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History both ancient and recent

Return to Sofia day four

View A return to Sofia on ToonSarah's travel map.

Outside St. George Rotunda Church, Sofia

We had a leisurely start to the day, taking our time over breakfast in the Costa coffee shop overlooking the City Garden and watching Sofia go about its business.

In the City Garden

Two churches

We then strolled over to the St George Rotunda Church, planning to go inside. However, a small service (attended by a single worshipper!) was in progress. So we went instead to the nearby Saint Petka Church but our luck was out here too, as the lady attendant was just locking the door to take a short break. She indicated that she would be just five minutes, so we lingered outside and sure enough she was soon back. She let us in to the lower crypt level from where we climbed the stone stairs into the main church. It's very small and quite dark; the frescos were in poor condition and hard to make out, but interesting to see, nevertheless. I asked if I might take photos but got a firm no, unfortunately.

We retraced our steps to St George Rotunda where the service was still in progress and the single worshipper had been joined by one other. So we restricted ourselves to admiring the frescos and icons from the entrance. Signs here made it clear that no photos were permitted but you can see few on the Wikipedia page about the church, so some people have managed to take them! This is considered the oldest church in the city, dating back to the Roman Empire.

St. George Rotunda Church

The Archaeological Museum

Our next visit was to the Archaeological Museum, in a former mosque. This had been recommended by our guide on the free walking tour and proved really worth seeing. I found the earliest artefacts on the upper floors among the most interesting, with some intricate bronze age metal work and finds from Thracian tombs, including that of Seuthes III which I visited three years ago.

The head of Seuthes III (3rd C BC), and a 4th C BC greave

Around the balcony that overlooked the ground floor at this level were lots of icons from churches across the country.


St George put into a limekiln (from an early 18th C church)

On the ground floor we saw the larger Roman and later finds.

'Equestrian saying farewell to his wife and children, late 2nd C AD',
and the head from a bronze statue of Apollo, 2nd/3rd C AD, found here in Serdica

Detail of a 3rd C tombstone from near Plovdiv

There was also an interesting temporary exhibition of mixed media (photography and acrylic) images based on traditional Bulgarian headdresses.



By the time we left it was almost midday. We needed to have an early lunch as we had tickets booked for another museum visit at 13.30, so after a little wander around nearby streets we returned to the museum, or rather, to the cafe/bar next door. We'd spotted this a couple of days previously and thought it looked a good lunch option, which it proved to be, with a great burrata and avocado salad.

The Red Flat

We then headed to our next appointment, a visit to the Red Flat. This is a faithful depiction/restoration of a typical 1980s family home in Sofia.




The Red Flat

The audio guide introduces you to every detail of their lives - their jobs (the father is lucky to be able to get work abroad so they have a few associated perks), their son's schooling, how they spend their spare time, the holidays they take, the food they eat and so on. We also learned a lot about the more general way of life at that period and I found myself spotting several similarities with present-day North Korea.

Teenage bedroom

The kitchen


Exercise book

Photo album

Finally we were told how the euphoria at the demise of the Communist regime was short-lived, as the father lost his state sponsored job and their income struggled to keep up with inflation. Luckily there was a happy ending as he was able to set up his own construction company and his wife found good work in real estate.

By the time we left the flat the afternoon was getting on. We took our time on the walk back to our apartment, detouring to check a mini flea market on a patch of derelict land and lingering in the City Garden for some street photography.


Near the Red Flat


In the City Garden

A (very) mini VT meet

In the evening we had planned to meet up with two of my Virtual Tourist friends who live in Sofia. One, Christina, had to drop out as she had a cold, but we met Lilyana and her husband Svetoslav for dinner in a cosy pub-style restaurant, the Friendly Bear, not far from our apartment. It was lovely to see her again and chat about Bulgaria, London and travel elsewhere too. A nice last evening in the city.


In the Friendly Bear

Posted by ToonSarah 13:24 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged churches restaurant history museum archaeology sofia bulgaria street_photography virtual_tourist

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Another great piece, Sarah.

I was quite taken with the Archaeological Museum which looks to have some fascinating finds but then I was utterly blown away by the Red Flat, that looks utterly amazing, especially as it is presented as a "museum" and yet it relates to a period in both our lifetimes.

by planxty

You're right Fergy, it's in part the fact that the 1980s was our era that make the flat so fascinating. Chris and I set up home in our first flat in 1981 so we couldn't help but draw parallels. The kitchen equipment looked so old fashioned and the lifestyle was so much more restricted. As I mentioned, it reminded me quite a lot of present-day N Korea - the one-sided presentation of the news, the potential 'punishments' if you stepped out of line (losing your job, your child not getting to university) and so on.

Are you feeling better btw?

by ToonSarah

The Red Flat looks interesting and actually brings back lots of memories for me with things like: the furniture, typewriter, photo album. As Planxty said it is interesting to see such familiar things in a museum.

by irenevt

Thanks Irene - I felt the same, but more like things from my childhood than the 1980s perhaps?

by ToonSarah

Interesting. I've noticed some of our belongings are now featured as antiques. If you live long enough . . .

I imagine it was quite a shock for those people to go from Communism to a free-market economy. Some always fare better than others.

by Beausoleil

Yes, I think many of them would have been expecting utopia and found instead that things were really tough, especially at first, losing the security of state support.

by ToonSarah

Productive day in a interesting city :)

by hennaonthetrek

Thanks Henna - yes, very interesting :) A shame you weren't involved with VT when we met there in 2019!

by ToonSarah

I must say that I loved your read about the Red Flat. I am not always into going to a museum, but this one I would give a go! :)

by Ils1976

It's not like a regular museum at all Ils, and yet yo learn so much!

by ToonSarah

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