Although Bulgaria gained autocephalous recognition by Constantinople as early as A.D. 927, it wasn't until the nationalist movements of the 19th century that Istanbul's Bulgarian community was granted its own church. The first church was a small wooden one erected in 1849. As with all too many wooden structures in the city, it succumbed to a fire. The replacement had to be both fire resistant and appropriate for the weakness of the soil. In the end, plans for a cast-iron cathedral were drawn, and the church was produced, piece by piece, in Vienna and shipped down the Danube and through the Black Sea in sections. The result is a stunning, 500-ton neo-Gothic slab of iron affixed to a steel frame. A visit to the upper gallery will get you a close-up of the deceptively ornate workmanship -- even at 6 inches of distance, the columns, pilasters, and frieze seem as if they were carved from wood.