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Sofia > Landmarks

Landmarks in Sofia

During the 30-es and 40-es Sofia became the scene of workers strikes, political rallies and demonstrations but also a prominent centre of culture, science and arts.

Changes in the political life in the wake of 9th of September 1944 reflected strongly on the outlook of Sofia. Buildings in urbanistic and Stalinist style were constructed, the most prominent of which is the central complex consisting of the Communist party building, Balkan Hotel and TZUM Central Department Store. Today the building of Balkan Hotel now houses one of the well-known chain of Sheraton Hotels. The Presidency of the country occupies its adjoining building. The TZUM has been radically refurbished, and the adjacent building houses the Ministerial Council. The building of the former royal palace houses the exposition of the National Art Gallery. Sofia has become the countrys leading industrial centre, with one sixth of the industry of Bulgaria concentrated around it, and housing one eighth of the population, the countrys political and cultural elite, and the entire state capital.

Nowadays Sofia is a very placid place to live in. Changes in its appearance are imminent. Restitution is underway, old buildings are returned to their owners, new buildings and shops emerge, private companies establish themselves on the market. The city is in constant flux, under way is gradual restoration of its intransient cultural and architectural monuments, which make it a typically European city with ancient culture, impressive present and bright future.

Landmarks. Several buildings and venues vie for Sofias emblem. The most frequent image is of the impressive edifice of St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Memorial Church. The temple is the central patriarchs cathedral of the autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It was completed in 1912 after a design of the Russian architect Pomerantsev, approved by the 1st Great National Assembly. The church rises on an area of 3170 sq. m. The altar and the patriarchs throne are cut of multi-coloured Italian marble; 13 Bulgarian and 32 Russian and Czech masters made the wood-carvings, cut the stone bas-reliefs and ornaments, painted the fresoes and the icons. The belfry rises to a height of 50.52 metres; the central dome is gold-plated with a massive gold cross on top.

The Crypt of the cathedral houses a collection of masterpieces of Bulgarian icon painting. Visitors can enjoy the exhibited more than 200 icons and frescos. A souvenir shop sells copies of some of the famous icons, post cards, albums and folders. A remarkable sight is the square around the cathedral, where the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with eternal burning flame is located. An open-air market of national costumes, embroidery and hand-knitted ware and garment and a small antiquarian and arts exposition enliven the square.

Part of the same square is occupied by the St. Sophia Church, dating back to the 4th-6th century AD, which gave the name of the city. In the end of 16th century it was transformed into a mosque for a short time, but soon after the Liberation it was again sanctified as an Orthodox church. Already restored, the church is open to visitors. Regrettably few of the frescoes have been preserved, but some rare icons are still in existence. A valuable exhibit kept in the church is a lock of the hair of the Apostle of Freedom Vassil Levski. Behind the church is the grave of Ivan Vazov (1850-1921), the patriarch of Bulgarian literature. A monument to the poet rises in the small garden in front of the church.

In the eastern part of the square rises the building of the St. St. Cyril and Methodius Foundation, which houses the National Gallery of Foreign Arts. It contains unique exhibits of art from Africa, Asia and Europe, Spanish baroque paintings, some Rembrandts, and tableaux by the modern painter Nikolai Roerich. Opposite to the south of it rises the building of the Academy of Arts, where future artists study icon-painting, restoration of old works of art, painting, sculpture, stage design, etc.

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre is the capitals other emblem. The theatre was founded in 1904, and its building was completed in 1907. Designed in the style of German classicism, it contains many elements of the then fashionable Secession style. The interior was twice renewed, once after the fire in the theatre in 1923, and once during the 1970-1976 period. The hall is flanked by two balconies and there are 850 seats. Two chamber stages are in operation; the one with 150 seats and the other with 100. The theatre employs some of the countrys best actors and stage directors, many of whom enjoy popularity all over Europe.

The edifice of the National Assembly (built in 1884) is the third rightful candidate for the citys emblem. A motto inscribed on its main facade reads Union makes Strength a key element of the coat of arms of the Republic of Bulgaria. Opposite its building is the monument to the King Liberator of Bulgaria (inaugurated in 1905) - the Russian Tsar Aleksander II.

To the west of the Parliament building is the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences founded in 1869, and to the east across a small garden rises the St. Kliment of Ohrid University of Sofia, founded in 1888 (and built in 1920 with personal donations by the brothers Evloghi and Hristo Georgievi, whose statues flank the parade entrance of the university) - Bulgarias oldest higher school. The mausoleum of Battenberg is nearby the university.

