The Exotic Churches of Bulgaria


When you think of travel to Bulgaria, what comes to mind first? For me, one of the cool things about visiting this fetching little Balkan country is its touches of exoticism, part of an ancient cultural heritage that stretches back to 5,000 BC, and which I find most noticeable in its Eastern Orthodox churches.

As with church architecture in Russia, here in Bulgaria you’ll find plenty of onion domes, but also spot features you won’t find in Russia, such as arches influenced by Islam (not surprising, since the Ottoman Turks ruled here from the late 14th through late 19th centuries). You’ll come across them in almost every town or city of any size – including Bourgas (below right).

Here are several of my favorite Bulgarian churches (now that’s a phrase you don’t read every day):

Alexander Nevksy Cathedral, city of Sofia All I can say about this one (top) is: wow. One of the world’s largest Orthodox cathedrals, it’s a majestic multi-tier confection of domes, arches, and gilt mosaics that can hold a whopping 10,000 people.

Church of the Assumption, village of Uzundzhovo   This squat domed building is notable because it was built as a mosque during the Ottoman era and turned into an Orthodox church in 1906.

Church of the Holy Trinity,  town of Svishtov  Less ancient – built in the 1860s – but an interesting mix of neo-Baroque and more traditional; inside there’s a huge and gorgeous panel of Orthodox icons.

Dormition of the Theotokos Cathedral, city of Varna  Golden domes outside and impressive Byzantine-style frescoes inside are the hallmarks of the seat of the local bishop, built in 1882. Not far from Iberostar Obzor Beach Izgrev.

Shipka Memorial Church, town of Shipka  A pointy, soaring belltower and a cluster of golden onion domes distinguish this impressive church, which was finished in 1902.

St. George the Conqueror Chapel Museum, city of Pleven  Built in the first decade of the 20th century, it’s in neo-Byzantine style, with lots of red-and-white striation and round arches.

St. John of Rila, town of Targovishte  White and a bit simpler in style than the churches above, but with plenty of classically Orthodox domes.

More information:

Best Iberia fares to Bulgaria from the USA, from Spain.

photos:  Glabber, Andrew Griffith