Sculpture of a lion outside a building with columns
Art,  Bulgaria,  Photographing Public Art,  Travel galleries

Gallery: some of the many monuments of Sofia

Sofia may have moved most of its many communist era monuments to a dedicated museum, but that doesn’t mean that the city is short of interesting public art pieces. And there is quite a variety, from the purely artistic to the historically significant.

Let me give you a tour of some of them for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge.

In the City Garden

We’ll start in the City Garden, my favourite open space in the heart of the city. Unfortunately not all were labelled. And of those that were, I omitted to note the names of most. Nevertheless I hope you enjoy seeing them, and I did at least note the name of my favourite, a 1943 one called Aeroplanes (top left below).

Elsewhere in the city

Here is a selection of other monuments and sculptures that caught my eye.

Black and white photo of a statue of a man on a horse

Monument to the Tsar Liberator

This is located in front of the National Assembly building. It commemorates the gratitude of the Bulgarian people to the Russian people in the person of the Russian Tsar Alexander II. He led the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 – 1878.

Sculpted head of a man with vertical split

Stefan Stambolov

Stefan Stambolov served as Prime Minister of Bulgaria between 1887 and 1894. He is credited with helping to establish the country as a modern European state. He was killed in 1895, by sabre blows to the head, by Russian-hired assassins near the Crystal Garden (where this monument stands). The head is deliberately placed directly in view of the Russian church. The split head symbolises his violent death.


Sculpture of two bronze deer on a lawn

In the Crystal Garden

These deer, also in the Crystal Garden, have no particular significance that I am aware of. However it’s a charming piece. The apartment we stayed in was on one side of this square, so we passed them regularly. Looking at them it’s clear that people like to rub their noses, heads and backs in passing!

Statue of a man in pope's robes and mitre

Pope John XXIII

This statue of Pope John XXIII by Carlo Balljana stands outside the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph. He is associated with the country as, prior to becoming pope in 1958 he was Papal Nuncio (delegate) to Bulgaria from 1925 to 1935. He also worked to help Jews seeking to escape the Holocaust, including Bulgarian Jews. It’s perhaps not very reverential of me to have photographed him with Sveta Sofia seemingly balanced on the paper he holds, but I couldn’t resist!

Misty park with tall statue of man with arms aloft

St Kliment Ohridski

Saint Clement of Ohrid was a Bulgarian medieval saint, regarded as a patron of education and language. Sofia’s university is named after him, and this statue stands nearby in the small park that also carries his name. I took this photo on a misty morning when the park was looking rather autumnal. Someone appears to have left him a can of lager!

Mural of a saint above an escalator

At St Kliment Ohridski metro station

Although not a monument I’m including this dramatic mural of the same saint at the metro station also named for him. It was the nearest station to ‘our’ apartment, and I took this on our final morning as we headed for the airport.

Stylised bronze sculpture of a man playing a lyre


And talking of the airport, this amazing (but hard to photograph) sculpture stands in the metro station there. A sign under it explains that tradition connects Orpheus to Thrace, the ancient kingdom that once covered much of southern Bulgaria (and northern Greece and Turkey).

In 2019

I’m also throwing in a few favourites from my 2019 visit.

Flame burning in front of a monument and a flower wreath

Monument to the Unknown Warrior

Not far from the Alexander Nevski cathedral burns the eternal flame that marks the Monument to the Unknown Warrior.

Face of a lion sculpture

The monument is watched over by an impressive lion sculpture which I felt had rather a mournful expression appropriate to his duties here. The lion is the symbol of Bulgaria. Some liken the shape of the country to a lion too (head and front paws facing the Black Sea).

The lion in my feature photo is one of a pair flanking the steps of the Palace of Justice. That shot is from my recent 2022 visit.

Dramatic modern sculpture of figures leaning and stretching
Dramatic modern sculpture of man screaming

‘Liberation from Communism’

These striking sculptures near the Holy Synod building (opposite the Alexander Nevski cathedral) have no explanatory signs. According to Google maps they are called ‘Liberation from Communism’. I know no more about them, but I like them!

