This is the fourth flat I’ve had in almost 8 years in Sofia – and it’s interesting what different perspectives (and indeed feelings) about the city one gets from the different micro-neighbourhoods. John Berger’s phrase “ways of seeing” comes to mind. Two were in spitting distance of one another – near the football stadium (Nikolai Pavlovitch and Khan Krum streets) – each going back to the 1920s…. Patriarch Eftemi Boulevard and Graf Ignatiev street were the backbone of the area. The very names resonate with history…..Krum referring to the first Bulgarian Empire; Ignatiev to the Russian military assistance in removing the Ottoman yoke from the Bulgarians; Pavlovitch the most influential of Bulgaria’s early painters.
The third flat was more modern, Lajos Kossuth St, just off Hristov Botev Boulevard – next to a lovely old Bulgarian revival building which actually houses the Catholic Prelate! The street names celebrate the power of ideas about independence in the 19th century….
Now I’m in a charming period flat in the old area between Vasil Levski, Dondukov and Princess Maria Luise Boulevards – on the edge of the Jewish neighbourhood which was focused on the fascinating women’s market, subject of an excellent brief here. Prince Dondukov played (as Russian Governor) a key role in the drafting of the Bulgarian constitution which was famed in its time as one of the world’s most liberal. “Stefan Stambolov and the emergence of the Bulgarian nation” (1993) is a rare book in the English language about those times…..
The neighbourhood has rapidly become my favourite…it’s a mere 10 minute stroll up Danube St (where my flat criss-crosses with Tsar Simeon St) to the magnificent Alexander Nevski Cathedral behind whose dome Mount Vitosha dominates the skyline. And then down past the colourful Russian church and the back of what was the Palace and is now the National Gallery – with its small park area and statues. The through the little park with the jazz buskers, the National Theatre and Sofia City Gallery via Vitosha walking street, Levski Boulevard to the Rodina Hotel where I swim and keep fit.
It was four years ago (!) that I wrote of the joys of strolling around Sofia which you can experience vicariously in “A Walk in the Street of Sofia Guidebook “ (Kras Plus 2002) - a marvellous bilingual history of the 6 parts of central Sofia for those who want to appreciate the city’s singularity by foot. Sadly I’ve not so far been able to find another copy in the bookshops….here instead are a few photos I took of the area just 500 metres or so around my flat last weekend and installed in a newly opened flickr account
Sofia Enigma and Stigm (Enthusiast 2011) by “dandy” Ljubomir Milchev is a lovely little ode to the city which contains evocative black and white photos of old, crumbling buildings in my neighbourhood. Imagine my delight in discovering, in a nearby magic bookshop on Rakovski St, “Time and Beauty; art nouveau in the Bulgarian cities” ed Vittore Collina (2014) – a booklet produced with great care and thought – a real labour of love.