Bulgaria’s National Theater in Sofia Celebrates 110th Anniversary since Opening of Its Baroque Building

A photo showing the building of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: National Theater Facebook Page

Bulgaria’s “Ivan Vazov" National Theater has celebrated the 110th anniversary since the opening of its building in downtown Sofia, a beautiful cultural landmark designed by Viennese architects.

The official building of Bulgaria’s National Theater (named later after writer and poet Ivan Vazov (1850-1921)) was formally inaugurated on January 3, 1907.

This was a time when the Third Bulgarian Tsardom (or the Tsardom of Bulgaria, 1878-1944/46), having been partly liberated from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, was not even fully independent – it declared its National Independence only a year-and-a-half later, on September 22, 1908, with the Bulgarian monarch, until then a “Knyaz" (i.e. King) assuming the title of “Tsar" (i.e. Emperor).

The building of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia was designed by Austrian architects Ferdinand Felner and Hermann Helmer.

Its construction was formally ordered on July 14, 1903, and began in June 1904, on a spot formerly occupied by a theater building made of wood.

The main hall of the Ivan Vazov Theater has 848 seats. Its baroque ceiling was decorated by another Vienna artist Rudolf Fuchs (1868-1918).

Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by a fire on February 10, 1923, which started during a performance.

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The building of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia in 1907. Photo: Wikipedia

The building was then reconstructed between 1924 and 1928 by German architect Martin Dülfer.

The reconstruction allowed for strengthening the building with reinforced concrete, and supplying it with the latest stage equipment used by the best European theaters at the time, which was installed in 1929, and has worked fine ever since.

Later, during World War II, the Anglo-American bombardments of Sofia destroyed the southern wing of the Ivan Vazov Theater, which was rebuilt and the theater was reopened in April 1945.

The building was renovated once again in 1972-1975 by Bulgarian engineer Venelin Venkov. During this renovation, and another theater hall fit for chamber plays was added.

Between 1906 and 1952, the theater was known as just the “National Theater" (or “People’s Theater"). It was then named after Bulgarian actor Krastyo Sarafov (1876-1952), and in 1962, it was named after author Ivan Vazov, a poet, novelist, and playwright known as “the Patriarch of Bulgarian Literature".

A 2013 photo of the Ivan Vazov National Theater in Sofia. Photo: Pudelek, Wikipedia

Bulgaria’s Ivan Vazov National Theater is not just featured in every major guided tour of Sofia as a main cultural landmark but it is also a living testimony to the country’s modern history since the start of the 20th century.

The very opening of its building on January 3, 1907, was marked by civil unrest when students from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski" booed the Bulgarian monarch, Knyaz (Tsar as of 1908) Ferdinand (r. 1887-1918) throwing snowballs at his convoy as a result of a government decision to limit the University’s autonomy, and in support of a strike by railway workers that had started in December 1906.

The government of Prime Minister Dimitar Petkov (1858-1907) and the People’s Liberal Party saw the students’ demonstration at the opening of the National Theater building as an act of anarchism inspired by university professors.

The crisis escalated on January 8, 1907, when the police blockade the building of the Sofia University, arrested many students, fired all faculty members, and closed down the institution.

The following academic year starting in the fall of 1907 essentially failed because of lack of qualified faculty, and the government of Prime Minister Alexander Malinov and the Democratic Party, which came to power in January 1908, rehired all university professors, and restored the university and the students that had been arrested, thus ending the so called University Crisis of 1907.

In September 1908, the same Cabinet of Prime Minister Malinov, together with Knyaz Ferdinand, took advantage of the Bosnian Crisis of that year to declare Bulgaria’s formal independence from the Ottoman Empire.

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