St. George temple – Rotunda
The St. George temple in Sofia (famous for its circular upper part like a Rotunda) is one of the oldest active temples, along with St. Sofia, the Constantinople Basilica in Trier and San Clemente in Rome.
The Rotunda itself consists of red baked bricks and it is a central dome space, 13.70 m high with a circular plan on a square base with semi – circular niches in the angles.
Five picturesque layers are preserved in the Rotunda, discovered during the restoration works in the 20th century and they are saved in a different stage. The first one is late Roman with plant motives from the 4th century. The second one is Bulgarian with angels from the 10th century and it contains maybe the most fascinating fresco, kept from our medieval art – a head of an angel, which has turned into an symbol of the. The third one is from 11th and 12th century and it presents a frieze of prophets and frescoes, which represent the Ascension day, the Assumption and other biblical scenes. The fourth layers from 14th century presents an impressive image of Christ Pantocrator (All – powerful) in the dome and a donor’s portrait of an episcope, situated to the north of the entrance. The last one is ornamental and dates back to the time when the Rotunda was a mosque.
According to the most specialists the Rotunda was turned into a temple in the beginning of 4th century probably just after the publishing the Edict of Serdika of Tolerance in April 311 or after its confirmation with the so called Edict of Milanin 313. Some of the researchers (like B. Filov and V. Dinchev) are convinced that are initially the Rotunda was part of the of Serdika thermae. The building of this bathroom dates back from the beginning of the 3rd century. Other researchers like M. Stancheva think that the building had social and representative functions – it was first a part of the palace of Constantine the Great; and in the 13th century it was sevastocrator Kaloyan; it is said that the Rotunda was built in the period between 313 and 343 and that from the beginning it was a temple. Having in mind the significant role of the Serdika church at this time, experts like A. Karin claim the statement that the Rotundais a part of the episcope castle of the Serdica’s Christian head of the church (St. Protogen of Serdikа at that time) and suppose that the building was a seat of the Council of Serdica – 342-343.
In the 10th century the glory of the temple is due to the fact that the relics of St. Yoan of Rila had been laid there. In 1893 in St. George again were laid temporarily the relics of prince Alexander Batenberg who was compelled to leave Bulgaria but wished to be buried in Sofia.
During the Ottoman Yoke the temple (similarly to other churches) was turned into a mosque – the so called Gul Mosque, which according to Evliq Chelebi was one of the biggest sightseeing`s in Sofia. The state of the temple right after the Liberation of Bulgaria and the proclamation of Sofia as a capital (1879) was preserved in the wonderful water colors of Josif Oberbauer.
The reconstruction of the Rotundabegan in 1953 along with the building of the Council of Ministers. The working today temple – museum St. George is a part of a big archeological complex, which is kept in the centre of Sofia – in the yard of the Presidency.