Sculpted hand holding a wilting red rose

Statue of Yordan Raditchkov

Outside the Palace National Gallery. He was a significant 20th century author and playwright who died in 2004, and this monument to him was erected three years after his death. When I passed in 2019 an admirer had given him a rose to hold.

Stone statue of a man

I visited Sofia in 2019 and 2022; these photos are a mix of those taken on both visits


  • Gift N. T.

    Very well-selected and well-planned, both photography- and writing-wise. I like how the leaves and rose in the statues’ hands made them even more solemn and invite more contemplation. And your shot of the lady before the saint somehow feels hymnal even though it’s a still and without sound! Great perspective.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful response. I see what you mean about the one of the saint, although my main aim was to have someone provide an idea of the scale.

  • equinoxio21

    Nice post. The only East European country I ever visited was Czech. Prague is astounding. I was also amazed to see everywhere how much was shared with western Europe. Details here and there. Shared history and tales. Now a shared war… (Another one)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 🙂 I can imagine that’s true of Prague today but when were were there in 1979 I found it very different to Western European cities! But yes, we have a lot of common history across the continent.

      • equinoxio21

        ’79? Oh my. I never crossed the iron curtain. Went to Prague around 2003 or something like that. I was on the main square, looking around when I stumbled across the monument to Jan Hus. And I had a flashback to the Soviet invasion that squashed the Spring of Prague. And I remembered the photo of the Jan Hus monument and the entire plaza was black with centuries of soot. 15 years after the R*ssians left, Prague had been painted anew… Lovely.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          We crossed several times. In addition to that trip (which I misremembered – it was 1980!) we went to the Soviet Union in 1984 (Moscow and what was then Leningrad), and had forays into East Berlin from the West when staying there in 1985. We also went to the then Yugoslavia in 1990, before it broke apart. I gather from all I’ve heard that while Prague is even more beautiful than when we visited it’s also a LOT more crowded!

          • equinoxio21

            That was quite a… “forray” in the east…
            Fortunately when we went, which was 2003 or close, it was not that crowded. Nothing like now everywhere.

  • Marsha

    Sarah you are masterful in your approach to public art. I told one person that PPAC doesn’t seem particularly creative from a photographic standpoint – more like journalistic record shots, I think. Even though I love all the pictures – and they make great puzzles for those who like to make digital puzzles from their photos, the art is the generally the creative focus of the photograph.

    However, you proved me wrong with these photos. First, I love the foggy one, and the one with the other statue standing on “paper.” How clever was that??? I like the way you photographed first two with the fall leaves in the background. Then, of course, the stories also made the artwork memorable. I’ll never forget the cleaved head of Stefan Stambolov in full view of the Russian Church – ouch and ouch! The hard-to-photograph photo was a unique piece of art. You made the photography look easy. Finally the leaves and rose in the hands of the statues. Did you put the leaves there? That added so much life to the statue as did the finger of a different color. What an amazing display you have for us. I’m in awe.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Wow, thank you Marsha – this has to be one of the loveliest comments I’ve ever had on a post 😊 I completely agree that in many of our PPAC images the subject matter is the art and the photos merely a record of that art. That’s one reason I like to include people in my street art photos – otherwise they’re simply reproductions of someone else’s creation, not my own. And I do try to do something interesting with a statue when I can, but most of these are the results of serendipity. The fog of course, and the autumn leaves (though I confess to boosting the saturation on those colours!) Also the leaves and flower – no, I didn’t place them there, just spotted them and thought they made for nice details 🙂 The only true creativity on my part was arguably the one with Sveta Sofia standing on the pope’s papers! Otherwise it’s just about having a reasonably good eye and walking around to find the best angles with the fewest other distractions etc. But thank you so much for appreciating my efforts!

  • wetanddustyroads

    Definitely not a shortage of statues, that’s for sure! Great names, but I like the one with “no particular significance” the most – the deer 😉. And the statue of Stefan Stambolov is quite interesting – at first I thought the statue was “broken” … thank you for the history behind this one.

  • Rose

    These public artwork photos were an interesting mix of emotions – sorrowful to joyful. I appreciated your added historical information where possible. It piqued my curiosity about Sophia and sent me on a search for more history of the area. Thank-you.

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