The Devil Is in the Details. Beauty Too.

…Happiness too, don’t you find, dear Reader?

I dare say the shared habitat of these three moral categories (although the Devil might arguably have a tangible substance as well), makes them rather related, but I’m not sufficiently versed in logic to engage in scholastic arguments just now. Rather, I am in favour of the logically challenging ontological argument, basically saying that if the Devil, beauty and happiness all grow on the same tree, they must be related since a tree can’t bear fruit of different species, as proven by the fact that none does. 

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February 28, 2017, around 6pm, in front of the National Theatre. Temperature was around 15 degrees and as you can see, there is an ice-cream stand and a person in a short-sleeved tee, next to people in their winter clothing. Man-made cities do bear fruit of different species. Such as walruses living next door to heat-loving lizards.

Be that as it may, I actually wanted to tell you of a photographic exhibition currently being displayed for free in front of the National Theatre in Sofia. Called Details of Sofia  and authored by photographer Desislava Kulelieva (please play the video), it features breathtakingly beautiful pictures that can be used to sensitise Sofians of details they pass by but overlook, or guide discerning guests to Sofia to small things they might appreciate being pointed to.

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Roughly the same place. The red building to the left is the Sofia City Gallery, which currently hosts an exhibition on the male nude in Bulgarian art. Visiting it is on my weekend “to do” list.

I am known to have sometimes commented that, if I possessed a good quality camera and the necessary skills, I would go around Sofia to photograph its architectural details, and then do a separate shoot of its stray dogs, rubbish and bidonville-like neighbourhoods. All this is Sofia, yet its many faces are poles apart. Because of this, I am happy that Ms. Kulelieva has actually transformed thought into action, cataloging many of the small things that are part of our aesthetic and cultural patrimonium. 

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Balustrades on display here; the stone one can be found at 3 Angel Kanchev Str, and the metal one is part of the Eagles’Bridge (Орлов мост) built in 1891 as an entry to Sofia. Now it is considered a downtown location. 

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Beautiful balconies from around town. The sad thing is that this architectural style is increasingly being ousted by modern, office-building-like looking, glitzy styrofoam monsters that, despite their corpulence, don’t have neither presence, nor style, nor details. The message they deliver is “I wasn’t built to glorify beauty; I was built with a simple utilitarian purpose in mind, as fast and as cheaply as possible, to maximise return on investment and profits.” How ugly. A hundred years from now, a Details of Sofia exhibition won’t be possible, as there won’t be any details to exhibit. 

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House to the left, currently a pizzeria, is at 68 Neofit Rilski Str., and house to the right, built in 1912, is at 2 Dunav Str., very close to the place where the gallows from which Vasil Levsky was hanged once stood. I think the history behind each of these buildings is very interesting, but it is, alas, much, much beyond the scope of a blog post. Sofia annals is more like it. 

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Details of a house located at 81 Tsar Simeon Str. 

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Titans don’t have it easy, carrying the starry vault of heaven or the burdens of humanity. Here two sets of titans can be seen, at 2 Graf Ignatiev Str., and 1 Ivan Vazov Str., respectively. 

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Doors of Sofia. Here I showed you Doors of Barcelona and a door of Stara Zagora. 

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Top photo is the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi Church (25 Graf Ignatiev Str.), which is a converted mosque and has allegedly been built by the Ottoman architect Mimar (meaning architect) Sinan. I have mentioned this church on several occasions in the blog, e.g. here. Bottom photo is the hand of Evtimii, the last Bulgarian patriarch, of the second part of the 14th century, before the Bulgarian Orthodox church was disbanded by the Ottomans. The monument was built in 1939 and is a traditional meeting place not far from the Sveti Sedmochislenitsi church. 

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Top photo shows the main entrance of Sofia University’s Faculty of Theology, located right next to the St. Nedelya church and the Sheraton Balkan Hotel. Bottom photo is the Sofia Seminary, in whose church and gorgeous park my wedding ceremony was held. A decade ago this September, imagine that.

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Top photo is of the St. Nikolay Sofiyski Church at 76 Pirotska Str. This is Sofia’s largest church after the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and is the one located the closest to my office. In fact, my office building can be seen to the left of its largest dome. Bottom photo is of the St. Paraskeva Church at 58 Georgi Rakovski Str., third-largest in Sofia. Many people don’t like it, saying that it looks way too black and ominous, but I think it is very stately and dignified. 

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More along the stately lines – the Lozenets Residence at 70 Milin Kamak Str., a state-owned property used for high-end receptions and cocktails today, and build to welcome Stalin, on a land plot confiscated from the Czech Proshek brothers, who were more Bulgarian than many Bulgarians of their time.