The Russian church St. Nikolai is conspicuous from afar with its pointed golden cross. It was built in the years of 1912-1914 by Russian emigrants to Bulgaria. The interior of the church contains wonderful majolica ornaments, Russian-style icons among which stands out the icon of St. Nikolai Chudotvorets (the Wonder-worker) from the Kiev-Pechora Monastery. Next to it to the east is the Museum of Natural Science, with its unique collections of stuffed and live flora and fauna representatives. Visitors show particular interest in the bazaar where they can purchase small rabbits, nutria, parrots, hamsters, canaries and other household pets.

The National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum are housed in the former royal palace. It was built on 1873. During the reign of Prince Aleksander Battenberg the building was entirely reconstructed on the exterior and inside in the Art nouveau (Secession) style, with elements of Neo-rococo and Baroque. Expensive and unique wooden pieces of furniture were arranged in the palace rooms. The National Art Gallery exhibits a collection of well over 12 000 works of art, the oldest dating back to the 18th century. The Bulgarian classical masters of painting and sculpture are represented with their most mature works. The National Ethnographic Museum exhibits a wealth of collections of national costumes, hand-made works of art from Bulgarian peoples daily life, tools dating from three or four centuries ago, jewellery, tissues, embroidery and other articles of typical national folk art. The exhibits include scale models of Bulgarian houses and life amenities in them, masks and costumes of the festive Bulgarian calendar rites from different ethnographic regions of the country. At the museum and the gallery there are two stands for souvenirs where one can purchase cards, albums, icons, folk music recordings, hand-made articles imitating originals of national art. Other exhibitions are often displayed in the building of the former royal palace, to fill in the vacant spaces of the impressive place. Opposite to it in diagonal rises the building of the Bulgarian National Bank. Immediately next to it, a former Turkish mosque built on top of the ruins of a Christian Church destroyed by the Ottomans, houses todays Archaeological Museum.

Downtown, in the interior courtyard of the Presidency and Sheraton Hotel rises the famous Roman Rotunda, transformed into the St. Georgi Church during the 4th century AD. Recently restored, it is stunning for its simple and exquisite architecture, the expressive remnants of frescoes and the entire complex of ruins behind the altar. Quite imposing as well are the ruins in the underpass opposite the Presidency, north of TZUM, in the ground-level of Sofia Shop (currently under reconstruction) in Central Hali Square, etc.

The square around the Central Hali building is also noted for its sights. The Hali (1911) were a covered market from the beginning of the century. Today after being reconstructed, they are a useful facility as well as an attractive place for shopping and spending some time at a cup of coffee. The mosque (1576) is in the square, the public bath (1913) is to the east, the ruins of the Roman fortress of Serdica with the corner turrets are to the north, the Synagogue (1909) is situated west of the Hali. St. Petka Samardzhiiska Church is located in the underpass of TZUM (south of the Hali). Vassil Levski was probably buried there, according to the hypothesis. Almost completely dug into the ground, today the whole of it is outstanding. There are attractive coffee bars and other catering establishments in the underpass, as well as many souvenir shops.

Numerous monuments adorn Sofia, and the most popular and honoured by all Bulgarians is the obelisk to the Apostle of Freedom (of 1895), which rises on the spot of his execution.

The Russian Monument is an obelisk rising west of the city centre; it bears a written dedication to the Russian Tsar and the Russian warriors who gave their lives in the war for Bulgarias liberation.

The Doctors Monument, dedicated to the medical staff of the Russian army who fell in the war, rises in the garden behind the National Library.

The monuments from the socialist years are more impressive and interesting as a detail of the countrys past. These are the Monument to the Soviet Army, south of the University building and the Monument to Freedom in the easternmost part of the Borissova Gradina Park, crowned by a big obelisk.

The monument to the Saint brothers Cyril and Methodius who devised Bulgarian alphabet rises in front of the National Library. Numerous busts of leaders of Bulgarian Revival adorn the alleys of the Borissova Garden Park, as well as effigies of poets, writers and revolutionaries. Two of the most popular bridges in Sofia could well be counted among the capitals monumental spots. The Luvov Most (Lions Bridge) (formerly known as Sharen Bridge - the motley crowd bridge) over the Vladaiska River lies north of the city centre in the direction of the Central Railway Station. Four lions stay on high pedestals. The Orlov Most (Eagles Bridge) over the Perlovska Riover lies in the beginning of Tsarigradsko Chaussee Boulevard, which is the road to Plovdiv and Istanbu. Four bronze eagles, facing the four directions of the world, are mounted on 12-metre pylons. The Borissova Garden Park begins from that bridge, stretching to the south-east.

