Summary: A long weekend during Ascension day with my daughter. First time to Bulgaria, a new capital and a few UNESCO Sites to see. A city with lots of history.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited: Boyana Church, Rila Monastery (2h from Sofia), Tracian Tomb at Kazalnak (2h from Sofia) (see all UNESCO sites here)
Day 1 & 2 – Arrival
On the evening of day 1 we went to our hotel at the Amsterdam airport to catch a flight in the morning next day. Bulgaria is one hour further then Amsterdam, we arrived afternoon to our hotel. We planned to visit something but decided to just stay at our hotel; the Holiday Inn Sofia.
Day 3 – Boyana Church & Sofia Center
First stop in the morning (on the map below on the left bottom) the Boyana Church. A UNESCO World Heritage site. The church is small and only few people at a time can go in. Its really worthwhile to go as the fresco insides are simply magnificent. The top layer dates back to the 13th century, with the ones below (small parts visible) date back even longer. Total there are over 200 scenes depicted and some part is about the life of St. Nicolas. The church has three parts, the oldest part from 10th & 11th century, this part has 3 layers of frescos. Then the middle part from the 13th century with 2 layers of frescos and the newest part from the 19th century.
After the Boyana church we took the car downtown to explore the old city. This is easily done in a day. We parked the car close to the Soviet Army Monument. From there we walked along the Sofia University, National Assembly and National Library to the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. Most if it was build in the early 20th century in Neo-Byzantine style. This Bulgarian-Orthodox church is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals and second largest in the Balkan. From here we continued to St. Sofia Church which dates back to the 5th century. Various churches where build here which some great mosaics inside. From here to the Russian church and further along the National Ethnographic Museum, Presidency to the Mosque, Synagogue and Catholic Cathedral. From there to the Sveta Nedelya and the Rotonda St George and Ancient Complex of Serdika. On the way back to the car we passed the National Theatre. In the gallery below all photo’s in chronologically order.
Day 4 – Rila Monestary
Today we drove in just under two hours to the Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its the biggest and most important Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. In the 10th century a man called Ivan lived here in a cave nearby where the monastery is now. The cave can be visited also, see the second part in the gallery below; it’s a 30 minute hike to get there. Its a bit farther down the road you will see it signposted. The monastery itself was rebuild completely due to a fire in the 19th century. It has two gates, in the middle a church and a watch tower which where build later. The architecture is really unique and the church is full of fresco’s inside & outside. In the museum one can see the relics of St. Ivan. This place is really worth to visit when you are in Sofia – we drove back through another scenic way (see map).
Day 5 – Thracian Tombs & Buzludzha Communist Building
The Thracian Tombs at Kazanlak are a LONG day trip from Sofia (better do-able from Plovdiv) but we had 1 day left. (expected to need 2 days to see city center Sofia that was done in a day). Beside the Tombs we wanted to go to Buzludzha which was actually the plan of this day trip and the Thracian tombs are on the way there so a nice combination. First, Buzludzha: see this post for a detailed report (BULGARIA – Urban exploring in Buzludzha Communist Building (2014.06.01)), it’s a old building of the Bulgarian Communist Party. If you are in this neighborhood, visit it!
The Thracian Tombs. These are tombs of the Thracian kings and in the region where at that time was the city of Seuthopolis. The tombs are small hills like bee-hives. The Tomb at Kazanlak is one of the best preserved in Bulgaria. With lots of paintings in the wall representing a Thracian couple at a burial. The tomb is over 6000 years old. Today it’s only possible to visit the replica as the original is sealed for the public to avoid damaging the delicate paintings. Around this tomb there are many more, with over 1000 found in the region. Many are not possible to visit; we visited two more. The Tomb of Seuthes III which is about 30 minutes down the road from Kazalnak, and a few minutes further the Tomb of Ostrusha. The Seuthes III tomb has no paintings, it’s made out of granite blocks and the original can be visited. The Tomb of Ostrusha has chamber made of one granite block as walls and one cover, totally weighting 60 tons. The ceiling has “blocks” with paintings of which a few are very nice, a women, a lion and few others. The original can be visited. Some other tombs in this region should be open to visit be we skipped those as they are more of the same.
In the gallery first 9 images of Tomb at Kazanlak, the 7 after Tomb of Seuthos III and the last two Tomb of Ostrusha.
Day 6 – Departure
Back home on Air Bulgaria.
Sofia Tourist Map