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2006-08-12 12:11:45

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2006-08-17 07:26:38

>> BULGARIA REGION >> Sophia bulgaria tourism

Sightseeing Overview
Sofia’s city center stands upon the foundations of the original Roman settlement, Serdica, although the remains of this city are several meters below ground level. The best starting point for a walking tour is Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya, the city’s main traffic hub. From here, a grid of streets radiate out towards the inner ring road, which forms an irregular octagon around town. The main attractions are enclosed within this space and are all within walking distance of one another. From Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya, Maria Louiza Boulevard runs north, to the city’s sole surviving functioning mosque, Banya Bashi Dzhamiya (Banya Bashi Mosque). Close by, Tsentralnata Banya (Central Baths), Tsentralni Hali (Central Food Halls) and the Synagogue form a hub of early 20th-century monuments. The boulevard proceeds through an area that becomes progressively run-down as it nears the Central Station. Just off to the left lies Zhenski Pazar (Women’s Market).

Meanwhile, to the south lies
Vitosha Boulevard, with the peak of Mount Vitosha proudly rising in the distance. The monumental Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, running east of Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya, goes past the exquisite Tsurkva Sveta Nikolai (St Nicholas Russian Church) to arrive at Alexander Nevski Ploshtad, overlooked by Sofia’s star attraction, Hram-pametnik Aleksander Nevski (St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church) and the early Byzantine Tsurkva Sveta Sofia (Church of St Sofia).

Key Attractions:

Hram-pametnik Aleksander Nevski (St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church)
Said to be
Sofia’s most photographed monument, Alexander Nevski is a magnificent neo-Byzantine cathedral-sized church, topped by copper and golden domes. Considered the heart of the city, it was built between 1882 and 1912, in honor of the Russian soldiers, who fell when the Russian army helped liberate Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878. The church takes its name from Alexander Nevski, credited with saving Russia from Swedish troops in 1240 and the patron saint of the family of the tsar at that time, Alexander II – also known as Tsar Osvoboditel, the ‘Tsar Liberator’ – who led the army that drove out the Turks.

Inside, the central altar is dedicated to St Alexander Nevski, the southern altar to St Boris (who brought Christianity to
Bulgaria) and the northern altar to Saints Cyril and Methodius (who created the Cyrillic alphabet). A total of 32 Russian and 13 Bulgarian artists worked on the delicate murals. The Icon Museum
is located in the crypt, to the left of the main entrance. Here, over 300 icons and mural frescoes from the country’s many monasteries, tracing the development of Bulgarian icon-painting from the late ninth century up to the end of the 19th century. There are English labels, as well as a guidebook available in Bulgarian and English. The square in front of the church, Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski, hosts stalls selling souvenirs, dubious antiques and bric-a-brac throughout the year.

Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski.

St Alexander Nevski Memorial Church
Opening hours: Daily 0700-1800; services 0800 and 1700, Sat 1800, Sun 1700.
Admission: Free.

Icon Museum
Tel: (02) 877 697.
Opening hours: Wed-Sun 1000-1700.
Admission: Lv10.

Tsurkva Sveta Sofia (Church of St Sofia)
Standing next to St Aleksander Nevski, this early Byzantine brick church dates to the fifth century, although there were several churches here before it, as well as the pre-Christian Serdica city necropolis. The present church still follows the classic Byzantine plan of a regular cross with a central dome. The city took its name from the church in the 14th century, which was converted to a mosque under Ottoman rule, when the original 12th-century frescoes were destroyed and minarets added. During the 19th century, the building was abandoned, following damage caused by an earthquake. After the Liberation in 1878, it was restored and reinstated as a church and now is a popular spot for weddings, funerals and baptisms.

Outside, to the left of the main entrance, stands the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, lit by a perpetual flame in honor of those who died for
Bulgaria. In the back of the church are stalls selling handmade lace and other traditional textiles.

Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1800.
Admission: Free.

