Vagobond in Bulgaria – Part 2 – Sofia Places of Worship

Travel around the world and try to write about it as you go and you are sure to miss something. One of the hardest parts of travel for me is finding the time to just stop, chill out, and write about my adventures. I wonder if travel insurance covers that?

This post is ostensibly about the churches, mosque, and synagogue which sit in the Square of Tolerance in Sofia, Bulgaria. But really it’s just a chance to show you some of the cool pictures I got of these places and tell you a few interesting facts I picked up about Sofia and Bulgaria while I was there.

Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia BulgariaThe St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the largest orthodox churches worldwide. Not only that, it’s incredibly beautiful both inside and out.

The Square of Tolerance is a unique place in Sofia: within less than 300 meters, you can see temples from four of the world’s major religions: a mosque, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and an orthodox church.

largest orthodox CathedralAnd here is something else I learned. Orthodox people pray standing up. So, Jews and Orthodox pray standing because they are at odds with God. Christians pray kneeling because they sort of submit. Muslims prostrate themselves and offer complete and total submission to the will of God.Interesting.

Boyana Church at 1-3 Boyansko Ezero Str. This small 14th-century church and garden is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church contains some very well preserved murals. It is located at the foot of Vitosha mountain and is a good starting point for day trips in the mountain. I didn’t visit it. Sorry, no pictures. Maybe, I will pay a visit there the next time I visit Sofia. There will definitely be a next time.

Oldest church in Sofia, BulgariaChurch of St. George, (It`s situated behind the Sheraton Hotel.). This rotunda church is the oldest in Sofia. (326 AD).The oldest functioning church in Europe is St. George’s Rotunda. It is right next to the Bulgarian presidency. Here’s a picture of my couchsurfing host Tim outside of it. We didn’t go in because they were sacrificing babies at the time. I mean, blessing them.

The Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church. Inside of a secret room there are the bones of a saint that you can write a wish to and deposit in a box. Tim knew where the secret room was and so we made wishes on some saint bones. Baraka! Bulgarian style.St. Nicholas Orthodox Church

Hagia Sophia Church, 2 Paris str.. It is located just across the square and to the right from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.It was built in the 6th century over an even older church. It is a witness of the whole Bulgarian history and is a valued cultural monument. In the 14th century it gave its name to the city of Sofia. It was destroyed several times and during the Ottoman rule it was used as a mosque. Now, it is once again being used as a church. We all like the same spots apparently.

Bulgarian Hagia Sophia

Catholic cathedral St. Joseph. It’s new and I didn’t take any pictures of it. Very impressive though.

Sofia (at that time called Serdika) is 1700 years older than Brussels and Emperor Constantine the Great was considering Sofia for the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but eventually chose Constantinople. He said “Serdika is my Rome”. But in fact, Istanbul is fucking Istanbul. Possibly the greatest city in the entire world. In the 4th century, Serdika was the spiritual capital of the Christian world and the Boyana Church frescoes are considered to be the portents of the European Renaissance. Sofia’s motto is “Grows But Does Not Age.” Sort of like my belly.

Sofia Bulgaria MosqueIt’s not strictly Christianity in Sofia though. You can hear the church bells and the call to prayer from the Banya Bashi Mosque at the same time. Its construction was completed in 1576, during the years the Ottomans had control of the town. The mosque derives its name from the phrase Banya Bashi, which means many baths. The most outstanding feature of the Mosque is that it was actually built over natural thermal spas. One can even see the steam rising from vents in the ground near the Mosque walls. The Mosque is famous for its large dome and the minaret rising upward to the sky. Currently the Banya Bashi Mosque is the only functioning mosque in Sofia, a remnant of the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria that lasted nearly five centuries, and is used by the city’s Muslim community of 8,614 out of 1,170,842.

Sofia Bulgaria JewsAnd of course, the Jewish community is represented in Sofia by the Sofia Synagogue.It is the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe, one of two functioning in Bulgaria and the third-largest in Europe. One of the largest in Europe. Despite the building’s size, the services are normally only attended by some 50 to 60 worshippers due to the aliyah of most of Bulgaria’s Jews to Israel and the secularity of the local Jewish population.Apparently there is a souvenir shop inside, but I didn’t visit.

Whew….and now that I took the time to craft this post for you…it’s time to go out and see more…what would you visit if you were in the Balkans?


Vago Damitio

Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook

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