; And the second is the International Art Gallery located in the Academy of Art building founded by Boris Shatz at the end of the 19th century (there is a statue of him at the entrance).
The International Art Gallery has beautiful displays of the best Bulgarian painting in the 19th-20th centuries. In addition to that, you can find an impressive collection of Japanese, Indian, Chinese and European art. The gallery was supported by Lyudmila Zhivkova, out of the importance she gave to multiculturalism and the universality of the human race. She was influenced by the ideas of Nicholas Roerich, the famous Russian painter, and was inspired by him to devote an entire room to his oriental paintings. This is one of the most impressive exhibits in the building.
You can complete your exposure to Bulgarian painting throughout the ages by visiting the Museum of Icons, which is located in the basement of the nearby Alexander Nevsky Church, the various galleries around the city, and the Museum of Modern Art
The places where you can find an authentic exposure to the culture, art, history, nationalism and Christianity of Bulgaria are the monasteries and Churches. Some of the most beautiful and important Churches are located naturally in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. If you want to understand the essence of Bulgaria, it is recommended that you spend a few hours and maybe even a day or two visiting these Churches.
St. George’s Church
Behind the Palace of the Bulgarian president, hides the most ancient Church in Sofia, which was built already at the beginning of the 4th century. Legend has it that the one who ordered its construction was none other than the Emperor Constantine, who wanted to make Sofia his home and capital. Before his rise to power, Christians were persecuted and therefore could not build Churches. He recognized Christianity as an official religion and therefore the first Churches in the world are from his time. His mother built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which has a rounded appearance – a rotunda, and at the same time a round Church was built in Sofia. Thus, St. George’s is one of the oldest Churches in the world.
The Church of Saint George (Saint George) in Sofia is very reminiscent of the Rotunda – a Church in Thessaloniki that was built initially by Galerius as a pagan temple, in the shape of the Pantheon in Rome. In general, the circular structure and the dome are a classic element of pagan Roman temples dedicated to the all-embracing principle behind the world of the Gods. Hence it is possible that the Rotunda in Sofia was also initially built as a Pagan Temple, and perhaps as a mausoleum in the days of Galerius, and only later became a Church. Indeed, it is in the heart of an impressive Roman archaeological complex.
Be that as it may, the place was used as a Church already from the 4th century AD and its dome was covered with Christian fresco paintings that were partially preserved. You can see different layers of paintings, the earliest of which are from the time of Tsar Samuel and maybe even from the time of Tsar Simeon, both of whom reigned during the First Bulgarian Empire. In other words, we have on the dome a rare relic of art from the 10th century, a figure with a human face of an angel, the like of which can only be found in the Church of Sofia in Ohrid, since not many paintings have survived from this time.
In the 4th century, an important Church convention was held in Sardica (Sofia), attended by more than 170 bishops. The convention discussed the Arian heresy and probably took place in this Church. In the 16th century, the Church became a mosque, but returned to its original purpose with the declaration of Bulgarian independence at the end of the 19th century.
Church of Saint Sofia
The Saint Sofia Church is the second oldest Church in the City. It was built by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, although it is possible that the foundations of an older Church are below it. He built Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, and at the same time he built this Church, which was called by the same name. Sofia is the Greco-Roman Goddess of wisdom, who is associated with creative female energy, which is part of a sort of Kabalistic-Christian energy hierarchy, which first appears in connection with the Christian Gnostic movements.
The ancients believed in the existence of energies between us and God, with wisdom being one of the most important of them, and it is the mediator between the world of God and humans. “Wisdom” was considered a tool to reach God. Jesus was a teacher of wisdom and she passed through him. That is why he is seen in Church paintings in the form of a young man sitting on top of a bow, which is a kind of “wisdom”, a covenant between God and the earth.
The concept of “wisdom” appears in Platonism, as well as in ancient Stoic philosophy (and also in Judaism). In the Eastern Church the Son is identified with Sofia, while in the Western Church the Logos (the Word) replaced her. In the mystical interpretation of the Russian Church, wisdom is called “Sophology” and is associated with Mary, the mother of God, and in other places – with the Holy Spirit.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the perception of Sofia as another female divine being, which is sometimes embodied in the image of Mary, spreads, mainly in Russia. Prominent thinkers such as Vladimir Solovyov, who also dealt with Kabala, Shekinah, Buddhism and Gnosticism, had personal experiences of meeting Sofia. Sergei Bulgakov and others developed the concept of a female divine being working in addition to the Holy Trinity and influenced the Bulgarian intelligentsia and mystics such as Dunov.
