The National Art Gallery is Bulgaria's national gallery and houses over 50,000 pieces of Bulgarian art. It is located on Battenberg Square in the capital city of Sofia, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgaria, having been established in 1934 and moved to the palace in 1946, after the abolition of the monarchy.
The royal palace, a typical example of Second Empire architecture with chateauesque connotations, was constructed in two stages, the first lasting between 1880 and 1882 during the rule of Knyaz Alexander Battenberg, when Austro-Hungarian architects under Viktor Rumpelmayer worked on the building. It was inaugurated on 26 December 1882 and constituted the representative part of the palace, encompassing the administrative ground floor, the ballrooms above and the service third floor. The second stage, during Knyaz (later Tsar) Ferdinand, saw the construction of the palace's east wing by Viennese architect Friedrich Grünanger, who incorporated elements of Viennese Neo-Baroque. The east wing was where the apartments of the royal family were located, but some service premises (including a lift) were also located there.
Meanwhile, the National Archaeological Museum was established. It was the first national institution to have an art department in the country, which was founded in 1892. It collected examples of contemporary Bulgarian art. The department grew into the State Art Gallery in 1934 and was moved to a separate building. Among its exhibits were works by Bulgarian National Revival artists, foreign art and works of first-generation Bulgarian painters from after the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878. After the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria following World War II, most of the palace was given to the National Art Gallery since its building was destroyed by the bombing raids in 1943 and 1944. Fortunately, all of the paintings it had housed were preserved, and together with the royal art collection already exhibited in the palace formed the stock of the National Art Gallery.
The medieval art department was formed in 1965 and occupies the crypt of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. In 1985 the foreign art section became independent as the National Gallery for Foreign Art and was moved to the former Royal Printing Office, an imposing Neoclassical building in Sofia. The National Art Gallery houses not only examples of contemporary and National Revival art, but also the country's largest collection of medieval paintings, including more than four thousand icons, a collection comparable in quality and number only to that of the Benaki Museum according to the director of the gallery, Boris Danailov.
The National Gallery for Foreign Art of Bulgaria is a gallery located on St. Alexander Nevsky Square in Sofia. It serves as the country's national institution for non-Bulgarian art. It is situated in the 19th-century Neoclassic edifice of the former Royal Printing Office.
The edifice of the NGFA was built between 1882 and 1884 during the rule of knyaz Alexander Battenberg to the designs of Austrian architect Friedrich Schwanberg and reconstructed after it suffered significant damage during the bombing of Sofia in World War II. The gallery itself was founded on 5 November 1985 as the art gallery of the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Foundation, its stock being later enlarged by donations, as well as by the addition of the National Art Gallery's foreign art section.
A large portion of the donations were made through the "13th Centuries of Bulgarian Statehood" fund, established by Lyudmila Zhivkova in the 1980s.
Sofia Art Gallery possesses some of the richest collections of Bulgarian art: 3500 paintings, 800statues, 2800 graphics and drawings.
The Gallery’s chief responsibility is to conserve, maintain and study art heritage. The staff members are specialists who look after the collections and arrange expositions and publish catalogs and other publications to present the works of art to the public.
With 1100 square meters of exposition space divided into four compartments the Gallery arranges some 30 exhibitions every year. Most of the exhibitions display works from the Gallery’s collections. In addition visiting one-man, group and general exhibitions of Bulgarian and foreign artists are arranged. The SAG calendar accommodates events and individual careers from late 19th/early 20th century down to the present day. Studies on present-day art and work with young artists became a special focus of the Gallery’s policy in recent years.
The SAG is a museum with longstanding traditions. Its role is to present the facts of Bulgarian cultural history in an analytical and modern way and to actively intervene in art developments by original and impressive projects.
The St.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (hram-pametnik Sveti Aleksandar Nevski) is a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral inSofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It was build in honor of Alexander II The Liberator and the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule.
The construction of the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral started in 1882 with official ceremony, but it was in fact built between 1904 and 1912. Following an old tradition, the names of all parliament members were put inside a metal box, which was build in the foundation.
Constructed in Neo-Byzantine style, it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world and serves as cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria. With 3170 sq.m. area, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral can accommodate over 5000 people. The interior is exquisitely ornamented with Italian marble, onyx from Brazil, alabaster and other rear minerals. On the arch of the main dome, The Lord's Prayer engraved with golden letters. The cathedral's domes are gold-plated and the main one is 45 m high. The bell tower reaches 53 m and has composition of 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons, cast in Moscow.
In the underground level of the temple is the crypt, where in chronological order are arranged over 300 exhibits, mostly icons, but also prints and fragments of frescoes. This is the most representative collection displaying the development of Bulgarian iconography since the 9th century.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral has become one of Sofia's symbols and primary tourist attractions. In 1924 it is officially recognized national landmark.
