Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Scenes from "Valley of Thracians": Sofia

My wife and I lived in Sofia, Bulgaria, for two years, 2009 - 2010. We lived in a furnished apartment, worked in a modern office building, and spent the weekends exploring the city. We walked Sofia's cobblestone streets, strolled through its parks, explored its markets, ate in its restaurants, and visited its museums. While not the most beautiful capital city, Sofia still captured us with its eastern European charm, a combination of old traditions and a desperate attempt to catch up with modern ways.

Sofia also served as our base for traveling around Bulgaria. We traveled out by bus, train, and plane, and on occasion rented a car. At the end of our travels we returned to our Sofia apartment, which very much felt like home.

It made sense to me that the adventure described in Valley of Thracians should begin and end in Sofia, as it is the gateway to Bulgaria. The pictures included here will only give you but a taste of Sofia and its charm. Join me today on a virtual visit to Sofia, with texts from Valley of Thracians and pictures of some of the locations where scenes from the book take place.

A colorful poster on a metal stand caught his attention. It was labeled “Thracian Treasures of Bulgaria,” but the rest of the explanatory text was in Bulgarian… That poster, to his surprise, was the first of many as part of an outdoor exhibition on the pedestrian bridge. One row of poster stands faced him at intervals of every few feet, while another row ran in parallel on the other side. All of the high-relief images pictured ancient treasures, discovered over the years in various locations around Bulgaria.

“Alexander Nevski Cathedral,” Sophia announced with a flamboyant wave at the lavish gold domes towering above as they took to the shade outside the church. “Sofia’s most important landmark. It’s named after a Russian tsar who came to our assistance back in the Middle Ages. The Russians have often helped us Bulgarians, and this church is dedicated to them. The church’s construction started in the 1880s, I think, and continued for quite some time. We in Sofia are very proud of our cathedral, even though we’re unlikely to ever pray inside.”

The rabbi explained that the Central Sofia Synagogue was the second-largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe, and Simon recognized this term as referring to Jews with origins in Spain and Portugal. The rabbi continued by saying that Friedrich Grunanger, an Austrian architect, designed the building, and construction began in 1905.

In the distance, the imposing mass of Vitosha—the mountain massif visible from nearly every part of Sofia—was brightly lit by the morning sunlight.


Banya Bashi Mosque

National Gallery of Art

Russian Church

Street scene

Please also read the other articles in this series, which will take you on visits to:

* Plovdiv
* Varna
* Veliko Tarnovo
* Rila Monastery 
* Belogradchik 


  1. I must admit it's such a picturesque place, so peaceful and calm. Maybe I can go there in the future :)

  2. It looks like there are some lovely, wide-open spaces right in the city. Very nice!

  3. Wonderful post - this gives a real sense of the place.