Bulgaria’s capital is the ideal setting to gain insight into the country’s varied and far-reaching religious history. Here are a few spots in Sofia that allow you an intimate look at the influences of Orthodoxy, Ottoman rule, and early Christianity on the city’s architecture.
St. Sofia Church
The building that gave the city its name, Sofia’s second-oldest church stands on religious ground dating back to Roman Serdica. Look out for signs of the site’s many transformations over the years, from Early Christian temple, to Ottoman mosque, to warehouse, before reconstruction in the 20th century.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The city’s premier example of Byzantine Revival, the Orthodox cathedral was built in celebration of Bulgaria’s liberation. Notice the interior’s luxurious furnishings, including Brazilian onyx, Italian marble, and German chandeliers.
Church of St. George
Thought to be the oldest structure in Sofia and perhaps built on an even more ancient pagan worship site, the red brick rotunda is a restored example of Early Christian architecture. Keep an eye out for the frescoes on the dome ceiling and surrounding network of Roman ruins.
Banya Bashi Mosque
The last remnant of Ottoman rule in Sofia, the mosque was built in the 16th century by Mimar Sinan, a forefront Ottoman architect. It is now the only functioning Muslim place of worship in the city. Don’t miss the nearby Turkish bath (hammam) ruins, from which the mosque derives its name.
The Orthodox church and UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on the outskirts of the city, is made up of three distinct buildings, built separately in the 10th, 13th, and 19th centuries. The church features a unique collection of medieval paintings and is considered one of the most important historic locations in Sofia.
The largest synagogue in Southeast Europe, the Moorish Revival building was modeled after the Leopoldstädter Tempel, once the biggest temple in Vienna before being destroyed on Kristallnacht. Notice the building’s complementary combination of Moorish, Venetian, and Secessionist features.
If you have time for a day trip into Bulgaria’s countryside, UNESCO-listed Rila Monastery is a prime example of Bulgarian Renaissance architecture and also offers unique insight into the country’s cultural history and Slavic identity. Its remote location can be difficult to access, though many day tours from Sofia include a convenient stop here.