Sofia’s Beautiful Religious Buildings
Sofia is a deeply religious capital city. It has an absolute abundance of historical buildings of faith. The main religion is the Bulgarian Orthodox Christian Church, but there are many faiths followed here. In fact, there are just metres between some of the buildings of different faiths. It is why Sofia is said to have the “triangle of tolerance”. Three main temples from the three main world faith’s, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The churches and cathedrals are always in use with people in prayer, carrying out their religious routines or an actual service in progress.
We often think of churches and cathedrals as spectacular architecture. Let’s face it, those of us that love travel do not feel we have visited somewhere unless we have been into one of its churches. But in Sofia, the interiors are just as spectacular. Many make you feel you are standing in a beautiful art gallery. Pastel frescos, vivd and detailed murals. Many of the churches in Sofia can certainly be described as beautiful. Photos are not allowed to be taken inside many of the churches, as they wish to preserve and protect the ancient fresco’s and paintings. Absolutely fair enough, right? But, I can give you a taster… Let me introduce you to some.
Churches in Sofia – A Photo Tour
So I am not intending to give a full history lesson for each of the churches in Sofia. As much as I love a bit of history! Im going to offer you more of a little snap shot and introduction. The history of each is rich and abundant. I do however appreciate that not everyone will want to know the in’s and out’s. So, I have linked to articles that will tell you a little more should you wish to explore a place further. You have the choice then! The lettering in blue can be clicked on to take you to the article. Nice and easy.
Churches in Sofia
This perfectly preserved building is said to be the oldest building in Sofia. Initially, it was built in the 4th century, on the site of a Pagan temple. It has a lot of Sofia’s religious history within its walls. It has been fought over, turned into a mosque during the Ottoman rule and used as a mausoleum.
The red brick rotunda now stands proud amongst the uncovered Roman ruins of the original town of Serdica, (Roman Sofia). Inside, there are the muted frescos, (which were started in the 6th century), wrapped around the high ceilings of the rotunda. It is free to enter the rotunda, and you may well find one of the churches daily service’s being carried out.
To note – You cannot take photos inside the rotunda, (to preserve the frescos).
Like a lot of the places in Sofia, this beautiful church had two names. Originally a medieval church, the version that stands now was built in the 19th Century. It is beautiful, both the outside and the interior. The ornate domed exterior of the orthodox church, are matched by the murals covering the inside. Free to go in, but if you want to take photos inside, you have to pay 5 leva (around £2.50).
This little tiny church, stands amongst the unearthed ruins of Roman Serdica. It has the unique position of being in the grounds of both ancient, and modern day Sofia. It is a Bulgarian Orthodox church, and has interesting beginnings.
It was one of the few churches allowed to be built under Ottoman rule. The rule was that the church could be built, as long as its height did not exceed that of a soldier on horseback! This is why some of the church is buried under ground. You step down into the church. The build was funded by the master saddlers of the area. Again, you are not allowed to photograph the interior. This is to protect the 14th – 16th century murals decorating it.
Perhaps the most photographed religious building in Sofia. It’s a beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox church, and the jewell in the crown for Sofia. It is huge, and in fact, one of the 50 largest Christian churches in the world.
The church is a domed basilica, with a gold plated central dome. Inside, the Lords Prayer is inscribed around the central dome in gold letters. It is stunning to look at, and where we chose to see a Sofia sunrise from.
The Alexander Nevsky cathedra is highly regarded in Bulgaria. It’s style has been copied in smaller versions, in several other towns throughout Bulgaria.
The church was built at the end of Ottoman rule, almost like a sticking out of the tongue to them. This church is certainly higher than a soldier on horseback!
We stumbled across this church on a day we got lost in the City. You know those days where you just walk. You turn down a road that takes your fancy and immerse your self in the streets. We also found an amazing restaurant this same day…best pasta ever….and Bulgarian wine…ahem..
