Every day the Bulgarian capital Sofia welcomes hundreds of guests from all over the world. For many Sofia becomes the starting point to various tourist sites across the country. Popular destinations are the Black Sea resorts in the summer and the snowy mountains in winter. However, the first impressions of Sofia usually remain as a beautiful memory.
Head of the Bulgarian Association of Tourist Guides, Nikolay Mindov, told us more about one of the tourist routes in Sofia. According to him, foreigners are pleasantly surprised by this ancient and beautiful city.
“There are many sites in Sofia that are attractive to tourists. We usually start a tour downtown Sofia where a Roman forum existed long time ago. In this area there are a number of churches built in different periods of Bulgarian history. Nearby stand the mosque and the synagogue, the latter being one of the largest Sephardic synagogues in Europe. A catholic church is very close to them. These different religious temples have existed for many years and form a kind of religious centre. There was an idea to connect the domes of the temples through a laser beam symbolizing the peaceful coexistence of several religions. Sofia’s guests can also see the interesting buildings of the mid 20th century in the capitals’ administrative centre. It includes the Presidency and the Council of Ministers. Tourists love to take pictures of the guards in front of the Presidency entrance. They often ask about the handsome uniforms. After the change of guard ceremony the tour continues to the nearby underground passage where tourists can see the remains of the wall that encompassed the city for 12 centuries,” Mr. Mindov says.
The wall was found by accident when building the subway and archaeologists claim there are numerous remains from Roman times in the area. Tourists also visit the Archeological museum next to the presidency, which was once a mosque. A great number of the treasures found in the Bulgarian lands are displayed there.
“We continue the tour to the Knyaz Alexander Battenberg square, where the former Tzar’s palace is situated, now housing the National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum. It is an interesting stop for tourists who can see the works of prominent Bulgarian painters and learn about the traditional Bulgarian customs. The square has been a stage for a number of operas. Renowned Bulgarian opera singers also attract tourists’ attention and sometimes we book opera tickets for them, Mr Mindov adds. Guests to the city also like to visit the Ivan Vazov National Theater. The neoclassical building is one of the city symbols. Concerts and exhibitions often take place in front of the theatre in the summer. A tourist attraction is the yellow pavement street passing along the palace. The specific pavement was a present from the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the Bulgarian Tzar. People say one cannot be lost in Sofia if they follow the yellow pavement.”
The experienced guide took us to the impressive St. Nicholas Russian church downtown Sofia, built in 1914. The church is situated at the juncture of two very important streets in the capital.
“One of them, the Rakovsky Street, is where almost all Sofia theatres are situated,” says the tourist guide. “Of course every tour of Sofia would be incomplete without a visit to the St. Alexander Nevski cathedral, which is one of the largest in Europe. 5000 people can enter the cathedral and the choir always impresses visitors, as acoustics is excellent. The parliament building is nearby. We do the whole tour by foot, so tourists can see all the interesting sites around. After the downtown tour we can go to the Vitosha Mountain, which is just 30 minutes away. The National Museum of History is at the foot of the mountain, as well as the famous Boyana church. The 13th century frescoes in the church are part of the world heritage under UNESCO protection,” concludes Nikolay Mindov.
English: Alexander Markov