Seeing Sofia: The Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski


If you’re only going to see one sight/site in Sofia, Bulgaria, the Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski is probably the place to be. It is not old, like many great churches of Europe. Indeed, it is barely over the 100 year mark; construction was completed in 1912. Still, it is worth spending the time to explore, to revel in both its size and beauty.

Alexandar Nevski Cathedral is massive. It can, according to one source, hold 5,000 worshipers inside. On the day I visited I think there were 5 attending the service. It was still a magical moment.

The soaring domes are impressive from the outside. That view is nothing compared to the stunning beauty inside.

The exterior of Sofia's Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
The exterior of Sofia’s Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski


Early on a Saturday morning (8:30a) I was one of the only visitors in the space. Despite the dearth of tourists (or, perhaps, helped by that) a small collection of parishioners gathered by an altar in the far corner of the church. A priest led the service with a pair of men joining him as the choir. The three of them were not particularly loud and there was no need for them to be. Only a handful joined for the service, many leaning against pillars or sitting on benches where they could watch and participate. Thanks to the spectacular acoustics of the space, however, the sound carried throughout.

Almost alone inside Sofia's Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
Almost alone inside Sofia’s Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski

I have no idea what the hymns were, though I presume they are similar to others I’ve heard in various languages over the years. I didn’t need the specific words to appreciate the beauty of the melodies and the beauty of the space joining together.

Candles inside Sofia's Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
Candles inside Sofia’s Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski

I’m not a particularly spiritual person but this moment hit all the right notes, so to speak.

The soaring domes of the Orthodox style, executed spectacularly inside Sofia's Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
The soaring domes of the Orthodox style, executed spectacularly inside Sofia’s Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski


Other bits nearby

Just outside the Cathedral Alexandar Nevski are a couple other landmarks worth noting. The Shipka Monument (Monument of Bulgarian Volunteers) honors those who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Bulgarian liberation war of 1877-1878. Specifically, it commemorates the Battle of Shipka Pass, one of the bloodiest campaigns in that conflict.

Sofia's Monument to Bulgarian Volunteers honors those who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Bulgarian liberation war of 1877-1878.
Sofia’s Monument to Bulgarian Volunteers honors those who fought against the Ottoman Turks in the Bulgarian liberation war of 1877-1878.

Just across the main road sits the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. An eternal flame burns in memory of all those who perished in defending their homeland. The monument also features a stanza from the poem The New Graveyard Above Slivnitsa by the national writer Ivan Vazov:

БЪЛГАРИЙО, ЗА ТЕБЕ ТЕ УМРЯХА,
ЕДНА БЕ ТИ ДОСТОЙНА ЗАРАД ТЯХ
И ТЕ ЗА ТЕБ ДОСТОЙНИ, МАЙКО, БЯХА!

O BULGARIA, FOR YOU THEY DIED,
ONLY ONE WERE YOU WORTHY OF THEM
AND THEY OF YOU WORTHY, O MOTHER, WERE!

The eternal flame burns at Bulgaria's Memorial to Unknown Soldiers in Sofia
The eternal flame burns at Bulgaria’s Memorial to Unknown Soldiers in Sofia

Visiting the Cathedral and not stopping by these two monuments would be a strange choice and almost hard to accomplish. The three span a distance of less than 250 meters.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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