FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Holy Sofia

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

Sofia is a city of many remarkable places of worship, most of which have complex histories in keeping with the history of the country!

My favourite would have to be the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi church (Church of the Holy Seven) which was converted from an Ottoman mosque. The so-called black mosque (a name derived from the black marble tiles used to decorate the minaret) was constructed in 1528 to designs by the grand architect Sinan. However, the mosque was abandoned after the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 and the medrese (schoolhouse) was converted into a prison.

Sveti Sedmochislenitsi

Sveti Sedmochislenitsi

One of the prisoners, former Prime Minister Petko Karavelov, who had been incarcerated there between 1891 and 1894 proposed the conversion of the mosque into an orthodox church. The work was carried out between 1901 and 1903 to a design by Alexander Pomerantsev which saw the exterior changed entirely. At the centre of the orthodox church is an impressive square space, the sole surviving part of the original mosque, capped with a dome designed by Milanov and Momchilov. The interior is quite beautiful, painted from floor to ceiling with colourful murals and a comparatively simple but effective iconostasis.

Other places of worship that I visited included the church of Sveta Sofia (a sixth century church which gave its name to the city), the church of Sveta Nedelya (a medieval church and the focus of a terrorist attack in 1925), the Russian church of Sveti Nikolai Chudotvorets (the interior was undergoing renovation when I visited and a temporary chapel had been set up, but you could still peer into the interior if you could cope with the solvent fumes) and the rotunda of Sveti Georgi (the oldest architectural monument in the city). I also enjoyed the exterior views of the church of Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska, the Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue on my wanders.

In short, Sofia’s places of worship each have something very different to offer and it is worth taking the trouble to explore them if you can find a moment when they are quiet (something that I found was much harder than I expected, stumbling on a seemingly never ending timetable of baptisms, choir practice, prayer sessions, services and marriages!).

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