The capital of Bulgaria, Sophia is also the largest city. It is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountains and takes up a strategic position at the center of the Balkan Peninsula. It counts as the 15th largest city in the European Union. This is where you can find major universities, impressive monuments and many cultural institutions.
An amazing monument in Sophia is the Ivan Vazov Monument. Here you’ll find the grave and monument honoring Bulgaria’s national poet Ivan Vazov. It is found next to the Sveta Sofia church right in the heart of the city. The boulder used to create this monument in 1956 came from Vitosha Mountain. You can also visit the house here Ivan Vazov lived and died which stands on the corner of Ivan Vazov and Rakovski Streets.
Walking in the city you’ll come to an impressive monument which towers above the intersection of Maria Louisa and Todo Alexandrov Boulevards. It was erected in 2001. It is the art work of sculptor Georgi Chapkanov and the statue stands 8 meters high made of copper and bronze atop of a 16 meter high pedestal. It is adorned with the symbols of power – the crown, fame – the wreath, and wisdom – the owl. The crown also refers to the Goddess of Fate – Tjuhe, inspired by Sofia’s old emblem and dates back to 1900.
Visitors enjoy the Ethnographic Museum, housed in the east wing of the former palace. It gives great reference to Bulgarian folklore and traditions among them Easter eggs and breads as well as the national costumes of different regions. One of the most interesting exhibits is the lovely carved wooden ceiling.
The National Art Gallery was founded in 1948 and has in its possession more than 12,000 items of Bulgarian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. A part of this is on display to visitors. You will also find the country’s greatest works of art here.
When you want to take a walk and relax one of the best places to go is Borissova Gradina. This is a large park that begins at Orlov Most or Eagle’s Bridge in the center of Sophis and stretches out toward the business and residential district of Iztok. There are two football stadiums here and some tennis courts. At the Orlove Most end is Ariana Lake where people can skate in the winter and go boating in the summer. When you get to the Iztok district area of the park you’ll find woodland which is great for walking or biking. Looking for refreshments the park has some restaurants.
Marking the entrance to Borissova Gradina is Orlov Most or Eagle’s Bridge built in 1891. This stone bridge crosses the Perlovska River and is flanked by four bronze eagles sitting atop of four granite columns. It was to mark the entrance to the city and the start of a new era. The site for the bridge marked the place where residents of Sophia welcomed back the revolutionaries in 1878 and the eagles symbolize freedom.
Named after St. Alexander Nevski, a Russian Tsar is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. St Alexander Nevski saved Russia from invading Swedish troops in 1240 and is the patron saint of Tsar Alexander II. It was the troops of Tsar Alexander II that brought about Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule. This is Sophia’s biggest church and its foundation stone was laid in 1882. The church was built between 1904 – 1912 in the Neo Byzantine style. The cathedral is large enough to hold 7000 people. Its belfry is 52 meters high and home to 12 bells. The interior is the work of some of Russia’s and Bulgaria’s best artists. There are five aisles and three altars. At the entrance area you’ll find Sienna and Carrera marble, stained glass windows, Venetian mosaics and impressive murals like The Lord God Sabbath in the main cupola and The Day of Judgement above the exit. There are onyx and alabaster columns on the thrones. Outside the golden domes are covered in gold leaf that was donated by Russia in 1960. Don’t pass up a visit to the crypt located under the cathedral which holds a fascinating collection of icons.
A small but decorative church is the Russian Church with golden onion shaped domes. It was named after St. Nikolai “the miracle maker”. People who visit the church write down wishes on paper and put them inside a wooden box found near the white marble sarcophagus of Bishop Serafim who’s buried in the crypt. Even though he wasn’t canonized he is looked upon as a saint. The church services go according to the Julian calendar and Christmas is celebrated on January 7th.
In the very heart of Sophia you’ll find Vistosha Boulevard which is mostly a pedestrian street. Here you’ll find lots to enjoy like interesting shops, cafes and restaurants. On a sunny, clear day you can view the Vitosha Mountains.
Visit Sophia and you’ll see that this city will entrance you with its sprawling parkland, wide, cobblestone boulevards, unique and lovely boutiques and a vibrant night life. Many other things to do and see that keep bringing the tourists each year.