Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sophia, Bulgaria

To see my photos of Sophia, click on this link:

I had the opportunity to visit Sophia, Bulgaria for a short period of time. I was mostly in the University area, as well as the area around Hagia Sophia and the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky. This area of the city is filled with beautiful classical revival, Byzantine, modern, and Victorian architecture. In contrast to most American cities, but similar to other European and Asian cities, Sophia has major installations of public art, most of which appear to be from the modern era. The city has a rolling topography and its infrastructure seems very well maintained. Major arteries in the area I visited are paved with bricks that are colored gold and appear to be glazed. They are so slippery in the snow that walking let alone driving on them are a major hazard. Sophia’s citizens are not outgoing and do not smile easily. They dress much like Americans- that is, they do not dress with much panache. I was surprised by how beautiful the city is and how well it is maintained. The highway to the airport, however, has many Soviet-style apartments, as well as fast food franchise operations. I would like to return to Sophia in warmer weather and when I have a lot of money- it is very expensive.

I visited three major churches in Sofia: Hagia Sophia, Alexander Nevsky, and St. Nicholas. Hagia Sophia is being excavated and restore. The Nevsky church is magnificent with grand chandeliers and huge frescoes that are dimmed by the effect of burning candles. I did not see the interior of St. Nicholas. No photos were allowed in Hagia Sophia or Alexander Nevsky, but DVD’s were available for purchase. I think that the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt make a buck on my behalf.”

From Wikipedia: Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city by population in the European Union, with 1.4 million people living in the Capital Municipality.[3] It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha, and is the administrative, cultural, economic, and educational centre of the country.

The Hagia Sophia Church is the second oldest church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, dating to the 6th century CE. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city, previously known as Sredets.

The church was built on the site of several earlier churches and places of worship dating back to the days when it was the necropolis of the Roman town of Serdica. In the 2nd century CE, it was the location of a Roman theatre. Over the next few centuries, several other churches were constructed, only to be destroyed by invading forces such as the Goths and the Huns. The basic cross design of the present basilica, with its two east towers and one tower-cupola, is believed to be the fifth structure to be constructed on the site and was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the middle of the 6th century (527-565 CE). It is thus a contemporary of the better-known Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople.

During the Second Bulgarian Empire (spanning the 12th to 14th centuries), the structure acquired the status of a metropolitan church. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city (Hagia Sophia meaning "holy wisdom" in Greek). In the 16th century, during Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque: the original twelfth-century frescoes were destroyed and minarets were added. In the 19th century two earthquakes destroyed one of the minarets and the mosque was abandoned. Restoration work was begun after 1900.

The Hagia Sophia Church is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early Christian architecture in Southeastern Europe. The present building is a cross basilica with three altars. The floor of the church is covered with complex Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed mosaics. The Hagia Sophia Church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and many tombs have been unearthed both under and near the church. Some of the tombs even feature frescoes.

According to popular lore, St Sophia's miraculous powers protected the building over the centuries, warding off human invasions and natural disasters to keep the church as an example of the elegant, austere, and symmetrical architecture of the age.

Because St. Sophia represents divine wisdom rather than a historical saint, icons within the church depict Sophia as a woman standing above three other women representing faith, hope, and love. The church also displays icons of historical saints, including St. George and St. Vladimir.

The St. Nicholas church was built on the site of the Saray Mosque, which was destroyed in 1882, after the liberation of Bulgaria by Russia from the Ottoman Empire. It was built as the official church of the Russian Embassy, which was located next door, and of the Russian community in Sofia, and was named, as was the tradition for diplomatic churches, for the patron saint of the Emperor who ruled Russia at the time, Nicholas II of Russia. The church was designed by the Russian architect Mikhail Preobrazhenski in the Russian Revival Style, with decoration inspired by the Muscovite Russian churches of the 17th century. The construction was supervised by the architect A. Smirnov, who was building the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia nearby. The exterior decoration of multicolored tiles was done by G. Kislichev, and the interior murals were painted by a team of artists led by Vasily Perminov, who also painted those in Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. The five domes are coated with gold. The bells were donated by Emperor Nicholas II.

Construction began in 1907 and the church was consecrated in 1914. The church remained open after the Russian Revolution and during the Communist period in Bulgaria (1944–1989), though priests and church-goers were carefully watched by the State Security police.

The exterior was recently restored by the Russian Government. The interior murals unfortunately are darkened by smoke from candles and from time, and are in need of restoration.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia occupies an area of 3170 m² and can take 5,000 people inside.

The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a cross-domed basilica featuring an emphasized central dome. The cathedral's gold-plated dome is 45 m high, with the bell tower reaching 50.52 m. The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons and the lightest 10 kg. The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colours, Brazilian onyx, alabaster, and other luxurious materials. The central dome has the Lord's Prayer inscribed around it with thin gold letters.

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