Easily Sofia’s most recognizable landmark, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral stands tall and proud in the center of a road of golden cobblestones.
Although it’s not the most ancient or historically important site in Bulgaria’s capital, the Nevsky is a great photo spot and a colorful masterpiece that you should definitely see when in Bulgaria.
What is the Alexander Nesky Cathedral?
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (called simply “the Nevsky” by many) is an Eastern Orthodox church in the center of Sofia.
The church still operates and hosts regular services.
Anyone who is visiting Sofia will want to stop by the Nevsky. When you were planning your trip it was probably the first picture of Sofia that you saw!
Why is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Important?
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is important due to it’s size, fame, and the reason that it was built.
The Nevsky was built to commemorate the Russian soldiers who helped liberate Bulgaria from the Ottomans during the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war.
It was not long after this war, that Bulgaria became truly independent.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is also famous for being very large.
Here are a few stats:
- Largest Orthodox church in Southeast Europe
- Among the 50 largest Christian churches in the world
- Top 10 for largest Eastern Orthodox churches
Of course Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is also important because it is a treasured landmark in the city, and something that citizens are very proud of.
What Country is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in?
You may be thinking “Well, obviously Bulgaria…?”
There are Alexander Nevsky Cathedrals in Bulgaria, Estonia, Russia, and France. While Sofia Bulgaria is home to arguably the most famous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the others are very stately and important too.
If you were confused when you were googling however, this is why. The other Nevskys are in the cities of Tallinn, Moscow, and Paris.
Funny enough, I had read that Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was the only Cathedral named after another country’s hero, but clearly this is not the case.
Who is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Named For?
Alexander Nevsky was a ruler of the medieval Russian empire in the 1200’s, which is now modern day Russia and Ukraine. He was known as the Prince of Novgorod, Grand Prince of Kiev, and Grand Prince of Vladimir.
He is celebrated for protecting Russia from attempts to take it over, and for preserving Russian Orthodoxy. He was made a Saint in 1547.
Because the Cathedral in Sofia was made as a tribute to Russia, it makes sense that it was named after a Russian Orthodox Saint.
How old is Alexander Nevsky Cathedral?
Plans for Sofia’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral began in 1879, the very year after the Russo-Turkish wars liberated Bulgaria.
Part of the foundation were said to have been laid in 1882, but the cathedral itself was built between 1904 and 1912.
As far as old things in Sofia go, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is rather modern.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Architecture
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was designed in what is called “Byzantine Revival” (or Neo-Byzantine) architectural style. Sofia was once an important capital in the Roman Empire, and Bulgaria was in the Byzantine Empire since it began.
It makes sense that this style was chosen for the cathedral that celebrates Bulgaria’s independence, since it honors the nations history.
Alexander Nevsky is a cross-domed Orthodox basilica, featuring four complete domes and many partial domes.
I actually tried to count all the partial domes, but it’s like those count-the-triangle puzzles, I kept getting confused.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Materials
Each of the four complete domes are gold, and the rest are copper. This is why four are shiny and new looking, and the rest have oxidized to a green color.
It’s funny that the church was designed this way, because from the ground it seems very haphazard which domes are gold and which are green. I never put together until now that the complete domes are all gold.
The rest of the cathedral is made of limestone.
Inside the cathedral is decorated with marble, alabaster, and of course, more gold.
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia was designed by Alexander Pomerantsev, a Russian architect.
Interestingly, Pomerantsev had previously lost the contest for designing an Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Warsaw a few years earlier.
(Probably for the best as that Cathedral was demolished less than 15 years later when Poland became independent from Russia.)
Pomerantsev was also successful in his bid to design an Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Moscow, but that church was never completed due to war and revolution.
If he had been a modern day architect, he may have been accused of applying to every job that came up in a single Google search, since every famous project had the same name.
The Yellow Brick Road
In front of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral runs a road made of golden cobblestones, or better know as: The Yellow Brick Road.
These bricks are very slippery when they get wet, so be careful if you visit the Nevsky on a cold or frosty day!
Where Did the Yellow Brick Road Come From?
The origin of these bricks is rather mysterious, as they were long believed to be a gift from the Austro-Hungarian Empire for Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand’s wedding.
From the 1960’s though, an architect has claimed that they were actually purchased for a lot of money.
The road was laid in 1907, at a time that Sofia had either no paved roads, or very few.
I am immediately skeptical of any architect who spills this tea more than 50 years later. Unless he was very old, how would he know?… but I’d have to take my suspicions and look into it.
The Disappearing Yellow Brick Road
Sadly the yellow bricks which were sourced from near Budapest, (this fact is not in question) are no longer in production.
As the 100 year old bricks crumble, they are being replaced with modern grey bricks. I do hope they make an effort to preserve the street!
In Lisbon they painted a pedestrian street pink, so there’s no reason that these unique bricks in Sofia couldn’t also be painted.
Regardless of whether the bricks were a splurge or a gift, they are a unique feature in Sofia, and a two-for-one when visiting Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Getting to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
If you are staying anywhere near the city center in Sofia, you can easily get to the Nevsky on foot.
In a true testament to Sofia’s transit system, walking from Vitosha Boulevard will take about 23 minutes, and transit will take between 20 and 28 minutes.
If you are too far to walk, then taking a taxi is your next best option.
Cabs are very affordable in Bulgaria. Just make sure that your driver is using the meter and you will be fine.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Visiting Hours
The cathedral is open daily from 7 am to 7 pm for visitors.
Admission to enter and look in the church is free. To take pictures is 10 Lev (~$6 USD)
There is a small fee to enter the crypt, which contains a collection of religious art. At the time of writing, the fee for the crypt is not listed online, and I haven’t gone in myself.
The cathedral is never busy, so you can go anytime.
Other Sights Near Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
There are plenty of things to see and do in central Sofia, just a short walk from the cathedral.
The flea market takes place daily in the park across from the Alexander Nevsky cathedral.
Sellers peddle handmade souvenirs and vintage treasures.
St. Sophia Church
The cathedral is less than two blocks from the ancient church that the city of Sofia is named after: St. Sophia Church.
This brick church dates back to the 6th century, and is among the oldest in the world.
St. George Rotunda
Just a ten minute walk from the Nevsky is another ancient church, known as the St. George Rotunda. This church is from the 4th century and was originally roman baths, back when Sofia was the Roman city of Serdica.
Under the church is an amazing crypt.