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Published: June 26th 2017
Geo: 42.7105, 23.3238
this morning we were taken on a city tour of Sofia. Left the hotel at 8-30 right into peak hour traffic. As we sat in the traffic jam our guide Valery told us about the background history of this place. I discovered that Bulgaria in Ancient times was Thrace. This was very interesting news. We were driven to a square where we alighted from the bus. This was just outside the Presidential Palace which had two ceremonial guards on duty. The opposite building was the Archaeological Museum which is housed in an old Mosque, no longer in use. My ears pricked up at that! !! From there we walked back along the road to the National Art Gallery where we went inside but only as far as the souvenir shop. This was an excellent shop with good quality artefacts on sale.
From here we stopped outside the church of St Nikolai, an Orthodox church built in russian style. this was was relatively recent, from the 1920s. However, our next visit was great. This was at the church of St Sofia, the original church which gave the name to the city. this dates from the 4th century AD and was
originally a Roman Basillica. It is remarkably preserved with most of the original Roman brickwork in evidence. It is very simple inside having only a smal iconastasis and is relatively small. I really enjoyed our visit there.We then walked to the St Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. this is much grander in design and decoration. This was built from 1882- 1912 with a lot of help from the Russians. Russia had "liberated" Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire, and this was built to commemorate this achievement.Inside it is all marble with murals covering all the walls. There is a magnificent iconastasis decorated in gold. It is the seat of the Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox church and the special seats for the king and the patriarch are near the altar.
From here the rest of the group returned to the hotel. We were not going on the optional tour to Rila Monastery so we stayed in the city. We walked back to the Museum, passing by rows of market stalls selling all kinds of antique medals, knives, coins etc as well as standard souvenirs. Went into the Archaeological Museum after watching the changing of the palace guard which was happening as we arrived.Here because
we were "seniors" we saved $10 each by being given free admission. Being old does have some advantages!!!! This museum was fantastic. Bulgaria has a long history starting with Thracian tribes and continuing through Greek and Roman occupation. There were artefacts here which began with Neolithic times but the most fascinating for me were the Thracian relics and the Roman statues. They had some magnificent gold grave goods dating to Thracian times with jewellery, death masks and other artefacts. There were also some fabulous helmets and bronze and silver armour decorations. The Roman remnants included many stele and friezes from tombs as well as a huge headless statue of Fortuna. All these were found in various sites in Bulgaria and Macedonia
The most amazing was a bronze head, which still had the coloured eyes. This is so rare as most of this kind of decoration has been lost over the centuries. It was an extremely striking sculpture.
After over an hour there we went outside where there was a noisy political demonstration going on. We watched but it was peaceful. Behind the Presidential Palace we stumbled on the Church of St George which was again an early 4th century Roman basilica. There
were ruins next to this which seemed to be the remains of Roman Baths.
We then spent some time wandering round the streets. Stopped for lunch at a Pizza place and then found the huge statue of Sofia which is a version of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. Walked through several parks and looked in a few shops. We did find the magnificent national Theatre building which we admired.
About 3-30pm we got a taxi back to the hotel for a rest. \
A very interesting day in a city of suprises.
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