The Museum of Archaeology hosts the most numerous collections in Bulgaria and its exhibitions reveal it as one of the most important centers in the country for promotion of the cultural heritage of present day Bulgaria. Its academic and museum potential turns NIAM-BAS into the biggest research archaeological unit in southeast Europe.
NIAM-BAS was established in 1949 as a follower and successor of the Department of Valuables – part of the Library established in Sofia in 1878-1879 and reformed into a National Museum in 1892 – and the Bulgarian Institute of Archaeology (1921), which was the first academic institute in Bulgaria.
It occupies the building of the largest and oldest former Ottoman mosque in the city, Büyük camii (“Grand Mosque”), built around 1474 under Mehmed II. The museum was established as a separate entity in 1893 as the National Museum with its headquarters in the former mosque that previously housed the National Library between 1880 and 1893.
The museum was officially opened and inaugurated in 1905, as by then all archaeological exhibits previously kept all over the city were moved there, in the presence of Knyaz Ferdinand of Bulgaria and Minister of Enlightenment Ivan Shishmanov.
The Buyuk (Grand) mosque is the oldest building of its kind in Sofia. Its building inscription hasn’t survived, but according to some written records it was named Kodzha Mahmud Pasha dzhamisi, i.e., the mosque of the great Mahmud Pasha. A complex of many buildings surrounded the mosque as it was the Ottoman construction tradition. That is why it is not surprising that even in the 17th century the neighborhood around the mosque continued being named after Mahmud Pasha. Even at the end of the 19th century the street, that led to the mosque, nowadays Lege, was named Buyuk camisi sokagi.