Saint Sophia Basilica, Necropolis,  Sofia - Bulgaria  01.Nov.2022

The Saint Sofia Basilica is the oldest church in the Bulgarian capital Sofia, dating to the 4th century. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city, previously known as Serdica. The church was built on the site of several earlier churches from the 4th century, and places of worship dating back to the days when it was the necropolis of the Roman town of Serdica. It was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the middle of the 6th century (527-565). It is thus a contemporary of the better-known Hagia Sophia church in Istanbul. The Saint Sofia Church is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early Christian architecture in Southeastern Europe. The present building is a cross basilica with three altars. The floor of the church is covered with complex Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed mosaics. The Saint Sofia Church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and many tombs have been unearthed both under and near the church. Some of the tombs feature frescoes.

Since ancient times the plain of Sofia has been an intersection point in the Balkans. In the place of present-day Sofia, a settled life started as early as the 6th millennium BC, the so-called Neolithic Age. After this early agricultural settlement in today's Slatina district, different cultures have been settling down here through the Chalcolithic period, the Bronze and the Iron Ages, for eight thousand years now. In 45 AD this settlement was included in the newly formed Roman province of Thrace and the urban core of the future city Serdica was formed, which obtained the rights of an urban center during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD). The Basilica of St. Sophia was erected in the heart of the eastern necropolis of Serdica. There were discovered a large number of tombs of different types and constructions, dating back from the 3ro c. AD to the beginning of the 5th c. AD, namely: stone sarcophagi, graves of stone or masonry brick graves with flat cover, as well as the most popular type in the Late Antiquity - family brick tombs with semi-cylindrical vaults. Although more rarely, some tombs were painted with murals. From the beginning of the 4th c. AD in one of them, on its vault, flowers were freely scattered and Christian symbols still can't be found. A typical example of Christian decoration is The Tomb of Honorius from the end of the 5th c. AD which was discovered to the northwest of the Basilica of St. Sophia. It is the only tomb dating from Late Antiquity discovered in Bulgaria, containing the name of the deceased. Its interior is decorated with Latin crosses, and above them, there is a sign containing both Greek and Latin letters:

"Honorius, slave of Christ, Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit"

In addition to the sepulchral architecture, the remains of several earlier Christian churches have been discovered in the foundations of the basilica. The earliest one is a single-nave one with polychromic mosaic floor panels - with geometric, floral, and animal patterns in the nave and with The Garden of Eden mosaic in the apse. It has three construction periods: a martyrium with an initial square plan from the second half of 311 AD - the first half of 313 AD; one extension to the west as a single-nave church after 313 AD; as paved with mosaic panels after the second half of the 4th century AD. The second church is tripartite (one nave and two aisles), with an apse incorporated in the eastern wall. It was constructed at the end of the 4th c. AD but existed just for a short period of time. The floor of the third church was built at the beginning of the 5th century AD, is entirely covered with polychromic mosaic panels with geometric and floral patterns. Most probably it was destroyed by the Hunnic invasion in the middle of the 5'h century AD. The construction of the fourth church can be dated to the end of the 5th - the beginning of the 6th century AD - a tripartite one with a transept and a two-story narthex, today named the Basilica of St. Sophia.