If there is one site that all Sofia visitors tend to see, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral will be the one.
This is Sofia’s biggest Orthodox church and the city's undisputed symbol.
The golden-domed beauty is also one of the biggest cathedrals on the Balkans and a prime example of the Byzantine Revival architectural style.
THE HISTORY BEHIND ALEXANDER NEVSKY CATHEDRAL
For centuries the Ottoman administration regulated the construction of new churches in the Bulgarian lands with strict limits on the height and the size of the temples.
The newly independent Bulgarian capital’s skyline, thus, desperately needed the domes of a grand, national cathedral.
The first post-Independence National Assembly rushed an approval for the building of the cathedral as early as 1880 and a call for donations was issued to all Bulgarians.
In the course of several years the exalted citizens of the newly independent Bulgaria gathered over 1 million leva (1900 money!) of private donations and the construction works commenced in 1904.
The highest part of Sofia was selected for the construction site.
After reviewing several proposals, the Byzantine Revival Style prevalent in Russia at the time, became the architectural style of choice.
The building was finished in 1912.
The church was named after Russia’s most beloved Saint, Alexander Nevsky; a 13th century Russian warrior–prince who was later canonized. This is no coincidence, as Nevsky was the patron saint of Alexander II, the Russian emperor who led the Russo-Turkish war and pushed the Ottoman Empire out of Bulgarian territory.
Ironically, the church had to be briefly renamed during World War I, when Bulgaria and Russia ended up on different sides of the conflict. The original name was restored soon after.
ARCHITECTURE OF NEVSKY CATHEDRAL
Alexander Nevsky cathedral is a five-nave church with a Greek cross floor plan: a 45 m high large dome surrounded by four smaller ones. The 53 m high bell tower holds 12 large bells; the biggest one weights 12 tons. Hear them daily at 5 p.m. during the call for evening mass.
The interior is decorated with Italian marble and brass chandeliers.
The cathedral holds 5000 people and has an area of over 3000 sq m.
From the outside it is the golden domes that capture the eye. A total of 700 sq m of the cathedral’s domes are covered with a thin layer of golden plates, making Alexander Nevsky visible from a plane, from Mt Vitosha as well as from most of the city’s streets and neighborhoods.
Make sure to visit the much older St Sofia Basilica just in front, which is considered to have given the city its name and to stop by the Alexander Nevsky Crypt - an art gallery dedicated to Orthodox religious art.