Tsurkva Sveta Nedelya (
Church of St Nedelya
Sveta Nedelya
, with its huge dome, is a typical example of neo-Byzantine architecture. There has been a church here since medieval times, although the present building dates from the mid-19th century. In 1925, the church was largely destroyed when Communist rebels exploded a bomb during a funeral service, attended by Tsar Boris III and his cabinet ministers, killing 123 people.

The square, Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya, used to be named after Lenin and a statue of the Communist leader once stood here. It has since been replaced by a 24m (79ft) bronze statue of the goddess protector of the city,
, holding the symbols of wisdom and fame.

Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0700-1800.
Admission: Free.

Natzionalen Archeologicheski Musei (
National Archaeological Museum
Housed in the ivy-clad 15th-century Buyuk Mosque (Big Mosque), the National Archaeological Museum is worth visiting just for the building itself. Recently reopened after extensive renovation work, the interior is airy and well lit and all exhibits are labelled in Bulgarian and English. Most of the pieces are of Thracian, Greek and Roman origin and there is a mosaic rescued from the floor of the St Sofia church. The star attraction is the Vulchitrun Treasure – a 12.5kg (27lb) collection of 13 decorated and strangely shaped vessels of solid gold, probably used by a King-Priest during Thracian religious rituals – which is upstairs in a guarded room of its own. It is best for English tourists to visit with a Bulgarian speaker, as the guard knows a great deal about what is to be found here. This is helpful, as the captions in the museum are vague. There are a few antiques and reproductions for sale in the museum foyer. After visiting the museum, the fashionable new Art Club Museum café behind the main building, is a good place for tourists to stop for a drink or snack. Some of the larger carved Roman marbles are displayed in the courtyard.

2 Saborna Ulica
Tel: (02) 882 405.
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Tues-Sun 1000-1700.
Admission: Lv5.

Rotonda Sveti Georgi (Rotunda of St George)
Standing in the courtyard of the Sheraton Balkan Hotel, the tiny sunken redbrick Rotunda of St George is the oldest preserved building in the city, built in the fourth century, as a Roman temple. Partly destroyed by the Huns, it was rebuilt as a church by Justinian, in the sixth century. The Turks converted the rotunda into a mosque, until it was finally reinstated as a church. Careful restoration work has revealed three layers of exquisite medieval frescoes – some dating from as early as the tenth century – which had been hidden by plaster during the 500 years of Ottoman rule. The impressive cupola bears a 14th-century portrait of Christ the Pantocrator, surrounded by four angels and symbols of the Evangelists. Beneath, 12th-century fresco work depicts 22 prophets holding scrolls, with texts alternately in Bulgarian and Greek. To the east lie excavated foundations of an octagonal-shaped Roman public building and paved street.

5 Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya
Tel: (02) 981 6541.
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0800-1700 (winter); daily 0800-1800 (summer); liturgy 0900 every day.
Admission: Free; donations appreciated.

Banya Bashi Dzhamiya (Banya Bashi Mosque)
Once there were 70 mosques in Sofia but today the Banya Bashi Dzhamiya is the only one still functioning. It was designed in 1576, by the greatest of all Ottoman architects, Mimar Sinan, who also built the Sultan Selim Mosque in
Edirne and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque’s finest feature is the domed ceiling, which was restored to its original design, after the fall of Communism. Subdued loudspeakers on the elegant minaret call the city’s Muslim minority to prayer five times a day – on Friday there can be as many as 400 worshippers in attendance. The mosque is not officially open as a tourist attraction but visitors are welcome outside prayer times, including women, if modestly dressed. The inside is decorated with fine calligraphy, citing texts from the Koran, as the portrayal of human figures is banned in Islamic art.

The mosque takes its name from the neighboring Tsentralnata Banya (Central Baths) – Banya Bashi means ‘a lot of baths’. The first thermal baths were built here by the Romans, although the present building – currently closed for restoration – dates from 1911. On the square in front of the baths, it is possible to taste the steaming mineral water (46°C/115°F) from public taps.

