A brief walking tour of downtown Sofia.
(This walk can be done in 2-3 hours, everything is very close together.)

Saint Nedelya Square is located in the center of the city. In this square is St. Nedelya Church. It was built in 1865 on the location of a medieval church and reconstructed several times (1886,1931). Under the square are the ruins of ancient Serdica. If you face Vitosha Boulevard, to your left you will see the Faculty of Theology (built in 1906-1914) with an original facade in the spirit of the medieval Bulgarian architecture). It houses the National Museum of Church History.

Across Vitosha Boulevard is a Greek style building with two large lions flanking the steps. This is the Sofia City Court (consstructed 1928-1936). Until recently, it also housed the National History Museum. The National History Museum has moved and recently reopened at the President's residential complex in the suburban Sofia neighborhood of Boyana. While you cannot walk to the museum, it should not be missed. It has over 22,000 exhibits showing the development of social, political and cultural life in Bulgaria from ancient times to the present. It includes exhibits of silver Thracian treasures from Rogozen, the Panagyurishte gold treasures, archeological finds, Bulgarian Christian art and icons and even clothing from different Bulgarian eras. Unfortunately, most the exhibits don't have Latin transciptions, but guided tours in English are available. (The same is true at many of the other museums.)

In the underpass leading to Sheraton Hotel and the Tsoum shopping center you will see St. Petka Samardzhiyska Church, built in the 14th century. Its first frescoes date back to the same period. It is built half undergound. Turkish laws stated that a Christian church could not be taller than a Mosque (such as the nearby Banya Bashi mosque.) Following the same route, on Maria Luisa Boulevard you will see the Banya Bashi Mosque. It was built in 1576 by the famous Turkish architect Sinan. Sinan also built the Sultan Selim mosque in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey.  Behind the Hali food shopping center on Ekzarh Yosif Street is the Sofia Synagogue, one of the biggestsynagogues in Europe (built 1905-1909). It has been recently renovated. The building was built in Spanish -Moorish style with a big onion dome and huge chandelier.

Returning back to cross Maria Luisa Boulevard and passing to the left of the mosque you will come to the Central Bath. It was opened in 1911 to the public as a public bath with separate facilities for men and women. It is presently being renovated. The building is colorful with mosaics on the facade. It was built on the locattion of an enarlier Turkish bath. The plan is for the building to become a part museum and part hydrotherapy center. In from the baths anre the hot mineral springs where you can see people fill up jugs with the mineral water. This of course, was the main attaction to inhabit Sofia in the beginning and the city expanded from around the mineral springs.

Go back to Maria Luisa Boulevard again and turning left, crossing the undepass to arrive at the Sheraton Hotel. Turn left and walk to the middle of the building and enter the gate on the right. In the inner yard between Sheraton Hotel and the President's office you will find St. George Church - the oldest building in Sofia. It dates back to the 4th century. One part of it - the rotunda - rebuilt after the Huns' invasion, was used as a Christian temple. Among the medieval frescoes most remarkable are the images of flying angels (10th century). Beyond the church there are the ruins of the ancient town.

Remnants of ancient Serdica have been discovered during present day excavations. The fortified town area stretched between present day Alabin Street, Ekzarh Yosif Street and Le Gay-Serdica-Lavele Streets. The fortress was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was later reconstructed and reinforced several times (3rd - 4th centuries, 5th - 6th centuries). The fortress wall protected the town until it was conquered by Ottoman Turks who managed to gain access through an underground tunnel dug as far as the western gate. Remains of the fortress have been preserved and are visible on Iskur Street (the Round Tower) and in the underpass next to the Presidency (the eastern gate and a part of an ancient street). In other places the ruins have been combined into contemporary constructions. Across from the President's office is the Archaeological Museum. It is housed in the reconstructed Byuyuk Mosque (1474), next to the Bulgarian National Bank. Remains of Thracian, Greek and Roman settlements can be found there. The star exhibit is the Valchitran gold treasure from the 14th  century B.C. Captions are in both Bulgarian and English.

The other notable building in the area, across from the Archeological museum and President's office, is the building that once was known as the Party House. It now houses St. Sofia music hall and Members of Parliament offfices. It was the home to the Bulgarian Communist Party. On top of the building used to be a giant red star. The building burned in 1990, allegedly to destroy records but has since been restored.

Continuing to the east you will see Knyaz (Prince) Alexander Battenberg Square. This is the place where the oldest vestiges of life of Sofia have been found - remains of Neolithic settlements. Nearby on the elevation the acropolis of the Thracian settlement once rose. In the square you will see the building that was the Tsar's Palace. Before Bulgarian independence it housed the Turkish Bey's Konak (police office). The task of reconstructing the building into palace worthy of a king was assigned to the Austrian architects Fr. Grunanger, Rumpelmayer, the Czech architect A. Kolar and others. Presently the western wing of the Palace houses the National Art Gallery and the eastern - the Ethnographic Museum. The national art gallery exhibits Bulgarian and foreign art from the middle ages to the present day. The Ethnographic Museum displays folk costumes, fabrics, jewelry, woodcarvings, ironwork. A small craft shop sells crafts, costumes and musical instruments from all over Bulgaria. Once located in the square was the Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum. This building once was the focal point of all state ceremonies. It was built in six days and nights in July 1949 after the death of Bulgaria's first communist leader. Dimitrov's mummified body was removed in the 1990's and the building was torn down in 1999. In the square, you can still see the remains of the foundation of the building. It usually becomes the platform for concerts and festivals now.

