Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. Like every capital city, it is the biggest administrative and economic, commercial and trade, cultural and event centre in the country. It’s also a place dotted by the ruins of the old Thracian settlement – Serdica (Sardica), the Roman – Ulpia Serdica, the town of Sredets within the First Bulgarian Empire. The city also faced the Byzantine and Ottoman periods and after the liberation it became the capital of the whole country step-by-step. Apart from being a historic hub as well, Sofia is also a religious centre. Of course, we are proud of our St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral which is one of the symbols of our capital, as well as we are proud of the rest of the emblematic Orthodox churches here. But there is one central corner, one central square in our capital where all of the four main religions meet.
If you wander somewhere between the Central Department Store (better known as TZUM) and the opposite Statue of Saint Sofia, let’s say between 5-6pm, you will stumble upon on one really very interesting (why not to call it) phenomenon. Actually, I worked somewhere there many years back and every time when I went out of my workplace I was amazed with it. Since then I have always called this central Sofia site “The Corner of Religions” or “The Square of Religions” (but, please, have in mind it’s not an official name of that place and you’ll not find it out like this on any maps or in any guides of Sofia). So, why do I refer to that site by these two names? It’s because the Loca Sancta of the four main religions stand there in their splendor. And what do I mean exactly?
The St Nedelya Church (or Holy/Saint Sunday Church in English) is a medieval Eastern Orthodox Church. Most probably it was built in the 10th century. It was a stone-wooden construction till the mid 19th century. The remains of Serbian King Stephen Milutin have been kept in the church with some interruptions ever since and that’s why the church had another name – “Sveti Kral” (or Holy King). The old church construction was demolished and the cathedral was erected in the 19th century. Since then, it’s been one of the landmarks of our capital.
After having heard the church’s 8 bells ring you will hear the muezzin call believers to prayer in the Banya Bashi Mosque (or Banya bashi dzhamiya in Bulgarian, Banya Başı Camii in Turkish). The holy building was built by Mimar Sinan and it was completed in 1576. The name Banya Bashi means “many baths”. And do you know why? … Because it was constructed over natural thermal spas.
Going down the Pirotska Street, you hear the bells of and you will reach the Cathedral of St. Joseph which is the largest Roman Catholic cathedral in Bulgaria. It’s a relatively new holy building inaugurated in 2006, whose foundation stone was laid by Pope John Paul II himself in 2002 when he was a on a visit to Bulgaria. The building is large and spacious and can hold up plus minus 1000 believers and worshippers.
And last – the Sofia Synagogue (Sofiyska sinagoga in Bulgarian). It is the third largest Jewish temple in Europe, and the largest in Southeastern Europe. It was built in the last century and today’s synagogue has a very interesting combination of architectural styles. It has taken elements from the Moorish style mixed up with Austrian and Venetian architecture. This architectural monument is also situated in the heart of Sofia and neighbours with the Central Market Hall. The capacity of the Synagogue is for 1300 worshippers. A very interesting ornament is its main chandelier which weighs 1,7 tons.