St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral
The cathedral sits in Alexander Nevski Square, a large and open cobblestone area that plays host to an eclectic and fascinating daily open-air flea market. The area is also often used for huge political rallies.
The church's famous gilded domes (whose gold leaf was donated by the Soviet Union in 1960) cast a massive overall presence. The monument covers an area over 3100 square metres and can be seen from most elevated areas in Sofia - even from Mount Vitosha!
The National Assembly of 1879 made the decision to build the church as a monument to honour Tsar Alexander II of Russia. The "Tsar Liberator" and his army (200000 of whom were killed) helped free Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turks in the War for Liberation in 1877-78. The structure was named after the patron saint of the Tsar's family, Alexander Nevski, a Russian prince who helped thwart a Swedish invasion of his homeland in 1240 and was subsequently sainted for his efforts.
The stone foundation was laid in 1882, but it took over 30 years to complete the neo-Byzantine style cathedral using the design of Pomerantsev, a St. Petersburg architect.
With five aisles and three altar iconostases, the cavernous interior of the church is full of interesting details made by both Russian and Bulgarian artists. Unfortunately, dim lighting makes some of these difficult to see -such as the expressive paintings of Biblical scenes and saints that cover the walls and ceilings.
Other highlights include: Italian mosaics, multi-coloured marble, stained glass windows, huge chandeliers and a throne enhanced by Brazilian onyx and alabaster, once used by Tsars Boris and Ferdinand.
The cathedral has a capacity of 5000 and hosts at least that many on important Orthodox celebrations, such as midnight mass ceremonies on Christmas eve and Easter - when thousands of Bulgarians solemnly sweep through and around the outside of the cathedral, candles in hand, often singing.