Maria Louiza Boulevard
at Triyaditsa Ulica
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0500-2000 or 2100.
Admission: Free.

Tsentralni Hali (Central Food Halls)
Reopened in May 2000, after three years of restoration work, the Tsentralni Hali offers a clean, well organized and modern version of the bazaar shopping experience but retains its early 20th-century ironwork. Archaeological excavations reveal that the area was a marketplace from Roman times and some of the finds are on display in the basement. Stalls on ground level sell fruit and vegetables, local cheeses, olives, meats, wine and spirits, plus an array of breads and pastries. There are also a few coffee and drinks bars, as well as a modern crèche facility. The upper level is given over to fast-food kiosks with a large seating area.

25 Maria Louiza Boulevard
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0700-2400.
Admission: Free.

Further Distractions:

Tsurkva Sveti Nikolai (St Nicholas Russian Church)
Built by Russian workmen in 1912 and dedicated to St Nicholas, ‘the miracle maker’, Sveta Nikolai is possibly the prettiest church in
Sofia. The roof is covered with green majolica tiles and crowned with five gold-plated onion domes. The exterior recently was renovated by the Moscow Patriarchate, which provided the gold. More popular than the church itself is the crypt, accessed to the left of the main entrance. Here lies the tomb of the former Bishop Serafin, who died in 1950. Locals come here is droves to post hand-written messages into a box, standing to the right of the tomb. Although Serafin was never canonized, he is revered as a saint and believed to make prayers and wishes come true.

3 Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard

Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0730-1800; services Sat 0900 and 1700, Sun 0900.
Admission: Free.

Tsentralna Sofiiska Sinagoga (
Central Sofia Synagogue)
Situated behind the Hali, the Central Sofia Synagogue is the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, although nowadays it serves a very small community. During the Diaspora of the 15th century, Jews exiled from Spain were welcomed into the Ottoman empire and settled quite peacefully. At the liberation from the Turks in 1878, Jewish people made up 20% of Sofia’s population. Although spared in the war, from the 1950s onwards, 90% of the Jewish population immigrated to Israel. Designed by the Austrian architect, Grunanger, the synagogue was built to resemble a former synagogue in Vienna, which was destroyed by the Nazis. Building began in 1905 and the official opening took place in 1909. The building is a square block of Spanish-Moorish design, with a large central dome lit by a showpiece 2250kg (4960lb) chandelier. The outer walls are ornamented with floral and geometric motifs. The building was restored by Bulgarian emigrants in Haifa (Israel
), in the 1990s and officially rededicated in 1996. Originally intended to accommodate 1300 worshippers, nowadays services are only attended by 50 or 60 people.

16 Exarch Yossif Ulica
Tel: (02) 831 273.
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening times: Mon-Fri 0900-1700, Sat 0900-1300; closed Bulgarian and Jewish holidays.
Admission: Free.

Zhenski Pazar (Women’s Market)
The largest and busiest market in Sofia, Zhenski Pazar offers a wide range of fruit and vegetables, cheese, cured meats, dried fruit and nuts, homemade halva and other Turkish-inspired goodies. The stall holders at the Women’s Market were once all women but now male and female peasants from the surrounding hills travel to town each morning, to sell their produce here. There are also some stalls selling cheap fake designer clothes and a few tourist orientated items. The atmosphere is chaotic and a bit dirty but fun. There are also some good Turkish cafés around the perimeter of the market.

Stefan Stambolov Boulevard, between Slivnitsa Boulevard and Exarch Yossif Ulica.
Transport: Bus to Ploshtad Sveta Nedelya.
Opening hours: Daily 0900-1800.
Admission: Free.

2006-08-22 16:57:07
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2006-08-17 07:27:10


2006-08-18 07:49:19