If you travel through the park that is oppositive the Tsar's palace, you will come to the Ivan Vazov National Theater - one of the finest buildings in Sofia (1904), designed by the famous architects from Vienna H. Helmer and F. Felner, designers of numerous theatrical buildings in Europe. The building is designed in Viennese baroque style and has been reconstructed several times. Heading back to Battenberg square we travel east on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard. To the left you can see the Museum of Natural Science (1907), once planned to be a King's Museum in 1935. Next to it  you will see the golden domes of the St. Nicholas Thaumaturge Church (1912-1914), built in the spirit of the Russian church architecture from the 17th - 18th centuries by the Russian architect M. Preobrazhenski and known commonly as the Russian Church.

Continuing on takes us to Narodno Subranie (National Assembly) Square where one can see the monument of  Tsar Osvoboditel (Tsar Liberator), erected to commemorate the gratitude to the Russian Tsar Alexander II for the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. The monument was designed by Italian sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi (1903). Around the square is the Bulgarian National Assembly (Parliament) building with it's inscription on the front of the building "Съединението прави силата" (Suedinenito pravi silata) which means "Unity Makes Strength." The building was designed by Viennese architect Yovanovich and was built in three stages from 1884 to 1928. The square and the Parliament building were the site of massive protests in 1997 which led to new elections and the fall of the ruling Social government. Also located to the left of the parliament building is the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences building. (1892, architect H. Meyer).

The square offers a view to another remarkable site of the capital - St. Alexander Nevsky Square with St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in its center. The designer was Russian architect A. Pomerantsev. The Cathedral was built between 1904 and 1912 as a symbol of appreciation to Russia for the liberation of Bulgaria. Many Bulgarian architects and painters took part in the construction and the artistic decoration. The scale is impressive - 5 naves, a central dome, a bell tower. Visitors are most interested in the icons, the mural paintings, the marble lining, the sculptural details. In the Crypt (underground) there is an exhibition of icons - famous and valuable pieces of art dating from 13th - 19th centuries.

In the western end of the square is the early Byzantine basilica St. Sofia rises, the symbol that gave the city its name. Its dates back to the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century. It is located among the biggest and the most longly used Christian burial grounds in Sofia. Numerous sepulchers have been found dating from the 3rd - 4th centuries, some of which are exhibited at the northern side of the church. Close to its southern wall one can see the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. The flame burns continuously there to remember Bulgarians who died fighting for Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish war. Former United States President Bill Clinton laid a wreath at this monument during his visit in 1999. In the small garden behind it is the grave of Bulgaria's most famous author and poet Ivan Vazov. In the small garden in front of the church (towards Rakovski Street) is the monument in his memory.

In Alexander Nevsky Square you will find the Synodical Chamber - seat of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The Patriarch's residence is there.

Around the square you will find a bazaar with sellers offering icons, old coins, antiques, communist and Nazi paraphenillia and old junk as well.

Beyond St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the National Gallery for Foreign Art. Housed in an impressive early Baroque style building from 1897, the gallery has a permanent exhibition of ancient Greek sculptures, Indian sculpture, Japanese engravings, African ritual sulpture. It also has fine art pantings from the 15th century to the present day, including works by by Van Dyke, Veroccio, Rodin, Picasso, Goya, and Bulgarian National Revial Era artists.

To the left and beyond the gallery, surrounded by a traffic circle is the monument in memory of Vasil Levski - leader of the Bulgarian National Liberation Movement and quite possibly Bulgaria's biggest hero. Levski  was captured and sentenced to death by the Turkish authorities. He was hanged on February 18, 1873 on this very spot. The monument is a work by architect A. Kolar and was built in 1895. This spot once marked the edge of the city of Sofia. On Vasil Levski Boulevard one can visit the Academy of Fine Arts (1907, architect A. Smirnov), the National Library (1939-1949, architect Iv. Vasilyov and architect D. Tsolov) and Sofia University  The main entrance to the university is flanked by the sculptures of the brothers Evlogi Georgiev and Hristo Georgiev (sculptor K. Shivarov) who financed the construction of the University.

For a nice walk, use the underpass from Sofia university and go to the park across the street. There is a nice small park directly across the street that is frequently used for festivals. It is the Soviet Army park and you can't miss the 8 meter tall monument depicting the army. Obviously unpopular, the momument is too big to be easily dismanteled. Contiuing across the Eagles' Bridge you will come to the park that is the pride of Sofia - Borisova Gradina (Boris' garden.) The park was a gift to the people from Tsar Boris III (ruled 1918-1943.) The park extendes for several kilometers and is a popular place for walking and relaxing. It is the oldest and biggest city park.

Not included in this walking tour because of the distance, the National Palace of Culture or NDK is a huge building that can't be missed at the top end of Vistosha Boulevard. It was opened in 1981 to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state. The complex serves as a congress center and houses several large concert halls, exhibition space, movie theaters, restaurants and shops. Continuing beyond it is the Earth and Man Museum is a unique collection of gigantic crystals and precious stones. It was opened in 1986 and is located at 4 Cherni Vruh Boulevard. The Boyana Church, located in the suburban neighborhood of Boyana (where the National History Museum is) is a tresure of Bulgaria. Dating back to the 13th century, it contains amazing frescoes that portrayed Bulgarian life at the time. The church is listed on UNESCO's World Heritiage list. Nearby is the mountain neighborhood of Dragalevtsi is the Draglevtsti Monastery. It was founded in 1345 by Tsar Ivan Alexander and expanded by his son Tsar Ivan Shishman. During Turkish rule in Bulgaria the monastery was a center of Bulgarian education and culture. Vassil Levski was known to have stayed there. At the monastery are 15th century murals.