The Hagia Sofia Church gave its name to the City, which until the 16th century was called Serdica. It is built within a Roman burial area, and recently its foundations were excavated and ancient tombs and rooms were found, including Frescoes from the Roman-Byzantine period, which can be seen on a tour to the spaces below the ground. On the floor of the Church are Byzantine floral motifs.
Sveta Nedelya Church – Sunday
Sveta Nedelya Church is one of the most impressive and beautiful Churches in Bulgaria. It is located in the heart of Sofia, stands out for its shape and its round dome, and when you go inside you can’t help but admire the wonderful wall paintings. Inside is the tomb of one of the most important Serbian kings from the Nemanjic Dynasty (Serbia’s Golden Age in the Middle Ages), King Milutin.
There was a Church there since the 10th century, but in the middle of the 19th century it was dismantled and the current Church was built in its place as the main Church of Sofia. it was inaugurated in 1867. Renovations and additions were made in 1898. In 1925 it was destroyed in an attack by the communists, but was later rebuilt in the form it looks like today, including the impressive dome.
The beautiful paintings inside the Church were done in the early 70’s of the 20th century. They emphasize the figure and importance of Mary, and go beyond the classic motifs of the Christian Orthodox Church. On the south wall of the Church there is a large painting of Mary sitting at the head of the disciples’ table and receiving the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, like Jesus. On the arches there is a cycle of paintings of events in the life of Jesus, and on the surrounding walls paintings related to motifs of rebirth such as the resurrection of Lazarus and the baptism in the Jordan. On both sides of the entrance are male saints and female saints.
The name Nedelia means “Sunday” and also the name of a saint – Sveta Nedelia. Like Shabbat in Judaism, the holy day is seen here as a personification of the Holy Shekinah.
Alexander Nevsky Church
This is the largest Church in Sofia and one of the largest in the Orthodox world, and it can accommodate 10,000 people. The height of the dome is 45 meters, its walls are decorated with impressive paintings, the building has a large and impressive use of marble from Italy, alabaster stone, Brazilian onyx, and more. It was built over 30 years, from 1882 until its completion in 1912. The painters of the unusual Frescoes were Russians, Austro-Hungarians and Bulgarians. The architect Alexander Pomerantsev (changed in the middle) is a famous Russian who designed many buildings during the late tsarist reign.
The main painters included Ivan Mrkvička, a Czech who lived in Bulgaria and was one of the founders and heads of the Academy of Art and a leading figure in Bulgarian modern painting (he excelled in painting scenes from everyday life). Alexander Kiselyov, one of the most important Russian landscape painters at the end of the 19th century, and Anton Mitov, one of the leading Bulgarian painters after independence and the head of the Academy of Art.
Many of the paintings on the lower part of the walls on the west side of the Church deal with healing and revival. Scenes such as the resurrection of Lazarus, Talitha Komi, Beit Hesda, the healing of the widow’s son and more appear in them. On the northwest side there are scenes related to teaching – Jesus teaching before his death, after his death, in the temple as a 13-year-old boy, and more. Everywhere throughout the Church within the various paintings, a scroll appears that is once held by the Archangel Michael on the western wall, and once by the hands of Jesus on the eastern wall. The scroll symbolizes the importance of knowledge and study in the Christian religion.
On the high dome of the building is written the prayer of our Father in Heaven, and in addition to that, instead of Jesus the ruler of the world, a motif that usually appears in Church decorations, the image (mural) of God the Father appears, with the child Jesus sitting on his knee. This is a painting that does not appear often, and is based on the common motif of the child Jesus sitting on Mary’s lap. The meaning of the painting is that God is the father of us all, not just Jesus.
Another thought-provoking painting is on the south wall, where you see a scene very reminiscent of the Last Supper; Jesus sits at the head of a table of diners and next to him is a man with a pitcher of water. According to the New Testament, Jesus tells the disciples to walk the streets of Jerusalem and look for a man carrying a jug of water on his head, so that in his house they can celebrate the Easter night. It is important to note that a water jug is a symbol of purity. However, the people around the table are partly women, or look like Roman soldiers. And Indeed, this is not the Last Supper, but a painting of the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Kfar Cana. The link between the Last Supper and this event explains the essence of the Eucharist – the ritual of eating the bread and drinking the Christian wine, which is the transformation of the profane into the sacred, turning the ordinary and everyday into divine, water into wine, and wine into the blood of Jesus.
And who is the man after whom the Church is named?
