As the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia reflects the country’s diverse cultural and religious influences. This is particularly evident in the city’s places of worship, whose architecture ranges from the simple red brick of the 6th century St. Sophia Church to the golden onion domes of the St. Nikolai Russian Church.
The St. Sofia Church is not only the oldest Eastern Orthodox church in Sofia, it is the church that gave the city its name. Its basic, Byzantine-style basilica design contrasts sharply with the nearby Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, possibly the most impressive religious site in the city. The cathedral’s pale limestone façade, towering belfry and gold-plated domes are reminiscent of typical 19th-century Russian churches. Also built in a popular Russian style is the onion-domed Russian Orthodox church of St. Nikolai, which stands just a few blocks from the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Matching the St. Sofia Church in simplicity are the Church of St George and the Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska Church. Both made of red brick with few external embellishments, the former dates back to Roman times and is the oldest building in Sofia, while the latter is a small, Ottoman-era church that sits below ground level, today surrounded by concrete sidewalks and souvenir shops.
Representing Sofia’s once-robust Jewish community is the Sofia Synagogue, the third largest synagogue in Europe. Resembling the Leopoldstadter Tempel in Vienna, it was built in a Moorish revival style with Viennese Secession and Venetian elements and an octagonal dome. Not far from the synagogue is the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only Muslim place of worship in Sofia. Built in 1576, it was designed by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who also designed Istanbul’s Suleiman Mosque. One of the most colorful religious buildings in Sofia, it is made of honey-colored stone layered with terracotta bricks, with a slim red minaret rising adjacent to a 50 foot wide dome.