St. George Rotunda, Sofia
St. George Rotunda Churchin Sofia is one of the oldest active Christian temples in the country and in the world. It is the oldest architectural monument in the city and the only preserved building from Roman ages.
The church is located in the center of the capital, in the courtyard of the presidency, and it is part of an archaeological complex.
It is called rotunda because of its round top. It is a cylindrical dome structure, built on a square base, about 14 m high and around 9.50 m in diameter.
The Rotunda was built at the beginning of the 4th century, when Serdika /Sofia/ was thriving and was one of the largest and most important Roman cities on the Balkan Peninsula. It dates back to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great /306-337/, who attributed to the phrase "Serdika is my Rome", probably because of his frequent stay in the city.
It is supposed that the building was first used for public purposes. It was also a mausoleum or a martyrium to honor the Christian martyrs who died. After the Edict of Milan /313/, with which Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity as a permitted religion in the Roman Empire, the temple was designated as a baptistery for the many Christian conversions. In the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Justinian the Great /527-565/, it was turned into a church. Since then, there is also the earliest fresco in the temple. From the same period, the church has the name of Saint George the Great, who suffered in Anatolia in the 3rd century. In the 16th century, as well as elsewhere in the Bulgarian lands occupied by Ottomans, the Rotunda was turned into a mosque called Gul-Dzhamasi. Its frescoes were obliterated with white plaster, and in their place plant motifs were painted. After the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke /1396-1878/ the church was abandoned, and at the death of Prince Alexander Battenberg it was adapted into a temporary mausoleum. In 1915 its restoration and renovation began. Today, it is an active temple, with daily Orthodox divine service in the Church Slavic language, with the typical Eastern Orthodox singing of the ancient Orthodox Church, also known as Byzantine music.
It is known for the Rotunda that one of the important church councils took place here, namely the Serdika one /343/. The temple was also mentioned by Vladislav Gramatik in association with the transfer of the relics of St. John of Rila from Turnovo to the Rila Monastery in the summer of 1469. Then the relics of the saint were lying in state in the Rotunda for 6 days while at the same time the relics of St. Stefan Milutinwere also in there.
Apart from its amazing ancient building, the temple is also famous for its unique frescoes. Out of all five layers, the earliest one dates back to the 6th century, and a remainder of this antique layer is a small fragment in the northwest niche. Three layers of medieval paintings are preserved in the church: at the top, in the dome next to the eight windows, the third layer is located and dates back to the end of the 14th c. After, going down the first layer can be seen; it is from around the end of the 9th c. or the beginning of the 10th century. The second layer is next, dating back to the end of the 11th century or the beginning of the 12th century. At the bottom - in the lower part of the temple, there are no frescoes; probably this place was lined with marble. Few remains of the fifth Turkish ornamental layer /from around the end of the 16th century/ are preserved on the western wall above the window.
St. George Rotunda Churchis one of the most visited tourist sites in Sofia.
St. George Rotunda
Sofia, 2 Knyaz Aleksandar Dondukov Blvd.
Tel.: +359 2 980 92 16, website: http://svgeorgi-rotonda.com