Sofia’s biggest and most important museum is worth visiting if only for the chance to walk around the residence of a former communist dictator (see the building section below).
The museum will not disappoint.
The oldest exhibit dates from 4,000 BC; one of the newest is the pen used for signing Bulgaria’s EU accession papers in 2005.
Much of the museum’s fame rests on its collections of Thracian gold and silver artifacts (customary called “treasures”), as well as Thracian, Roman and Early Christian military equipment and cult objects.
Artifacts from the First and Second Bulgarian Kingdom are arranged in a hall with a wonderful view of Mt. Vitosha, which somewhat compensates for the sudden decline in the quality and quantity of English signs.
For those not intimately familiar with Bulgarian history, a collection of silver jewelry, several exquisite wood carved crosses and golden Orthodox liturgical vessels are worth seeking out.
The upper floors offer a beautiful view of Sofia, always strikingly small when viewed from afar. Here you will also find a charming collection of folk costumes.
The Museum’s newest resident is a 700 year old “vampire”, whose grave was unearthed in 2012 with much media attention.
The museum is housed in one of the buildings used by Bulgaria’s Communist head of state Todor Zivkov and his entourage. Access here was heavily restricted and the area still holds a certain mystique for the locals.
For obvious reasons, no Bulgarian over the age of 30 would be caught dead calling the building’s typical 1970’s architecture “beautiful”.
However, to a visitor unscarred by the memory of Communism’s constant aesthetical offences, the wood carving, marble floors and wall mosaics would probably seem intriguing.