Travels in Bulgaria: Sofia, part 2

Picking up where Part 1 left off, later that afternoon Jesse took a rest and I went to visit a couple sites on my own, hoping to make it to them and back before the rain set in. It was raining when we arrived, and every day we were in Sofia, at around five pm, it rained, sometimes for a while, sometimes just a little. At least the rain was consistent with sticking to its start time. The first place I went was the Regional History Museum Sofia, which is housed in a former public baths building.

Regional History Museum Sofia

There are ancient artifacts, ones from Roman and Byzantine times as well, as the history of the city is more than 2,000 years old. There is an impressive room with Orthodox Religious artifacts and artwork, including a book of Octechos (religious orthodox chants) from the 1600s, and a couple doors picturing the Annunciation.

The piece de resistance in the museum is the Chariot used by Price Ferdinand I and Princess Maria Louisa for 1893, made in the Louis XVI style. All the horses are ornately decorated, and the coach itself is covered in gold.

They also had some of the lovely furniture of the aristocracy, and my two favorite pieces were the writing desk of Price Ferdinand I, given to him by German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck,

and the clock given to him by Queen Victoria of England:

The building itself is impressive, with beautiful tile floors fitting of a fancy bathhouse, and interior lampposts and large windows to see out into the courtyard.

The outside of the building is richly decorated as well, so it is worthwhile to get close and examine.

Directly across from the Museum, on the other side of the fountain, is the Banya Bashi Mosque that we walked by often.

I decided to go in and check it out. It is not very large inside, but the carpet is quite nice, and ceilings are painted in intricate and colorful patterns like many mosques we had seen while in Istanbul, and also some colorful yet simple stained glass windows.

While in the museum I read about the oldest Cathedral in Sofia, aptly named the Basilica of Santa Sofia. I had hoped to make it there and back before the rain came, so I made haste, and when I arrived at the all brick, not overly impressive (from the outside anyway) Basilica there was a wedding going on. Not wanting to be intrusive, I walked around the outer hallways, and walked down the stairs on one side, into the Basilica Catacombs.

The church was built in the 4th century, and before that the grounds were a necropolis for a few couple hundred years, so naturally there are a lot of tombs down here. The bodies are all gone, of course, but it is really fun to wander underneath the Basilica, peak into the old tombs, appreciate the circular floor designs, a few remaining mosaics, and even peak out and into the church.

There is also a staircase that leads into the church, to the right of the altar; and this church is fine with pictures, which is unlike many Orthodox churches.

After the wedding was over, I was able to walk through the church and take some pictures. The walls have paintings hung from the walls, but there are no frescoes, just the Byzantine Era bricks and white plaster where the bricks had fallen or disintegrated. It is a unique church in this aspect, and much simpler, which has its own aesthetic value, one I appreciated.

Lo and behold, as I was ready to leave, a torrential downfall began. Some of the wedding guests that had not left already, a few other tourists like myself, were stuck inside (I had also forgotten to bring an umbrella, of course). A couple other tourists I had seen in the catacombs and I took seats in the church, and about ten church members stood in front of us. Parishioners stand during Orthodox services, and I was caught in the middle of one. The priest began his chants, the parishioners began their prayers and responses. It was interesting to be part of the service; the priest walked up and down the halls of the church, spreading the frankincense from the censer or thurible, making the church smell good and with the pouring rain sound coming in through the entrance doors, a cool experience. Eventually the rain let up, and I was able to make my way back to the apartment.

The next day we traveled to the Rila Monastery, the oldest in Bulgaria, which i detailed in the last post; but we still had one day left in Sofia. On our last day, we decided to take it easy and wander the city, seeing where we would wind up, with no particular place to go in mind. We walked into the Sofia City Art Gallery, which is on the city park grounds; they have some cool sculptures outside, and inside there was a temporary exhibit of sculptures by a Bulgarian sculptor.

There were also some temporary contemporary art exhibits on the second floor; here are the two that I found interesting.

We continued our walk through more of the city, finding ourselves walking through the Knyazheska Garden Park, which has the Monument to the Soviet Soldiers in the center of the park.

We crossed the Eagle Bridge (which has four flying eagles at different corners of the bridge),

entering the Borisova Garden Park, named for Boris III, former Tsar of Bulgaria (and whose grave we had visited at the Rila Monastery). It is truly massive, with two sports stadiums, a lake, and children’s playgrounds, cafes, concert venues, two stadiums, huge trees, and many, many paths, most shaded, to walk through and enjoy the day. We walked around for hours here, and passed many statues and monuments, but none bigger than the Brotherly Mound Monument, also devoted to the Russians.

We also were able to go inside the Bulgarian Army Stadium, where the soccer team CSKA Sofia plays its home games.

We walked back through the park, enjoying the cooler temperatures in the shade, before making one final stop; on the Lion Bridge (We’ve come to learn that almost every country in Europe is represented by the Lion or Eagle or both).

Jessica the Lioness

The next morning we left Sofia, on our way to the penultimate country on our summer European adventure, back to Germany, this time the city of Munich. More to come from the land of beer and sausages!

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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