Saturday, June 06, 2015

Historic Sofia

We took not one, but two fantastic, free walking tours in Sofia today. The first took us by many of the important buildings of the city, and we learned much of the city's fascinating and rich history, from its prominent place in the Roman and Byzantine Empires, to its floundering years under a communist regime, to some of its more recent history. After that tour, we stopped for lunch and a little park play time, before connecting with the Communist Tour in the afternoon, which took us deeper into what life was like in Bulgaria behind the Iron Curtain. The weather was perfect, the city beautiful, and the education priceless. These are definitely not the kinds of things you learn in a classroom! We are off to Greece tomorrow, but Bulgaria has been such a wonderful surprise for us. We would definitely love to come back to this country and spend a lot more time here.

Tours begin at the Palace of Justice

A case of mistaken identity
Some people mistakenly believed the city was named for Saint Sofia,
and so erected a statue to honor her. This infuriated many people, and there
was a great deal of controversy over it, but they ultimately decided to just leave it in place.

The former seat of the communist government

Filling water bottles with heated natural mineral water
from a public fountain outside of a former Turkish Bath House

The President's Office
(They are VERY serious about staying off they step where the guards stand!)

When the city was ready to put in a subway system, they found that the city was built in layers--
the bottom layer dating back to the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
Fortunately, many of the uncovered ruins were preserved.
This is one of the original gates of the city, with walls two meters thick
(or four Watts children, depending on how you measure).

Rotunda of St. George--the only Roman ruin preserved with its roof intact

Weston playing the role of King Boris of Bulgaria
in a little hands-on history lesson.

Clay playing the role of the child-king of Bulgaria.

Ivan Vazov National Theatre

There is graffiti all over the city, but this was quite a surprise!

The lion is the symbol of Bulgaria, so we saw lots of lion statues,
which made someone very happy!

The (other) Hagia Sofia, for which the town was actually named.
The city was originally called Serdica. This basilica was built on a hill and visible from miles away.
People would either come to town to go to the market or the church.
They started saying, "I've been to Sofia," and the name eventually stuck.

St. Alexander Nevesky Cathedral
There is one bell in the bell tower that weighs 12 tons all by itself.
All the bells together weigh 23 tons, and our guide speculated that
if all were rung at the same time, the windows in all the nearby buildings would shatter.

So many statues!

Our soup man was willing to order the traditionally popular tripe soup for lunch.
In case you're wondering, he really did enjoy it.

Behind door number one
Behind this door, there used to be a vast dungeon,
where the communist regime carried out beatings and torture sessions
on anyone speaking out against or not strictly adhering to communist policies.

I was so proud of the boys for volunteering when volunteers were required.
Here they are playing the roles of the various countries involved with Bulgaria during
WWII. Weston is Bulgaria, Max is the U.S. and Clay is the U.K.
(The man in the blue shirt is Germany and the woman in dark gray is U.S.S.R)

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