FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Doviždane Sofia

Posted in Bulgaria, Sofia by folkestonejack on May 23, 2016

Three days in Sofia has been an absolute pleasure, but our time here has come to an end. It is a quite stunningly beautiful city with some incredible architecture, lovely green spaces and a friendly vibe so we leave with a little regret on our journey back to normality!

It is worth noting that the latest editions of the guide books that I could find were out of date, having mostly been written before the re-organisation of the national art collection (for example, referring to the national gallery building as the national gallery of foreign art, which really doesn’t reflect the current arrangement at all), the opening of the Sofia City Museum or the unveiling of the remains of Roman Serdica. The In Your Pocket guide to Sofia proved much more reliable, but it’s definitely a location where a bit of homework pays off!

A wall from Roman Serdica

A wall from Roman Serdica

The newest attraction in the city is the remains of Roman Serdica, which opened to the public in April 2016. This 9000 square metre archaeological complex is located below street level and accessed from the metro station at Serdica or from staircases around the Largo. There were some impressive finds, such as the remains of an early Christian basilica, but most of the space is made up of underwhelming streets and buildings. The presentation is rather odd, if I am honest, with modern walls built on top of the Roman walls to preserve them. It’s an interesting addition to a great city, but it’s not going to challenge any of the existing sites (unless there is more to this complex than I discovered).

Our visit to Sofia was complicated slightly by the Museums at Night festival on Saturday, which meant that most art galleries and museums did not open during the day we had earmarked to see them. Admission was free for the evening, though this inevitably resulted in long queues to get in.

National Gallery - Square 500

National Gallery – Square 500

The National Gallery – Square 500 was a revelation and one of the highlights of the trip. The gallery is arranged as a chronological walk through Bulgarian and European art, but it was the Bulgarian art that appealed to me.

It’s tricky to pick out any highlights from the national collection, but three pieces that stood out were ‘Motorman’ (1932) by Funev, a relief of a locomotive driver hanging out of a window looking at the way ahead; ‘Respite’ by Kirkov, a rather downbeat black and white portrait of a man smoking a cigarette; and ‘Stop along the way’ (1967) by Gasharov with the striking image of a man in a flat cap at a bus stop with a small white toy wooden horse on wheels in tow. There were many other arresting images, including some lovely industrial compositions.

Sofia City Museum

Sofia City Museum

The Sofia City Museum, housed in a former bath house, was quite splendid at presenting some of the most fascinating moments in recent Bulgarian history, with some astonishing pieces of religious art (such as a marvelously colourful prelates throne from the old church at Kremikovtsi with arm rests shaped like open mouthed dogs dated to 1814) in a space cleverly adapted from the bath pools themselves.

A particularly strong collection of material in the Sofia City Museum covered the short history of the Bulgarian royal family, including a surprising set of possessions that belonged to Tsar Ferdinand I: a clock given by Queen Victoria, a writing desk given by Otto von Bismarck and Marie Antoinette’s royal carriage (used for his marriage, if I remember correctly). There is also a rather lovely souvenir cup given to Ferdinand I by the Ministry of Railways in 1912 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his accession to the throne. Well worth a half-hour queue to get in!

The combination of interesting sights from the communist era, fantastic architecture and great galleries/museums makes this a much underrated destination for a weekend or longer. My only regret is that I didn’t look into tours from Sofia out to the Buzludzha Monument before it disentegrates completely!


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