The Church of Hagia Sophia is the second oldest in Sofia (after St. Georges Rotunda). It dates to the 6th Century, which in most cities would make it by far the oldest church, but not here! Until the 14th Century Sofia was called Sredets but when a name was needed for the new capital the name of this church was chosen.
This site was used as the necropolis for the Roman city of Serdica and in the 2nd Century AD was the location of an amphitheatre. Once Rome converted to Christianity a church was founded here which was then destroyed by the Goths, rebuilt again and the destroyed by the Huns. The current building is thought to be the fifth rebuild, dating to the reign of Justinian I, the Byzantine Emperor who came close to re-establishing the Roman Empire to its former glory (circa 527-565 AD).
The church continued to be central during the Second Bulgarian Empire of the 12th-14th Centuries and gave its name (Hagia Sophia being holy wisdom in Greek) to the whole City in the 14th Century.
The Ottomans ruled Bulgaria from the 16th Century until the 19th and turned the church into a Mosque. Two minarets were added, one of which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th Century, the other of which fell down before restoration work was undertaken after the Bulgarian liberation.
Today many people hurry past St. Sofia having visited the Alexander Nevski Memorial Cathedral as they head towards the City Centre, but they are missing one of the most important early Christian structures in Europe.
Outside the church, around the back amongst a glade of small trees, is a memorial to the Jews of Bulgaria, the vast majority of whom were rescued during World War II in a series of audacious and brave political manoeuvres which allowed time for them to escape the country before the Fascists took full control.
Photo - Andrew J. Müller
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