The ground where this church stands, had a 4th century Christian temple on it. The remain’s of which were excavated in 1901. It was uncovered when this church was being built on the base of the mosque that preceded it, (under Ottoman rule). The minaret to the mosque fell in an earthquake in 1800’s, and was abandoned by the Ottomans. It was then used as a military prison. The building was then liberated on the day of one of the seven holy saints. Hence it’s name.
I told you a lot about the secrets underneath Saint Sofia Church in my 3 days in Sofia post. The facade of Saint Sofia is considerably less fancy than it’s near by neighbours. However, it is probably one of the most important churches in Sofia.
The churches that stood here date back to the 4th century. Prior to that, a Roman theatre stood here in the 2nd century. In the 14th century the beautiful 12th century frescos inside were destroyed under Ottoman rule. Minarets were added, and the church converted to a mosque. Again, a 19th century earthquake saw the fall of the minarets, and the church was abandoned. It was this church, built on the highest point in Sofia, that gave its name to the Capital (then Serdica).
This stunning church, also known as The Russian Church, was perhaps my favourite. It was so fairy tale! Just a stones through from Alexander Nevsky, it is tiny in comparison. We first saw The Russian Church in the night time, and I was mesmerised. Its gold topped towers and green tiled details made it different to any of the other religious buildings in Sofia.
This beautiful church, is said to make wishes come true. You can enter the church’s under ground room, through a tiny door and steep stairs. There, you will see small bits of paper. You should write your wish on the paper, and pop it in the box. It is said many of the wishes people make come true.
The building of the church started in 1907, on land belonging to the Russian Embassy. The architect, Mikhail Preobrazhensky, was also responsible for the Orthodox temples of Tallinn and Florence. It was originally intended for the members of the Russian Embassy to use as their private chapel. It is now a church for the Russian ex-pats who live in Sofia.
I just thought it was beautiful. The fact that it is surrounded by the skeletons of the bare winter trees, just adds to its charm. I loved it.
Boyana Church is located just outside of Sofia. However, its importance means that I could not talk about the churches of Sofia without including it. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this church as it stands, dates back to the 10th century. Inside, the church is adorned with beautiful frescoes dating back to the 11th century.
The setting of Boyana church is special too. Set amongst hundreds of year old pine trees, at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain. It now has a park set around it, to protect it as well as make more areas for visitors.
Being inside Boyana church will delight anyone, but especially art lovers. The 240 figures painted within it, are said to be a realistic portrayal of life of the times. It is just beautiful.
Top tip – I would strongly recommend doing a trip that takes you both to Boyana Church, and then on further to Rila monastery. You can see tours available just here.
Not Strictly Churches in Sofia..
Although this post is titled churches in Sofia, I wanted to tell you about the Mosque and the Synagogue. Both form part of the “triangle of tolerance”, so are important.
Banya Bashi mosque is not far from the central mineral baths in Sofia. The creator of this 1566 built mosque, Mimar Sinan, also built the great mosque in Istanbul. It is the only functioning mosque in Sofia. The name, Banya Bashi, means many baths. It is built on the mineral springs that run through Sofia, so this is where the name comes from.
You can visit the mosque, but must be modestly dressed. The mosque is not open for visitors during prayer time.
The Central Synagogue is just steps away from Alexender Nevsky church. This beautiful synagogue is described as the pride of the Bulgarian Jewish community. The Sofia Jewish community come for service and to catch up with their community. This current, 20th century built version, was constructed on the site of another synagogue, Ahava ve Chesed, (which means love and goodness, how gorgeous is that).
Although we could not go inside and look around the synagogue when we were there (there was a service in progress), the interior looks stunning!
So there we have it! My little introduction to just some of the churches in Sofia. There are many, many more! What I love about visiting churches and religious buildings of a place, is the history. I think they give you a real insight onto the changes over the years, and the trials and tribulations of the people. They are of course, often also stunningly beautiful, and we all know I love a bit of architecture…
Are you a fan of visiting churches when you go on city breaks or trips? Do you find that they are often the prettiest buildings? What other things is “your thing” to investigate when you go away? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts xx