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LANDMARKS IN SOFIA -> The St. Alexander Nevski Memorial Temple

Every visitor to Sofia is amazed by the golden shine of the spires of the St. Alexander Nevski Memorial Temple - the largest Orthodox church on the Balkan Peninsula. St. Alexander Nevski church was built as a memorial to the 200 thousand casualties of the Russo-Turkish wars. The idea for its construction came up during the initial convening of the National Assembly in Veliko Tarnovo in 1879 and was the suggestion of Petko Karavelov, the Prime Minister-to-be. The funds were gathered quickly via donations in the beginning of 1882 with a grand ceremony. The people's enthusiasm was endless. The goal was to create a masterpiece, to build something exceptional and precious.

In 1896 Nayden Gerov, the Russian Consul, chose the Head Architect of the project- Professor Bogomilov from the St. Petersburg academy - who, after his death, was succeeded in this work by architect Pomerantsev. With the assistance of the Bulgarian architects Petko Momchilov and Yordan Milanov, he worked up the main architectural plan and made the accompanying calculations. The construction of the building took 8 years, but wasn't open for church services until 1924.

The cathedral was dedicated to Alexander Nevski, the Prince of Novgorod, and the courageous general Vladimir, who led numerous successful battles against Swedish armies on the banks of the Neva river during the 13th century, saving Russia from a Swedish invasion. Declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church, Alexander Nevski became a symbol of Russian military glory and the patron saint of the Russian Army.

The cathedral is the largest Orthodox church on the Balkan Peninsula. It impresses with its size - 76 m (250 ft) long, 55 m (180 ft) wide and 50 m (160 ft) high, covering 3170 m2 (34.000 ft2) and holding 5000 people. In architectural terms it is an example of the neo-Byzantine style, influenced by the northern Russian church style.

St. Alexander Nevski church is a five-naved basilica crowned with 12 spires - 3 of which are gold-leafed. The bell tower contains 12 church bells, the heaviest weighing 12 tons. When the bells ring for church holidays, they can be heard at a distance of 30 km (18 miles). The thankful Bulgarians wanted to supply the best materials for the construction of the church, without taking the cost and effort into account. Materials from three continents were used in the building's construction and decoration - white stone from Bulgaria, wood for the cathedral's doors from Slovenia, marble from Carrera in Italy, Venetian mosaics, alabaster and onyx from Brazil and Africa. But the church would not be the same without the frescoes and murals, the work of artists from five different countries: Bulgaria, Italy, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. They turned the interior of the church into a true masterpiece, following strict Orthodox traditions.

The exquisite iconostasis, carved from white marble from Carrera, impresses with its miniature details (a mixture of different cultures and religions). According to church canons, certain icons must be displayed in a particular order on the iconostasis. The icon of the Holy Virgin is placed on the left side of the royal door. The first spot to the right side is for Jesus Christ. Both icons were painted by the Russian master Vasnetsov and are very valuable. One can see the extremely fine lines of the faces, which exude a delicate spirituality. To the left of the icon of the Holy Virgin is the patron of the church, St. Alexander Nevski. The artists have intertwined religious and artistic images on the iconostasis with much imagination. The arch has a calf and a lion, symbols of the evangelists Mark and Luke. Close to the altar there are two ceremonial thrones - made from marble, alabaster and green serpentine. The larger, with a crown on top, was intended for the royal family. It is protected by two lions, the symbol of the state and its military strength. The smaller throne is kept exclusively for the Bulgarian Patriarch - the highest ranking priest of the Orthodox Church. Within the temple, the remains of St. Alexander Nevski are preserved as a precious gift from Russia. Part of the remains of the saint is displayed in a golden box between the central auditorium and side nave.

The cathedral is lighted by copper candelabras. The largest of which, under the main cupola, weighs 2 tons.

St. Alexander Nevski church, as every Orthodox church, is richly ornamented with frescoes and murals - more than 300 in number. Most of them are dedicated to the life of Christ - from birth to His last days on Earth. Others portray important moments in the life of the Holy Virgin and St. John the Baptist or the Old Testament. Many of them are portraits of Orthodox saints. On the interior of the central cupola, 46 m (150 ft) above, is a mural of the Holy Trinity - the radiant God with His young Son and the Holy Spirit. The image covers 850 m2 (over 9000 ft2) and the span of God's arms is 4 m (13 ft). Anton Mitov was among the many Bulgarian artists, who took part in the decoration of the church. His talents are shown in the images of St. Prince Boris I in the central auditorium and the icons of the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ at the southern altar. The northern altar and the northern nave are decorated by another great master - Markvichka. The frescoes in the narthex depict the founding of the Bulgarian state, the creation of Slavic literacy and the acceptance of Christianity as the official religion. The feeling of grandeur doesn't leave the visitor even as he is leaving the church via the massive and skillfully wood-carved doors. The wood, which was used in their production, was imported from Slovenia and allowed to dry in the sun for 17 whole years.

The St. Alexander Nevski church has been witness to many important moments in Bulgarian history. The wedding ceremony of the last Bulgarian Tsar, Boris III, to Joanna Savoyska took place here in 1930. The world famous opera singer Boris Hristov made one of his unforgettable recordings in this church. Under the cathedral there is a crypt, arranged as a museum of icons gathered from all over Bulgaria, where the icons are preserved under special conditions. Some of the oldest icons date from the 9th century.

St. Alexander Nevski was declared a patriarchal church in 1953.

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