The bottom picture is of the Vrana Residence, the summer getaway of the Bulgarian tsars Ferdinand and Boris III, located just outside Sofia on 381 Tsarigradsko Chaussee. Vrana was also the place where the royal family lived under house arrest between 1944 and 1946, after communism came. Vrana is also the place where, as per the orders of Soviet citizen Georgi Dimitrov, the remains of Tsar Boris were re-buried, after having been dug out of the Rila Monastery, only for their new tomb to be desecrated by explosion later. Easily accessible by car but also (I believe) by public transportation, Vrana has a beautifully landscaped park and a noble interior.  

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The top picture shows a fountain of the late 19th century with a bronze figure of a girl reading a book, and a dog, located in the Doctors’ Garden, a small park on Oborishte Street, called like this because of its central monument containing the names of doctors who died while performing their duties during the Russian-Ottoman war that resulted in Bulgaria’s liberation. 

The bottom picture is of a pub called The Thirsty Dragon (Жадната ламя), housed by an early 20th-century house on 2, March 13 Str., and made to look like something out of the Middle Ages on the inside.

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Balcony and clock photos are of the building of the Bulgarian National Bank, located opposite the former Royal Palace. Top photo shows the building of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. I drive through this crossroad every day, it is on my way to work. 

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These are the remains of the Roman town of Serdica which thrived during the second millennium BC. The remains are right next to the Sheraton Balkan Hotel. There may not be love in the heart of the city, but there are Roman remains all over the place to mend a broken heart, Bulgarian or other. You can sneak a peak at the dolce vita that used to go on at Serdica villas here

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An old water tower at 13 Galichitsa Str. To the right, a remnant of a wall from the 16th century funnily, but wrongly, known as The Roman Wall. It is built with a traditional Ottoman building technique featuring brick cells filled with stone. There is a farmers’market around it today. 

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Beautiful old houses. The top one is at 6 Malyovitsa Str., and the bottom ones, identical and built by two twin brothers across a street, are at the Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi Blvd, at the crossroad with Oborishte Str. I drive past them every day too. 

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More beautiful houses, at 5 Bistritsa Str., and 19 Denkoglu Str. 

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Sofia is full of monuments as well. To the left we have Ivan Vazov, located close to the Alexander Nevsky cathedral and to the poet’s grave, and to the right we have Aleko Konstantinov, author of the quintessentially Bulgarian (alas, in a negative way) fictional character of Bay Ganyo, owner of the idea that Bulgaria can and should become a Switzerland on the Balkans, writer of most interesting travelogues, and also founding father of organised tourism in Bulgaria. This is why we have him immortalised with a suitcase on the pedestrian part of Vitosha Blvd.

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This, not part of Ms. Kulelieva’s exhibition, is at the Slaveykov Square in Sofia, a famous open-air book market in the city centre. The statue is of Petko and Pencho Slaveykovi, father and son, who were both writers and poets. Petko, the father, is also author of Bulgaria’s first cookbook which I’ve mentioned here. Pencho, the son, was a Nobel Prize nominee in 1912. His poems are a staple of mine, they are so tender and articulate. Here is his muse, female poet Mara Belcheva who nursed him on his deathbed in Italy. Their monument is in the town of Sevlievo. 

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Bottom photo is of the book-dominated Slaveykov Square and shows a bench with details that look like a library. Top photo shows stairs shaped as a pile of books leading to a cafe called Peroto, or The Feather. Housed by the National Palace of Culture, Peroto is a place where one can buy a hot beverage and good pastry, and pick a book from the cafe’s huge selection to enjoy while eating. 

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Entering street art realm. I know only where the rug-looking graffiti, to the right of the middle row, are. The one that looks like a truck is actually a painted garbage container. 

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The Fix & Ride Velo Bar on 22, September 6 Str on top and Einstein on the facade of a student dormitory at the bottom. 

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This picture and the previous one prove how graffiti and paint can actually embellish buildings rather than ruin them. The top picture is of a school facade, the two bottom ones are of residential buildings.

After this nice stroll along Sofia’s centre, let’s remember that March 3, apart from a non-working Friday this year, is Bulgaria’s national holiday, dear Reader. So rather than a long weekend for one to go and soak their derrieres into a hot spring, this is a time for one to go to church, go lay flowers here and there, and generally extend a long prayer to the memory of all those who had contributed to the existence of our country today.

Brave Bulgarians of the close to 15 centuries past, thank you. And good night

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