Last week, Charlie & I visited Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria for the bank holiday weekend. Whilst there, I noticed 2 things Sofia seem to really like; sculptures and churches. Here are 5 of the latter you need to have a nose around when you visit.
Saint Alexandar Nevski Cathedral
Saint Alexandar Nevski is the main religious building Sofia is known for. You’ll see it plastered all over souvenirs and you can usually see it when you wander around the city, with it’s gold domes peeking out over rooftops and trees. It’s not as big on the inside as I was expecting. A bit like a backwards Tardis, but there are probably more rooms that visitors don’t have access to. If you want to take photos inside, be prepared to pay 10 lev for a little piece of paper that says you’ve paid. Also be prepared for who I think is one of the cleaners, marching towards you every time you raise your camera/phone to take a photo, shouting at you to pay 10 lev, even though you clearly have the slip of paper in your hand. Not even joking, every 3 minutes he came storming over to me, but then turned away with a disappointing look on his face.
Church of St George
You’ll find this Rotunda church in the very centre of the city, hidden in a quiet square surrounded by ancient town remains, a hotel, the Ministery of Education & Science as well as a couple of bars. It is thought to be the oldest building in Sofia. Inside you’ll find 3 layers of frescoes (a type of wall mural painting) with the earliest dating back to the 10th century! Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed inside, but it’s free to enter and small enough to only really need 5 minutes (if that) to look around. It’s definitely worth a peek if you’re in the area.
Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya
Just a short walk away is Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya. It’s very sweet looking from the outside, accompanied by a big willow tree. Inside you’ll have to pay to take photos, this time just 5 lev. Our visit to this church was very intense as there was a service happening with a male choir singing heavenly from the balcony above, a sobbing lady praying in the corner, and visitors walking around kissing all the statues and paintings. This church is the most bling out of all the churches we visited. The area around the altar is covered in gold, and check out those chandeliers!
Just outside of the city, about a half hour drive away, is Boyana Church. It is also accessible via a bus ride (take either the 64 or 107) or why not take a day trip (I’ll talk more about this below). It started it’s life in the late 10th century. The art inside was the 1st of it’s kind to really depict facial features and emotions, and is the kind of art we are used to seeing in churches nowadays. Boyana Church is teeny tiny with only 10 visitors being allowed entry at one time, but it truly is fascinating as the guide will tell you some really interesting facts. There are 3 layers of frescoes, each showing how religious art changes over the decades. No photos are allowed inside, which is probably just as well as there is not a lot of room inside anyway.
Now, this one is not technically in Sofia, but we took a little coach trip which took about a 2 hour drive to get to the Rila Monastery before stopping off at Boyana Church on the way back to the city. Rila Monastery was created by Bulgaria’s first ‘hermit’ so is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, at the foot of Rila Mountain, surrounded by evergreen forests which were very eerie looking during our cold and wet visit, with mist and fog passing slowly through the trees. The Monastery covers nearly 10,000 square foot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. It’s beautifully decorated, even around the doors and windows which line the corridors around the 300-400 monastic cells. The church in the main square is covered in vibrant paintings. Again, no photos are allowed inside but it is well worth a visit! Just a little warning, as whilst we were there we witnessed a poor lamb, tired by it’s legs, covered in it’s own faeces being abused by a priest. I know it might be in their culture, but it was very upsetting to see and shouldn’t have been in full view of the hundreds of tourists that were on site. Apart from that, it was fab!
I’d love to hear about any other churches and cathedrals you’ve visited in Sofia. Be sure to check out all our photos via #CharlieysonTour
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