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LANDMARKS IN SOFIA->1

THE OFFICERS' CLUB was designed by the Czech architect Anton Kolar and was constructed from 1895 to 1900. This is one of the first respectable buildings built in Sofia after the Liberation. Now it is the centre for many community events.

One of the most exquisite and luxurious churches in Sofia (judging by its exterior, at least) is THE RUSSIAN St. NICHOLAUS THE MIRACLE WORKER CHURCH. After the Liberation, Bulgaria had close ties to Russia and many Russians lived in the Bulgarian capital. The specific reason for the construction of St. Nicholaus, however, is most likely the fact that a Russian diplomat was afraid to pray in a Bulgarian church. The Russian church was built in 1912 according to plans of the Russian architect Preobrazhenski. With elongated, gold-covered spires and brightly colored tiles, it seems like a building from a fairytale. The Russian cross, a symbol of the superiority of Christianity over Islam, is on the central cupola. The bright exterior, with yellow tiles and emerald green frieze, contrasts with the dark interior. The gold-leafed iconostasis, however, compensates for the murky atmosphere. The frescoes and murals, painted by representatives of the Russian Novgorod school, today are darkened by the smoke of candles. The Russian church is famous in Sofia for the box of Bishop Serafim. The people strongly believe that each of their desires will come about if they write them on paper and place them in the wooden box next to the sarcophagus of the Bishop.

Further along the same road is THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES with a wonderful collection of minerals and animals.

The boulevard, with its yellow cobblestones, leads toward the Prince Alexander Battenberg Square - the largest plaza in the capital, named for the first Bulgarian Prince after the Liberation, who ruled Bulgaria from 1879 to 1886. The plaza is a site for cultural and community functions. The city park is also here. An elegant yellow building, which houses THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF FINE ART, is located on this square. It was built by the Turks, who used it for a konak (municipal and police headquarters). The court process against the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levski was held here; the Ottomans sentenced him to death and he was hung just 350 m (1100 ft) from the konak. After the Liberation, Knyaz Alexander Battenberg converted the building into a palace after certain improvements. He hired two German architects, Rumplemeier and Giyunanger. The building was expanded and its Renaissance and Baroque magnificence have been preserved to the present day. The Gallery exhibits the most valuable masterpieces of Bulgarian art from the middle of the 19th century up to the present for today's art lovers. In the northeastern wing one will find the Ethnographic Museum with its beautiful collection of folk costumes (organized by region), instruments used in everyday life and dyed Easter eggs. There is also a department dedicated to folk superstitions (traditions). None of the royal furniture or possessions has been preserved except for the beautiful fireplaces and wood-carved ceiling.

On the other side of the Knyaz Alexander Battenberg square, hidden among the trees, is THE NATIONAL THEATER, which bears the name of the great Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov. The original building replaced a wooden house in 1907. The impressive Viennese baroque style was suggested by the famous Austrian architects Helmer and Felner, who were quite experienced in this branch having designed nearly 600 theaters all over Europe. The decoration was accomplished with the help of foreign sculptures: Fuchs, Volk and Hegenbard. Unfortunately, a large part of the building was destroyed by fire in the main hall in 1923. The German architect Dufler succeeded in renewing everything in 1929, but he also added his own strokes to the original artistic style. In its desire to restore the theater to its original, brilliant greatness of the Viennese baroque, the National Assembly hired Ivan Tomov to reconstruct the building once again in 1976. Other than its reddish color, the theater attracts one's attention with its respect of the ancient Greek culture. The god Apollo is depicted on the facade with four muses for his companions. The two side columns end with statures of Melpomene (the muse of tragedy) and Terpsichore (the muse of dance) wildly driving chariots. The theater has one large hall, which has 850 seats for the main shows and a smaller hall with 200 seats.

The path along the yellow cobblestones continues to THE BULGARIAN NATIONAL BANK. The building was built during 1934-1939 according to the plan by architects Vasilyov and Tsolov. For its interior beautification some of the most recognizable Bulgarian sculptures and painters took part, among whom: Lyubomir Dalchev, L. Dimitrov, Ivan Penkov and Dechko Uzunov among others.

THE ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM is in the former Buyuk Mosque (The Greater) - the first Muslim temple built in Sofia (1494). It is beautifully enveloped in ivy during the summer. The nine-domed building exhibits a varied collection of clay (terracotta) and silver vessels, bronze figurines, an abundance of ancient Greek and Roman finds, tombstones and gold treasures. The Archeological Museum was the first museum to open in Sofia.

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