Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is undoubtedly the most famous building in Sofia. The symbol of the city is not just a cathedral, but a monument as well: it was built to commemorate the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878), which led to Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The cathedral was constructed for 30 years between 1882 and 1912. As of 2020, it is the largest fully completed Orthodox cathedral in the Balkan peninsula. The interior area is 3170 m2 that can accommodate 5000 people.
The cathedral was named after the 13th century Russian saint, Alexander Nevsky, the Prince of Novgorod. He was the patron saint of Russian emperor Alexander II, “The Liberator”, who declared and led the war on the Ottoman Empire. There is a commemorative marble plaque on both sides of the main entrance that read “To perpetuate the brotherly love and deep gratitude to the great Russian people for the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878”.
Interestingly, in World War I, just a few years after the cathedral was finished, Bulgaria and Russia found themselves in opposing alliances. The Russian navy attacked the city of Varna on October 14, 1915. As a response, the Bulgarian National Assembly renamed the building to Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in 1916. The initial name was restored in 1920.
The interior decoration of the cathedral is made of high quality and expensive materials: Italian and Moroccan marble, onyx from Brazil and Indian alabaster. The large, wooden doors were brought from Austria, the fittings on them and the exclusive chandeliers were manufactured in Germany. The central chandelier weighs 2500 kg and is suspended 27 m above the floor. Although designed by Bulgarians, the mosaic icons were made in Venice.
Some of the most remarkable features of the cathedral are its gold-plated domes. The total gilded area of the domes is 700 m2, covered with more than 8 kg of gold. Of course the layer is very thin and has to be restored over certain periods of time.
The bell tower, reaching a height of 53 meters, has a solid gold cross on top. The cathedral has 12 bells with a total weight of 23 tonnes. The largest bell can be heard from 30 km and weighs 12 tonnes, the smallest one is only 10 kg.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was erected on the highest point of Sofia at the time of construction – 552 m above sea level. Since then, the city has expanded a lot towards higher areas of Vitosha mountain, so the cathedral now stands on the highest part of downtown Sofia.
There are some interesting relics among the values of the cathedral: a piece of rib bone of St. Alexander Nevsky and a stone from Golgotha (Calvary).
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is open from 07:00 to 19:00 every day and is free to enter.
Weekdays: Morning: 08:00, Evening: 17:00 (Fridays: 17:30)
The cathedral has a museum located inside the building. The Alexander Nevsky Crypt Icon Museum has an impressive collection of icons, probably the largest collection of Orthodox icons in Europe.
The museum is open from 10:00 to 18:00 every day, the entrance fee is only 6 BGN.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is situated in the center of Sofia, between St Sofia Church and the Bulgarian Parliament. It is a 10 minute walk (850 m) from Serdika metro station. The closest metro station is Univ. St. Kliment Ohridski, located only 250 m from the cathedral.
Paid parking spots are available around, but be careful where you leave your car. As the cathedral is surrounded by several governmential and other important buildings, there are many restrictions, sometimes written in Bulgarian only.
The cathedral is located in the middle of Sveti Aleksandar Nevski Square, a large, open area. It’s easy to see it from every angle and to find the perfect spots for the nice photos.
Bulgarian name: Храм-паметник „Свети Александър Невски“
Address: Sveti Aleksandar Nevski Square, GPS coordinates: 42.695828, 23.332747