LANDMARKS IN SOFIA->2
Next to the museum is the Presidency . Right across from it, on the other side of the boulevard, is the former Communist Party Headquarters - now part of the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers. The ruins of the fortress and part of the eastern gate of Serdika are preserved in the underpass.
Behind the Presidency and the Sheraton Hotel, one of the oldest buildings in Sofia has found refuge - THE St. GEORGE ROTUNDA, which dates from the first half of the 4th century. The central nave of the church is a circle with a diameter of 10 m (32 ft). A rectangular apse looks to the east; there are two more semi-circular apses to the sides. From the side, the rotunda resembles a cube, covered with a semi-spherical cupola. During the 4th century the building served as a storage facility for holy relics and remains of martyrs. During the time of Emperor Konstantin the Great the church was converted into a ceremonial sanctuary for conversion. The Hun invasions caused much damage to the rotunda, but the Emperor Justinian rebuilt it and made it a beautiful basilica. The Turks also used it for religious purposes and called it the Pink Mosque. After the Liberation the church was restored to its prior status as an Orthodox church. Not many of the frescoes have been preserved, but the oldest date from the 9th century. Under the central dome there is a brilliant circle with the images of 22 prophets, which dates from the 11th - 12th centuries.
The underpass in front of the Sheraton Hotel conceals another of Sofia's treasures - THE CHURCH OF St. PETKA. It is a typical Bulgarian church built during the period between the 14th and 15th centuries, when Bulgaria was ruled by the Turks. The Muslims did not allow the Bulgarians to make churches a meter higher than the ground and forbade any visible decoration. For this reason the church has no windows, spires or bell tower. It is small, only 15 m (50 ft) long and 7 m (23 ft) wide. On the inside there were valuable frescoes from the 14th and 15th centuries, which can hardly be seen now.
Behind St. Petka's Church soars the minaret of the only mosque in Sofia. THE BANYA BASHU MOSQUE (meaning "the mosque of the baths") was built in 1576 by Hadji Mimar Sonah. The name of the mosque was not given to it without a reason. Next to it are the SOFIA BATHS undergoing a renovation at the moment. The very ancient Roman baths, transformed later into Turkish baths, were on this spot. As the legend goes, the English lady Mary Montague visited the mosque in order to describe it to a Welsh princess, close friend to the poet Alexander Pope. Through a secret passageway the traveler was taken to the most secret halls of the Turkish baths and the freedom of emotions and all the nudity she saw there impressed her a lot. Her story somehow fell into the hands of the French painter Jean-August-Domenique Ingres, who inspired by the erotic visions made his famous painting The Turkish Baths. Today the mineral water fountains are still often visited place by inhabitants of Sofia who wait in long queues to supply themselves with warm mineral drinking water, firmly believing in its healing powers.
THE STATUE OF St. SOFIA , weighing nearly 4 tons, looms 24 m (78 ft) above the site known as The Largo. A long time ago a temple to Apollo was located here, and, more recently, a monument to Lenin. St. Sofia holds the symbols of glory and wisdom in her hands and bears the crown of Tyche (the ancient Greek goddess of good fortune).
The St. Nedelya Square bears the name of THE St. NEDELYA (Sunday) CHURCH, proudly standing in the heart of the capital. This site was the centre of the old Ulpia Serdika. On the site of St. Nedelya there was a small church during the Middle Ages (15th century). It was called St. Krai because it held the remains of the Serbian Krai (King) Stefan II Milutin. In 1853 St. Nedelya was destroyed by the Turks, but the Bulgarians reconstructed it very quickly. The new church made its mark with its Orthodoxy in the Revival style. After the Liberation it became famous for its superior church choir, which Christians from all over Bulgaria came to hear. In 1925 a bomb attempt was made here against Tsar Boris III, during which the Tsar survived, but more than 200 people were killed. One of the first schools in Bulgaria was opened in St. Nedelya. The Bulgarian Exarch Josef is buried here. The church owns valuable icons, which are worth seeing.