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.
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.
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.
I’m not a particularly spiritual person but this moment hit all the right notes, so to speak.
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.
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!
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.
More from this trip:
- Why did airlines decide that "1" isn’t first?!?
- Country hopping: A quick weekend in Europe
- Ups and downs on the new British Airways business class service
- DLD 179: When we couldn’t figure out where to go
- Checking in: The Sofia Hotel Balkan, a Luxury Collection Hotel
- Cosmos: Hipster dining in Sofia, Bulgaria
- Chasing food across borders: Banitsa at Sofia’s Tsentralni Hali
- Seeing Sofia: The Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski
- Finally a successful CSR travel insurance claim!
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