Bulgaria & Romania: Sofia

May 21, 2019 – Sofia City Tour

The day dawns clear and cool. We meet local guide Yurdana for a tour of the highlights of this beautiful city. We begin with a drive to the foothills of the mountains to visit the National History Museum.

Bulgaria’s National History Museum

One of the first exhibits we visit features the treasures from a Necropolis discovered by accident in 1972 at the Black Sea town of Varna. Unearthed were what are considered the most ancient examples of gold ornamentation in the world, dating from 4,600 to 4,200 BC. The culture had sophisticated religious beliefs about afterlife and the site offers the oldest known burial evidence of an elite male (the end of the fifth millennium BC is the time that the transition to male dominance began in Europe). The high status male buried with the most remarkable amount of gold held a war adze or mace and wore a gold penis sheath.

Photo of the first known “elite male” and his gold treasures, including the penis sheath.

This hall contained the most incredibly ornate and detailed objects from the Varna culture and also some Thracian Tombs.

Gifts from a Thracian Tomb, 8th-7th Century BC
Tiny gold charioteer – notice the magnifying glass
Charioteer as seen through the magnifying glass
Some of the greatest treasures in the country, created by goldsmiths in the Hellenistic Age and belonging to the ruler Seuthes III (330-300 BC)
Amphora possibly showing a Thracian Ritual Dance. Two small holes in the mouths of heads at the base on each side were where two people could jointly drink a toast to seal a pact (and also convince the other he wasn’t being poisoned in the deal).
The stunning view of the mountains seen from the back windows of the National History Museum

We drive to the nearby Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It is a tiny church built in 3 stages starting in the late 10th Century, with an addition in the mid-13th Century and another in the 19th Century. Visitors are tightly controlled, with only 8 allowed inside at one time for a maximum of 10 minutes. Of course no photos are allowed inside, and the frescoes are what make this place so extraordinary – being painted in a realistic style. You can see a few examples on the Wiki page:

Walking through a beautiful garden to the Boyana Church
Flowers in the garden at the Boyana Church
The oldest section of the Boyana Church dating from the late 10th Century.

Returning to the city we commence a walking tour of the central district, exiting the bus at the site of the excavation of the ancient Roman city of Serdica. The only functioning Mosque in Sofia is in the background.

Mosque in Sofia with excavations in the foreground
Looking in one direction when we got off the bus we see the column topped by a representation of St. Sofia, the Patron Saint of the City.
Looking in the other direction we see the Parliament building
Walking down a ramp to the underground we find ourselves on the ancient Roman Road through Serdica, with excavations on either side.
Uniformed guard at the entrance to the President’s residence.
National Theatre
Russian Orthodox Church dedicated to St. Nicholas
Approaching the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, our final visit before lunch.
Interior and main altar at the Nevski Cathedral
Virgin Mary icon inside Nevski Cathedral
Frescoes of saints adorn the columns inside Nevski Cathedral.
I couldn’t help but notice this lady staring transfixed, with tears in her eyes, toward the ceiling of the Cathedral.
Perhaps she was moved by the play of light from the central chandelier above her
Or perhaps it was the representation of the Holy Trinity in the dome above the chandelier that provided her with a spiritual experience in this special place. God the Father is the central figure, the Son depicted below, and the Holy Spirit as a dove flying within the beard of the Father.

02 comments on “Bulgaria & Romania: Sofia

  • Carol Rodgers , Direct link to comment

    Chris Genry suggested we look at your photos. They are fantastic! Thank you for showing me an area of the word I know little about. Cheers!

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