UNESCO World Heritage Site #36: Boyana Church (Bulgaria)

My Visit

I accidentally visited Boyana Church twice. The first time, I went by myself. The second time, I went on a tour to Rila Monastery that included a stop at Boyana. I love slow travel, because it gives me the luxury of getting to go to places two or three times instead of feeling rushed.

The first time, I met some really cool American military officers working on recovering a World War II pilot that went down in Bulgaria. The second time, I went with my friend on the tour and got to photograph the church in a beautiful fog.

Walking up to Boyana Church
Walking up to Boyana Church

The Site

Boyana has three eras of construction, and it’s pretty easy to see where the different sections begin and end. The earliest part was built in the late 10th and early 11th century. Here’s a breakdown of architecture from the church’s website.

Boyana Church from the side shows the different eras of construction
Boyana Church from the side shows the different eras of construction

The church is Eastern Orthodox, and inside its painting and frescos are similar to those in the Troodos in Cyprus and the monasteries in Meteora. Growing up Catholic in America, even with Orthodox relatives, I only experienced the Orthodox church in academic circles and not as a living, breathing religion. And I almost never interacted with its history. Spending the last three months spread out over the former Byzantine empire and seeing the religious legacy it left has been thrilling.

View of the earliest section of Boyana Church
View of the earliest section of Boyana Church

From UNESCO’s description:

Located on the outskirts of Sofia, Boyana Church consists of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th century by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two story building to be erected next to it. The frescoes in this second church, painted in 1259, make it one of the most important collections of medieval paintings. The ensemble is completed by a third church, built at the beginning of the 19th century. This site is one of the most complete and perfectly preserved monuments of east European medieval art.

A fresco of St. Sofia inside the church
A fresco of St. Sofia inside the church

Getting There

When I went on my own, the taxi from my apartment was 8 leva (about 5 dollars). There is also a bus that goes out that way, which I rode when I was lost.

Riding the Boyana Express from Stephanie Craig on Vimeo.

The second time, we booked a tour to Rila Monastery which included a stop at Boyana. We didn’t know it until the morning of, though. There are lots of tours that do both or do Boyana and Vitosha.

Waiting to get picked up for the tour.
Waiting to get picked up for the tour.

Getting In

The entrance fee to the church was 10 leva (about $6 USD). There is no fee to wander the grounds.

Things to Do While You’re There

At the church itself, you’ll want to tour the entire church grounds and go inside. You’ll also want to stop by the little gift shop (it’s kind of a trip).

The little gift shop
The little gift shop

Afterwards, you can go to the National Museum of History, which is nearby (although I got SO lost trying to walk between the two). There’s also a free hiking tour on Mount Vitosha during the warmer parts of the year.

The National History Museum with Mount Vitosha in the background
The National Museum of History with Mount Vitosha in the background

Tips

  • Bring cash. Even though they have signs that say they take credit cards, they wouldn’t take mine.
  • There are no concessions, so take water, etc.
  • You don’t get much time inside the church (and they watch you like a hawk), so if you’re really interested in the artwork start asking questions right away.
  • Like almost everywhere in Sofia, some of the people who work there spoke amazing English and some spoke very little.
  • Dress weather-appropriate. Most of your time will be outside.

Further Reading

 

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #36: Boyana Church
UNESCO World Heritage Site #36: Boyana Church

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: UNESCO World History Site #37: Rila Monastery (Bulgaria) - GoThreeTwentyFour

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