The church is easy recognizable for its magnificent structure, topped by copper and golden domes.
It is built in honour of the 200 000 Russian soldiers who gave up their lives to liberate Bulgaria from the 5 centuries-old Ottoman rule and their king Alexander II, also known as Tzar Osvoboditel / King Liberator/.
The church takes its name from Alexander Nevski /a Russian prince who saved the country from Swedish invasion in 1240/, the patron saint of the family of the Russian tsar. The cathedral is designed by the famous architect from St.Petersburg Pomerantsev. The stone foundation was laid in 1882 but it took 30 years to complete the building. A total of 32 Russian and 13 Bulgarian artists and artisans worked on it. The neo-Byzantine style, typical of 19th – century Russian church architecture, features a monumental gradation of arches, semi-domes and domes covering an area of 3170 square meters.
It has a capacity of more than 5000 and hosts at least that many on the most important Orthodox celebrations, such as midnight mass ceremonies on Christmas Eve and Easter. The five-aisled interior is decorated with three altar iconostases, multi-colored Italian marble, Brazilian onyx and alabaster, Venetian mosaics and stained glass windows. The 53-meter-high belfry has a dozen bells; the smallest weighs in at 10 kilos, the biggest at 12 tons.
The central altar is dedicated to St Alexander Nevski, the southern altar to St Boris who brought Christianity to Bulgaria, and the northern altar to Saints Cyril and Methodius who created the Cyrillic alphabet. Expressive frescos depict episodes from the life of Christ in rich tones, and the grandeur of the iconostasis is enhanced by twin thrones with columns of onyx and alabaster.
The Icon Museum is located in the crypt, to the left of the main entrance. There is an impressive collection of over 300 icons and murals – the best examples of Bulgarian icon-painting from the late ninth century up to the end of the nineteenth century.
A guidebook is available in Bulgarian and English. The souvenir shop sells icon copies (prices range between $5 and $650); replicas of other icons can be special-ordered.
The square in front of the church, Ploshtad Aleksander Nevski, hosts stalls selling souvenirs and bric-à-brac the year through.