The church “St. Sofia” (God’s Wisdom) is situated in the center of Bulgaria’s capital, in close proximity to the Monumental Temple “Alexander Nevski”. It is one of the oldest churches in Sofia and its history is closely related to the history of the city. Nowadays the temple is considered one of the symbols of Sofia.
The church was built in the 6th century during the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (reigned 527 - 565) on the foundations of 4 older Christian temples from the 4th century.
The church “St. Sofia” was built on the place of the necropolis of the city of Serdika (the old name of Sofia) and other older churches from the 4th century and dozens of masonry tombs. Fragments of the mosaic of one of the older temples were found during archaeological excavations. It is considered that the building can house up to 5 thousand people.
During the period of the 11th – 14th century it was a metropolitan church and its glory was so great that in the 14th century it gave its name to the city.
In the 16th century during the Ottoman Dominion the temple was reconstructed into a mosque, and its wall paintings were destroyed. According to a legend, in the 16th century the goldsmith Georgi was burned alive in front of it, because he refused to convert into Islam. The great earthquakes in 1818 and 1858 demolished the minaret and destroyed the building, and according to a legend during the second earthquake the two sons of the imam were in the building and died. The Muslims considered that a bad omen and deserted the temple. It was deserted for a long time, but after the Liberation (1878) it was turned into a warehouse.
The building was renovated a number of times, and since the beginning of the 20th century archaeological excavations have been conducted here. Currently the appearance of the temple is as close as possible to its authentic look from the late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The revolutionary Vasil Levski (1837 – 1873) was hung in close proximity to the temple. Behind the church lies the grave of the great Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov (1850 – 1921).
Presently, the Monument of an Unknown Warrior is situated next to the temple. It is a symbol of admiration to all Bulgarian warriors who died for their motherland.
The oldest and best preserved monument of architecture since Roman times in Sofia is the rotunda church St. George. It was built in the beginning of the 4th century AD and, was considered, during the reign of the roman emperor Constantine the Great (reigned 306 – 337) and the flourishing of the ancient town Serdika (the old name of Sofia). It is believed that the rotunda is the oldest building in Sofia.
The temple is situated in the courtyard of the Government Office, just a couple of meters of the remains of the ancient fortress Serdika. It is a cylindrical domed structure, built on a square base. Its width is about 9.5 meters in diameter and its height is about 14 meters. The altar room has a square form and four symmetrically placed niches. The main entrance is at the western wall.
Originally the building was used for public purposes. After the recognition of Christianity as a religion in the Roman Empire, the rotunda became a baptistery (a building for conversion to Christianity), due to the many conversions, following the authorization of this religion.
At the time of Emperor Justinian the Great (reigned 527 – 565) the Rotunda was transformed into a church. The first wall painting was made in the same period. It is assumed that since then it bears the name of St. George the Martyr, who suffered for his faith in Minor Asia in the 3rd century, under the reign of Emperor Diocletian (reigned 284 – 305).
During the Ottoman rule and the reign of sultan Selim the 1st (reigned 1512 – 1520) the Rotunda St George was transformed into a mosque, named Gyul Dzhamasi. The Christian paintings on the walls were obliterated with white plaster and in their place were painted floral motifs.
After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 the Rotunda was deserted, and after the death of Prince Alexander Battenberg (reigned 1879 – 1886) it was transformed into a mausoleum.
Its restoration began in 1915. Nowadays the temple is operational and performs daily worships in the Eastern church singing, also known as Byzantine music.
The idea for the creation of an archaeological institute with a museum was conceived among exiled Bulgarian intellectuals in the 1840s, and was among the top priorities for the Bulgarian Literary Society immediately after its establishment in 1869. During the interim Russian administration immediately after the Liberation of Bulgaria, the first steps towards the establishment of a national archaeological museum were taken. In 1892, the institution was de jure established through a decree by the Tsar, and the assembly of its collections began the next year. Initially it was also known as a "Museum-temple of the Fatherland".
Until 1906, the museum included a collection of ethnographic items. By this year however, the collection was becoming so vast that it had to be separated and displayed in a separate institution, which became the Ethnographic Museum of Sofia. Since its foundation, the Museum works actively in cooperation with the Bulgarian Archaeological Society. In 1920 an Archaeological Institute headed by Bogdan Filov was established as an independent institution. It was merged with the museum in 1948 and is under the auspices of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences ever since.
The museum today
After World War II the joint institution launched a series of archaeological expeditions inside Bulgaria. They conducted studies on a number of sites from the Chalcolithic to the early Middle Ages, which resulted in a number of additional artifacts being added to the museum collection. Today the museum stores a large number of items, although some of them are threatened by damage due to the design of the building, which is charactrised by high moisture levels during the summer season.