Jan 27, 2015

Σοφια. Ορθοι!

Last evening after dinner in the hostel, I had spent some time speaking with Pau, the Spanish artist and academic who was staying in the same dorm room at the hostel. I wound up heading to bed early, but it was with some regret, as I had really been enjoying the conversation.  (Here's the video he put together after the walking tour we both went on yesterday: vimeo.com/117892195 The background music is a street performer we passed along the way.)

This morning I woke up about half an hour before my alarm, feeling great. Then I drifted back into slumber‎ and woke up again with my alarm, feeling even better.‎  After breakfast, I asked about Pau's plans for the day. He was happy to have company and continue our conversation from the night before, so we spent a few hours walking and talking.  From Sofia, he's heading to Thessaloniki to meet some friends, and will then spend a week on Mount Athos. From there he'll be returning to Istanbul, where we hope to meet up.

After taking our leave from one another at the train station, I headed back towards the centre of town.‎ During the walking tour yesterday, I had flagged several places I wanted a closer look at, so this afternoon I returned to the Rotunda (Church of St George).  This is the oldest building in Sofia, dating to the early 4th century. Like its much (MUCH) larger namesake in Thessaloniki, it was originally a public building, only later in the century being converted to use as a church. There are several layers of frescoes which remain, dating between the 12th and 14th centuries. Photography is prohibited inside, but I'll be posting some shots of the exterior to Flickr. (For more information, please see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St._George,_Sofia )

After doing some window shopping at a sporting goods store, I headed towards the Church of St Nedelya. I had spotted a small cliffside chapel of the same name between Ohrid and Resen‎, and was unfamiliar with the name. Contrary to what the tour guide had told us, the meaning of this name is not "Holy Sunday," although that is a possible translation, just as Agia Sofia can be either Holy Wisdom (an aspect of Christ) or St Sofia (an early martyr). The brief pamphlet I read in the church states it is dedicated to St Nedelya, which is the Slavic translation of the name of an early martyr, St Kyriaki.

The original church on the site was built in the 10th century, but it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The most recent destruction occurred in 1925, when Communists blew up the building and killed the hundred and fifty people inside in a failed attempt on the life of the king. The modern church was consecrated in 1933, with the gilt wooden iconostasis that had survived the bombing intact. I've found much of the iconography in Bulgarian churches to be uninspiring, but the work in St Nedelya is unique and beautiful. (And of course, photography is prohibited.) I arrived shortly after Vespers had begun, and it was good to be breathing incense and hearing Byzantine chant again. Tomorrow morning the Liturgy begins at 8:00, and I intend to be there on time.

So, what's with the Greek subject of this post? For those not familiar with the language, it says, "Sofia. Orthi!" This translates as, "Wisdom. Stand upright!" and is declared in the Liturgy immediately prior to the Gospel reading. 

Today was the first day since Friday that I spent the entire day upright and walking‎. I didn't walk very far, probably less than 10 km, but given that three days ago I was so weak I could barely stand, it's a dramatic improvement. Tomorrow I'm planning a full day of sightseeing, and then Thursday I hope to start walking again. It's been far too long!


  1. Glad to hear you are feeling better. Onwards my friend.

    1. Slowly, but surely. I've got eight weeks to get there, so I'm not in a rush. And if I wind up taking a bus or train to arrive in time for Pascha, so be it.