Saturday, April 15, 2017

240. Onwards to Sofia

... so after a couple of weeks beside the Black Sea at Varna - where it was far too cold to go in for a dip - it was time to move on to my next destination at Sofia - the capital of Bulgaria.

Here I have rented a great little "artistic" apartment just fifteen minutes walk along cobblestoned streets to the centre of this very glamorous city ... my stay in Sofia is for a month and with a great work-space in the loft of my new home at my disposal, I am planning to do a fair bit of creative work as well as the tourist stuff. 

This is the 25th apartment that I have rented through Airbnb - 12 so far this trip and 13 during my previous Seniors' Gap Year in 2014 - and I can't sing their praises enough. Not having to stay in hotels and hostels and being able to self-cater - and not having to eat out every day at rip-off restaurants - has made my travels possible and enjoyable.  I never pay more than A$40 a night and that includes a fully equipped home plus many extras like wifi and cable tv etc. And in the majority of cases, being greeted on arrival by charming landlords ... ( ) ...

My current apartment is very cute - two flights up - living area and bathroom on main level and bed and work space up stairs in the loft - and it's lovely sitting out on my balcony in the morning sun having my breakfast - with the mini-view of the snow-capped Mount Vitosha way in the distance - ... ahhhh - I count my blessings ...  

But enough of free commercials ... time to do some sight-seeing in this very sight-pleasing city. And seeing as it is Easter time, it seems appropriate to start my wanderings in Sofia with a visit to the very grand Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski ...

Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. The Cathedral occupies an area of 3,170 square metres and can hold 10,000 people inside. It is the second-largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula, after the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade ( refer to my posts from Belgrade ).


The construction of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral started in 1882, when the foundation stone was laid, but most of it was built between 1904 and 1912. Saint Alexander Nevsky was a Russian prince and the cathedral was created in honour to the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule.

  ... scene from the "art" park nearby ...

The 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 53 metres. The temple has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, the heaviest weighing 12 tons.

The cathedral was designed by Alexander Pomerantsev, and the construction and decoration were done by a team of Bulgarian, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and other European artists, architects and workers. The marble parts and the lighting fixtures were created in Munich, the metal elements for the gates in Berlin, while the gates themselves were manufactured in Karl Bamberg's factory in Vienna, and the mosaics were shipped from Venice.

In the construction of the Cathedral the architects planned for the crypt under the church to be a tomb for the Bulgarian kings, church bishops and other high ranking church officials, but it was never used as such and in 1965 the space under the church was converted into a branch of the Bulgarian National Art Gallery for Orthodox art.

Currently the Museum-annex houses what is claimed to be the largest collection of Orthodox icons in Europe. The collection of over 200 works covers a long period from the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, to the Bulgarian National Revival 18th and 19th centuries. As well as the icons, there are fragments of wall paintings, engravings and other antique religious artifacts on display.

Saint John the Theologian - 1620

The Virgin as Queen Enthroned - 1729

 Saint John the Forerunner -1670

 Saint Nicholas - 1660

 Saint Demetros - 1729

Christ the High Priest - 1700

 The Virgin Unfading Rose - 1703

Early Christian icons have always fascinated me for their exquisite sometimes-naive figures, the fine detail of the paintings and the use of gold leafing and metals - but quite often the subject matter leaves me a bit wanting and confused - also  most early icons are painted on timber, and over the centuries wood worm and time have left their mark and the artworks take a wonderful ancient look ... 

 Saint Deeses - 1703

  Virgin and Child Enthroned - 1703

 Prophet Daniel - 1824

 Saint Menas - 1823

Saint Marina - 1800

This small museum has been beautifully curated and cared for by a very friendly but "you-are-never-out-of-our-sight" staff. Many tourists complain that museum guards follow them around galleries making them feel uncomfortable, but when you see the sorts of stupid actions some tourists are guilty of, you appreciate the dedication of most gallery guards in protecting their priceless charges. Mind you I have been in many galleries where the guards are sitting in a corner with their faces buried in the smart-phones and don't even look up when you enter ...

 Saint George of Ioannina - 1839

The Virgin Hodegetria - 1824

I paid another visit to the Cathedral on Good Friday evening to witness the Orthodox service of the Stations of the Cross, guessing that it would be a pretty special event and also curious about the ways of the Orthodox liturgy ...

I wont go into the details of the service, other than to say that the music was absolutely divine in the true sense of the word. The deep heavenly male voices and the shrill-pitched womens' voices were extraordinarily beautiful, and together with the priest's chanting echoed around the enormous chamber.

There is very little seating in an Orthodox church so the congregation are expected to stand during the service - this prompts many people to walk around and greet each other chatting while the service is going on, creating an almost fun-but-chaotic atmosphere - I loved it ..

Half way through the service the clergy led the large congregation in a ceremony with bells and incense and much pomp, out of the church to process around the outside of the building - this gave me the opportunity to take some discreet pictures of the beautiful candle-light interior... 

When visiting houses of religion, I am always very respectful of the real purpose of the building and particularly alert to the comfort of the worshipers therein. It distresses me to see so many tourists disrupting the meditation of others with their noisy chatter and photo-taking without regard to the spiritual use of the building.    

So that was my Easter Good Friday excursion - may go back on Easter Day for another visit ...

The world is heading into such troubled waters at the moment - with governments from all persuasions being lead by cruel uncaring and aggressive leaders ... hopefully the true message of Easter for peace and care of the needy may calm things down a bit ...

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