The Saint Sofia Church in Sofia is a 4th-century Eastern Orthodox church considered one of the city’s oldest and most important cultural and historical monuments. The Saint Sofia Church is believed to have been built on the site of an earlier pagan temple dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Sofia, from whom the church takes its name.
The church was initially built in the 4th century AD as a large, three-nave basilica with a wooden roof and was later expanded and rebuilt in the 6th century. During this time, it was converted into a five-nave basilica with a stone roof and a central dome. The church was also decorated with impressive mosaics and frescoes, many still preserved.
The Church of Saint Sofia has an extraordinary history. The temple was a mosque – a minaret was erected, and the frescoes were destroyed. Some records indicate that the building was first destroyed during an earthquake in the mid-15th century. At the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Grand Vizier Siyavush Pasha rebuilt it again as a mosque. Again in 1818 and 1858, the building was seriously damaged by strong earthquakes, the minaret fell, and word spread among the Turks that they had angered the Gyaur God, so the mosque was abandoned as a religious place. The surviving part has been converted into a warehouse.
Later, after Sofia became the capital city of independent Bulgaria in 1879, the high parts of the church were used as an observation tower of the capital. In 1927, Saint Sofia was declared a national antiquity. Immediately after that, the church’s first modern restoration was completed in 1930, and religious services began. Later on, the temple was restored close to its original form. Due to the Anglo-American bombing of Sofia in 1944, Saint Sofia sustained significant damage. Several restorations of the church’s exterior and interior were carried out. During the restoration, several more tombs and sepulchral architecture were discovered under it and in the immediate vicinity. Today, the Church of Saint Sofia is among the most significant architectural values preserved from the early Christian development of South-Eastern Europe, with worldwide significance.