Alexander Nevsky was a 13th century Russian hero who saved the kingdom of Russia from an invasion by Teutonic knights and the Mongols. The reason why the most important and largest Church in Bulgaria was dedicated to a Russian general is the Russian victims who fell in the war for the liberation of Bulgaria, and thus, Alexander Nevsky is seen wearing a helmet on the screen of the Iconostasis, to the left of Maria.
Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (Russian)
It is a small Church and undoubtedly the most picturesque in Sofia, located near the Alexander Nevsky Church and reminiscent of the Russian Church in Moscow and the Church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem. It was built by the same architect and decorated by the same painters who were engaged in the construction and decoration of the nearby Alexander Nevsky Church at the same time, except that this Church was intended to be the private Church of the Russian ambassador to Bulgaria and the Russian community there.
The Russian bishop Seraphim, who is considered a saint, is buried in the Church. He lived and worked in Bulgaria from the 1920s to the 1950s and wrote about the principles of ancient monarchical Russia before communism.
Church of Brothers Cyril and Methodius
The Church is called St. Sedmochislenitsi Church is one of the most beautiful Churches in Sofia. In the past it was a mosque built by the architect Sinan in the 16th century and called the Black Mosque. The Bulgarian architect Yordan Milanov turned the abandoned mosque into a Church, and at the same time he also worked on the Alexander Nevsky Church and the Holy Synod House. Inside there is a beautiful cycle of paintings related to Bulgarian history, and above it another beautiful cycle of paintings dedicated to Mary and the angels.
The Holy Mountain – Vitosha
Above Sofia rises to a height of 2,200 meters Mount Vitosha, in the Middle Ages Mount Vitosha was considered a kind of holy Mountain, similar to Mount Athos in Greece, and there were dozens of monasteries on its slopes. In one of them there is a small Church where the art of Bulgarian painting of the Paleological Renaissance (13th – 14th centuries) reaches its peak.
Boyana Church (Boyana is a relatively small Church, but of enormous cultural importance. It was built in the 11th century, but was decorated in the 13th century, in the year 1259 (according to an inscription found there). It has the most beautiful wall paintings in Bulgaria, thanks to which it was recognized as a world heritage site. The paintings are in naturalistic style, full of emotion, with perspective and depth, many of them of human that were done in humanistic style. They break the rigid Byzantine-religious framework, and constitute a kind of renaissance before the renaissance, a return to naturalism and humanism 100 years before Giotto.
The highlighted saint in the Church is St. Nicholas, who later became Santa Claus. He lived in Turkey in the City of Damara (near the coast of Antalya), performed miracles and helped merchants, archers, students, he was considered to be the protector of sailors and those who walk on the sea, and more. Saint Nicholas liked to give gifts in secret and hence the tradition of Santa Claus. He was one of the people who signed the Nicene Creed, and unlike other saints, he died peacefully at home. On the walls you can see a cycle of paintings of the miracles he performed during his life.
In other paintings, you see King Constantine and his wife on one side of the entrance hall, and the Church builder Colian, ruler of the region, and his wife on the other side. Inside the main room there is a special painting of the Last Supper, where Judas is lying on the table and reaches for Jesus’ food, as well as paintings of various saints, among them the first paintings of their kind by Ivan Rilsky and Sveti Petka.
The paintings in the Church of Boyana are the only surviving paintings of its kind belonging to the art School of Veliko Tarnovo, which operated during the Second Bulgarian Empire. The place is currently under the auspices of the National Museum of History, which is at the foot of the Mountain, a 5-minute drive away.
Not far from the Boyana Church is the Draglevski Monastery, founded in the 14th century by one of the kings of the Second Bulgarian Empire – Ivan Alexander. It was abandoned with the Ottoman occupation at the end of the 14th century, but was rebuilt in the mid-15th century and became a center of learning, literature and aspirations for Bulgarian independence. Several books were written here, Vasil Levski – the leader of the Bulgarian struggle for independence used to come here to rest, organize his thoughts and plan his next actions. Inside the old Church there are centuries-old paintings in which the figure of the founder of the Monastery in the 15th century, Radoslav Mavar, appears.
Today the place is used as a nunnery, not far from which is one of Sofia’s neighborhoods and the area next to it has beautiful views of the City and a road that goes up to the cable car and the cabin of the Vitosha ski resort.
 Arianism spread among the Germanic tribes in the 4th century AD, who lived at that time in the Balkans. Arian believed that the Christ entered into Jesus at the time of baptism, and thus he could also enter into him. The Christ is the same as the logo, the word.