If a foreigner asks Sofia residents which landmarks to visit in the capital, the unique Boyana Church, built in the 10th century, will invariably be among the recommendations. It is no coincidence that the "St. St. Nicholas and Panteleimon" church was included in the UNESCO list in 1979 and is only the 42nd cultural world landmark recognized as of an exceptional value for the planet. During the communist rule of the country, every guest from abroad was shown the frescoes of the Boyana Church, while access to the unique paintings was almost impossible for mortals. Even today, the church is viewed by almost all celebrities and officials who visit Sofia. It is among the most visited branches of the National History Museum.
There are several construction stages in the Boyana temple. Initially, a small cross-domed church was built in the 10th -11th centuries. It was then that the temple was wall-painted for the first time. Parts of the oldest murals can still be seen today. Visitors will be able to easily distinguish the schematically drawn faces of the saints. Subsequently, the Boyana Church was renovated in the 12th century.
In the 13th century a narthex was added to the western facade of the old church, and a small chapel above it. The modern fame of the Boyana Church is due to the frescoes from this period. A donor inscription in Bulgarian in the narthex of the church indicates the year of its complete decoration (1259), the names of the donors highlighting the kinship of the local feudal donor with the then kings of Bulgaria and Serbia. The second layer of drawings was made during the reign of the local nobleman Sebastocrator Kaloyan. He and his wife Desislava are painted on the walls of the church, and on the opposite wall are the images of the then Bulgarian ruler Tsar Constantine Assen and his wife Irina.
Historians reveal the past by the portraits in the temple
Judging by the portraits, historians reveal the traditions and clothing of that historical period. Among the frescoes are 18 scenes from the life of St. Nicholas and the first known image of St. Ivan Rilski. The painted scene from the Last Supper is interesting because it gives an idea of the way of life of Bulgarians by that time, as well as their typical kinds of food such as garlic, onions, turnips and horseradish.
The frescoes from the 13th century in the nave of the church include the Christ Almighty mural on the dome. Angels and evangelists are painted beneath it. In the altar niche one can see "Virgin Mary on the Throne", "Adoration of the Sacrifice", "Annunciation". Murals with scenes from the life of Christ cover the walls.
The frescoes in the "St. Panteleimon” chapel on the second floor are from the same time, but differ in style. Parts of "Annunciation", "Communion of the Apostles", "Crucifixion", "Resurrection", life scenes of St. Panteleimon are well preserved.
The eyes of St. Ephraim follow visitors closely
The image of St. Ephraim the Syrian also arouses the curiosity of visitors through its mastery of painting. The eyes of the saint follow every guest of the church, no matter where he is, and this seems most amusing to children. For the first time, a half-naked woman was painted in a temple.
The style of the frescoes from the 13th century is associated with the Tarnovo School of Painting. The unknown iconographer used bright and saturated colors, resulting in vivid imagery. Instead of classical icons, the images of the saints resemble more lifestyle portraits and the painter's innovative approach is one of the main reasons for the Boyana Church to find a place in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Queen Eleanor saves the temple from destruction
In the middle of the 19th century a two-storey vestibule “St. Nicholas and St. Panteleimon” was attached to the Boyana Church. It remained a functioning temple until 1954.
Apart from the admiration of its visitors, the temple has been subjected to many trials over the centuries. The Boyana Church was about to be destroyed and this unique monument to remain only as part of history, but not of the present of Bulgaria. Immediately after the Liberation from the Ottoman rule, the villagers of Boyana wanted to demolish the church and build a larger one, as the population of the then village on the outskirts of Sofia had grown and the holy place was too small for the worshipers.
Eleanor, the second wife of King Ferdinand, saved the temple. She loved the church so much that she was even buried in the yard.
Just keep in mind that photography inside the Boyana Church is strictly forbidden.
Address: Sofia 1616, 3 Boyansko Ezero Str
Phone for reservations: +359 2 959 09 39; 0879 456 635
Working hours: winter - 09:00 –17: 30; summer - 09:30 –18: 00 (the box office closes at 17:30)