Sofia, Bulgaria

My Friend Lili from Sofia asked where Bulgaria was in my blog.  Here are some Archive pictures from October 2011. 

October 30, 2011

Sofia, Bulgaria

Anyone who digs a few meters under Sofia’s the streets finds layers of history ranging from Neolithic to Ottoman with Roman, Byzantine and Medieval Bulgarian layered between.  In 2004 excavations started for the hotel in which we were staying, workers uncovered a Roman Amphitheater and they had to redesign the hotel to protect the ruins and incorporate them into the design, giving the hotel a striking atrium and one of the more unique health clubs imaginable.

Sofia is a very, and a not very, old town at the same time.  It’s been the site of settlement for thousands of years, and for the Romans it was an important center, but then it declined.  Everyone was surprised when it became the capital of a newly independent Bulgaria in 1878.  It was everyone’s second choice and the front runners canceled each other out.  So a “modern” late 19th century Sofia was built.  People always knew there was stuff under them, and in a few places it popped out.  For instance, St. George’s chapel is hidden in a courtyard between two massive socialist buildings.  Even though it’s a few meters below the ambient ground level it has been used since about the year 300.  It was a Roman building.  When Constantine became emperor it became a “Christian Factory”– a baptistery — for the mass conversions encouraged by the emperor’s own conversion.  Later it became a church with frescos.  The Ottomans made it a mosque, white washing over the images.  It became a church again before being tucked away behind socialist buildings (which still have their stucco medallions but with the hammer and sickle logos that I remember from 1999 knocked off.)  In the square in front of these buildings is another old church, again, several meters below grown level, in effect, in a hole.

Building the Sofia Metro has become more of a headache than anyone could imagine.  Bulgaria got EU infrastructure funds for the metro but everywhere they dig they find stuff.  They have money for the metro but not for archeological preservation, so things are moving more slowly than they expected.  There will be a metro station below the main square, but it turns out that the area is littered with roman ruins, so the main square, in front of the Stalinist “wedding cake” former communist party headquarters will end up being domed over by glass and people will hurry between Roman ruins, with natural light, while transferring between trains.  Looking at the renderings of the metro station it should be pretty striking.

St. Sofia’s basilica, which is next to the gold domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, (built to honor the Russians who liberated Bulgaria from the Turks) also sits on top of Roman ruins.  They are building a museum under the church and they have put glass panels into the floor so you can look down on the Roman remains.  The glass in installed but not yet the lighting so, alas, no pictures. (As of October 2011)

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