Hidden Art Galleries: The Churches Of Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia churches

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We are accustomed to thinking of churches as great works of architecture. But many of them also have magnificent interiors. I was surprised at how many of the churches of Sofia were like mini-art galleries, packed with frescoes and other artworks, a reflection of the city’s Byzantine heritage. I’ve listed some of the most important below, but there are many more – if you pass a church in Sofia, it is worth stopping to look inside!

Saint Nedelya Church

Saint Nedelya Church (also known as St Kyriaki Cathedral Church) is the building you see ahead of you as you approach the town centre from Vitosha Boulevard. The original building dates from the 10th century, but it suffered substantial earthquake damage in 1858. It was rebuilt, but was further damaged by a politically-motivated bomb attack in 1925.

Ornate interior of Saint Nedelya Church
The opulent interior of Saint Nedelya Church

What you see today is mostly from the 20th century. The church is built in a neo-Byzantine style, with a massive 31m dome. The magnificent interior is full of icons and Byzantine influenced wall paintings.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built between 1882 and 1912. It was dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, a 13th century Russian prince who successfully fought off invaders from the west. Today it is the seat of the Bulgarian Patriarch, and one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia
The frescoes in Alexander Nevsky Cathedral are modern but in traditional style

The cathedral is in the neo-Byzantine style, cross-shaped with a large central dome. The interior is sumptuous, with walls of Italian marble, and columns of onyx and alabaster. The dome is lined with gold-leaf, and there are mosaics, murals and stained glass. Don’t miss the museum of Bulgarian religious art in the crypt.

Saint George Rotunda

The Saint George Rotunda is the oldest church in Sofia (and the oldest remaining building of any kind). It was built in the reign of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, possibly on the site of an earlier pagan temple. The church was later extended, and it was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era. It was restored and became a church again in the 20th century.

Churches of Sofia
Pinnable image of St George Rotunda, Sofia

Apart from its age, the most remarkable thing about the Saint George Rotunda is its medieval frescoes, which were uncovered during the restoration. These were in three layers, the earliest dating to the 10th century. Beside the church are the ruins of various Roman buildings.

Saint Petka Of The Saddlers

Saint Petka of the Saddlers is a very small church of brick and stone. The present building dates from the 11th century, but it is on the site of an earlier Roman church. Because it is so old, it sits below street level, in a subway beside the most recent excavations of the Serdica Roman site.

St Petka of the Saddlers, Sofia
The exterior of Saint Petka of the Saddlers

St Petka is most famous for its frescoes of biblical scenes. These were added at different times, from the 14th to 19th centuries. (However, the church was in use when I visited, so I couldn’t see for myself!)

Saint Sofia Church

Saint Sofia is the city’s second oldest church. The building dates from the 6th century, but it was built on top of an earlier Roman church from the 4th century. It was turned into a mosque during the Ottoman era but abandoned after a series of earthquakes. The building was restored and reopened as a church in the 20th century.

Exterior of Saint Sofia Church
The 6th century Saint Sofia Church

The church was built in the Byzantine style, and retains its original red brick, cross-shaped exterior. And the interior has all of the paintings and sculptures that you would expect in a Bulgarian church. But the real attraction of Saint Sofia Church for tourists is the archaeological museum in the basement. Here you can explore the remains of the original Roman church, and of the necropolis beneath it.

Russian Church Of Sofia

The Russian Church – more correctly known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker – is a Russian Orthodox church. Built between 1907 and 1914 on the site of an earlier mosque, it was originally a private chapel for the Russian embassy. Part of the popularity of the church is the grave of the Russian archbishop Seraphim Sebolev, who died in 1950. He is reputed to be a miracle worker, and his tomb in the crypt is regularly visited by people who leave letters or pray for a miracle.

Russian Church, Sofia
The “onion domes” of the Russian church

There are some frescoes inside the church, but the main artwork is on the outside. It was built in the Russian style, with gold domes and coloured tiles on the exterior. The church is in the Pushkin Park, one of many green spaces in the centre of Sofia. Outside the church, on the Bulevard Tsar Osvoboditel, the road is lined with the yellow bricks for which Sofia is famous.

Boyana Church

The Boyana Church is a small medieval church on the outskirts of Sofia. Even by local standards its frescoes are special, and the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Read more about the Boyana Church

Visiting The Churches Of Sofia

Despite Soviet attempts to suppress religion in the 20th century, Orthodox Christianity is flourishing in Sofia. The churches are very much places to worship, and you may occasionally find yourself unable to enter if services are taking place. Some churches do not allow photography; others require you to purchase a permit before taking pictures.

And, when you’ve visited the churches, check out some more things to do in Sofia.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.


5 thoughts on “Hidden Art Galleries: The Churches Of Sofia, Bulgaria”

  1. To be quite honest, we had never heard of Sofia, Bulgaria. Your article not only hinted to us of the wonderful art, but suggested a destination that was not on our radar. Thanks for sharing these hidden gems with all of us.

    1. It’s surprising how “under the radar” Sofia is, even for those of us in Europe. It’s probably a good time to visit, before it is discovered…

  2. I always enjoy visiting historic churches to see the amazing interiors. You are totally right in saying in addition to the loveliness is priceless art. Thank you for this excellent post!

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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