Among the sights of Sofia one could place the streets Graf Ignatieff, Rakovski, and Vitosha Boulevard. Graf Ignatieff Street runs from east to west. It starts at the Perlovski Bridge, adorned in the sculptures of workers and peasants demonstrating the amity between the Bulgarian and the Russian peoples. Numerous shops line the street on both sides until the crossing with Patriarch Evtimii Boulevard and Vassil Levski Boulevard, where rises a monument to Patriarch Evtimii a man of letters and spiriual leader of the 14th century. Proceeding west, one comes to a small garden with the St. Sedmochislenitsi (St. St. Cyril and Methodius and their Five Disciples) Church.

Further west after the crossing with Rakovski Street we come to Slaveikov Square. Here, in front of the City Library, is arranged the largest open-air book market of Sofia. Recently the old three-tier bronze fountain was restored. In the spring of 2000 an original monument was placed to two of the most prominent Bulgarian writers, poets and public figures - father and son Petko and Pencho Slaveikovs, in honour of whom the square was named. One can sit for a while on the bench next to them and have his photo taken for keepsake. Author of the sculpture composition is Georgi Chapkunov - prominent Bulgarian sculptor, another of whose works is the statue of St. Sophia (opposite TZUM). There follow a couple of cinemas, company shops, photo studios and buildings of interesting architecture.

Rakovski Street lies in south-eastern direction and is considered the longest street of Sofia. It starts in the north from the railway lines of Sofia Central Railway Station, crosses the Vladaiska River, and a few streets before Dondoukov Boulevard flanks the imposing St. Paraskeva Church, with numerous interbuilt cupolas.

Beyond the Dondoukov Blvd. the street mounts steeply past the National Opera - a building, which also houses the National Ballet and the leadership of the Bulgarian Agrarian Party. The Opera house building is in neo-classical style, and in front of it rises a monument to Alexander Stamboliiski, one of the founders of Bulgarian Agrarian Peoples Union and prime-minister of Bulgaria (1919-1923). After the steep rise the street passes by the monument to Ivan Vazov in the left and the square in front of the Alexander Nevski cathedral. Further south, at the crossing of Roussky Boulevard (once called Tsarya, Rousski) - or the boulevard of chestnuts and yellow brick pavement - rises the Armed Forces Club Building. To the left along Rakovski Street there is a small garden with a monument to Stefan Stambolov, then comes the Sulza y Smyah Theatre, the the Slavyanska Besseda Reading Club and Hotel (the oldest chitalishte - reading clube and cultural centre of Sofia, with a 120 years history), Theatre 199 and the house of Ivan Vazov. To the left along Rakovski Street there is the Theatre of the Army, the Ministry of Finance, the National Academy for Theatre and Film Art (NATFIZ Krustyu Sarafov); then a crossing left leads to the Theatre of Satire, followed by fashion, technology and flower shops, First City Hospital, the Indian Embassy and the French Foreign-Language Secondary School. Numerous shops and restaurants adorn both sides of the street till its end at the Perlovska River.

Vitosha Boulevard starts north from the St. Nedelya Church. The boulevard has on both sides hundreds of shops and representative show windows and boutiques of high fashion, and numerous exchange bureaus. At the beginning of the boulevard on the right hand side rises the Palace of Justice, one of the most imposing building in Sofia with its monumental granite staircase and two bronze lion figures on each side. Lots of shopps follow on both sides and a park at the crossing of Patriarch Evtimii Blvd. The park ends at the Palace of Culture, which features 16 halls, the largest of which seats a public of nearly 5000. Admirers of Bulgarian history could enjoy the exhibits in the National Museum of History, located in Boyana Quarter. Trolley-bus line No. 2 or rout-taxi line No. 21 links downtown to the museum. The Zoo (1, Sreburna Str.) is favourite place to youngest citizens of Sofia, as well as to the lots of visitors of the country.

A list of the addresses and phone number of the most popular museums in Sofia follows:

Archaeological Museum 2, Suborna Str., tel.: 9882406;

Ethnographic Museum 6A. Moskovka Str., tel.: 9874191;

National Museum of History Boyana Quarter, 16, Vitoshko Lale Str., tel.: 9554280;

Boyana Church National Museum Boyana Quarter, 3, Boyansko Ezero Str., tel.: 685304;

The Earth and People National Museum 4, Cherni Vruh Blvd., tel.: 656639;

National Museum of Nature and Science 1, Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., tel.: 9885115;

Old Sofia and the Sofia Museum of History 27, Ekzarh Yossif Str., tel.: 9831526.

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