Bulgaria is one of the most fascinating countries I have had the chance to visit. I left a bit of my heart there (as in many other places around the world – I must be heartbroken – LOL!). One of my bucket list goals is to go back for a road trip, exploring the whole country (beaches, mountains, wine, historical landmarks, communist relics!) and eating loads of Shopska salad as we go along.
My visit to Bulgaria was work related but luckily our Bulgarian partners wanted to show us something more of the country than just offices and meetings. This was very welcome as I was interested in getting to know Bulgaria.
If you know me at all, you will be able to imagine my excitement when I saw the National History Museum! It is Sofia’s largest museum but back in the day it used to be the residence of Bulgaria’s former communist head of state Todor Zhivkov and his entourage. Then, it was called Boyana residence or Building 1. Zhivkov ruled the country for a baffling 35 years!
The complex is located at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain National Park and it is off the beaten track in the sense that it is a bit far from the city center. Unfortunately for us, the weather was so cloudy that we did not catch a proper glimpse of Vitosha.
The Boyana residence was built in 1974. It is HUGE! The architect was Alexander Barov who designed other magnificent buildings like Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. In Boyana, you can see two interesting concepts combined: “close-to-nature architecture” (which apparently was the trend at the time) and of course typical socialist architecture.
The residence was the meeting place for foreign diplomatic delegations. Apparently Zhivkov’s rule ended in this very hall (below) in 1989.
I am going on and on about the building because that was what interested me the most. But as the name tells you, the complex houses a history museum with showcases filled with Bulgarian history. The museum has over 700,000 cultural objects from prehistory to the present day. We had a private English tour where the guide explained (I’ve never seen anyone speak at such speed!) about the objects and Bulgaria’s historical events. To be honest, I would’ve been most interested in hearing about Zhivkov’s era and stories about what went on in this building. So in a way, I think the choice to make the building a history museum is a bit peculiar but perhaps Bulgaria is not ready to showcase the dictatorship in that way yet?
The wood panels are beautiful. The hall you can see below was breathtaking. Look at that chandelier! The hall has specially designed window openings from where you can see the Vitosha mountain and you get a sense that the space is expanded outdoors. The windows can be fully opened. As you can imagine, this was the ideal setting for luxurious parties.
The grounds of the museum are just as grand – I would love to see the gardens in summer. You can see a little peek of the Vitosha mountains behind the clouds!
After our visit, we drove a bit and walked up a hill to the Boyana church.
We got a glimpse of local housing as we walked. I love all that greenery in this garden!
The Boyana church is a medieval church and one of Bulgaria’s most precious sights. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The church has been built in three different stages (11th, 13th and 19th century) and has beautiful frescoes inside. I found the area to be very peaceful.
After taking some time to look around, we then jumped in the car again for something to eat and see views of Sofia from above.
It’s a pity I have no idea which restaurant we went to because the pancake I had was absolutely divine! Doesn’t just seeing it make you crave something sweet?
What are your impressions of the National History Museum? Have you been to Bulgaria?
5 thoughts on “A look into a dictator’s home”
I´ve been in love with Bulgaria for about 10 years. There´s so many places to see and even the coast is beautiful, if you skip the most touristy destinations 🙂
My favourite destinations in Bulgaria are Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Sofia, Sinemorets, Rhodopi-mountains, and of course the city Burgas. But I haven´t seen the northern part of Bulgaria yet, so there´s still a lot to explore. Ruse, for example, which is called “the little Vienna” because of the architecture.
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Ooh I must take a closer look at your blog to see what you’ve discovered! Do you fly to Burgas or how do you usually go? It’s a shame there’s no direct flight to Sofia. Thanks for visiting my blog 😊
Yes, I fly to Burgas with Norwegian! They also fly to Varna. But they only fly from early April to the end of October. Yep, it´s a shame there are no direct flights to Sofia from Helsinki, let´s hope this will change someday 🙂
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Never been there but now I want to go. That wood panelling was pretty special architecture too.
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Thank you, it really is an intriguing building. With a lot of history to tell. Bulgaria is a really great travel destination, there’s a direct flight from Helsinki to the coastal area called “Sunny Beach” but not to Sofia which is my main point of interest. 🙃