Every wise city-breaker knows never to time his/her visit to a city on a Sunday and Monday? Why? Simple really….they are the days when most museums are closed. So what did I do? I arrived in Sofia yesterday (Sunday), and will be leaving tomorrow morning (Tuesday). It reminds me of the time I cycled into Jerez on a Friday at 13.02, and the sherry bodegas had just closed until Monday. There are some mistakes we make in life……
Sofia, however, is rich in many other ways. Once I had begun a cycle of visiting religious buildings in the city (which are usually open and free to enter), I found myself emerging 7 hours later, my head spinning with the extraordinary religious history of a city on the frontier of four major religions (and here I separate out Orthodox from Roman Christianity).
Beginning with this Russian Orthodox church
built once the Russians had driven the Ottomans out in 1875.
Then you have the ancient orthodox church of Hagia Sofia
after whom the city is named. Then just a stone’s throw away is the enormous orthodox cathedral name after a leader who had liberated Bulgaria
But it is not just Christian temples that dominate. There is an important mosque
and the largest Sephardic Jewish Synagogue in Europe
The Sephardic Jews, you may remember, had been expelled from Spain by the Inquisition in the 16th century, and many had fled to eastern Europe. I had the pleasure of meeting an American family of eastern European Jewish origin, and they shared a few very interesting reflections to fill the gaps in my knowledge.
But St George’s Rotunda has to take the ‘Oscar’ of antiquity,
being the oldest Christian temple in continued use in the world, dating from the time that Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century.
Well, it’s been a day off the bike, but the sightseeing brain muscles have been in overdrive.
A great city to visit, and even better when the museums are open.
So, back on the road tomorrow, heading towards the border with Turkey. May that friendly westerly wind continue behind me!