Sofia

 
Sofia (Bulgarian: София), is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Bulgaria, with a population of 1,154,010 (making it the 14th largest city in the European Union), and some 1,220,307 in the metropolitan area, the Capital Municipality. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of the mountain massif Vitosha, and is the administrative, cultural, economic, and educational centre of the country.
 
One of the oldest capital cities in Europe, the history of Sofia dates back to the 8th century BC, when Thracians established a settlement there. Sofia has had several names in the different periods of its existence, and remnants of the city's millenary history can still be seen today alongside modern landmarks.
 
 

Geography

 
Sofia's development as a significant settlement owes much to its central position in the Balkans. It is situated in western Bulgaria, at the northern foot of the Vitosha mountain, in the Sofia Valley that is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The valley is the largest one in the country with territory of 1,186 square kilometres (457.9 sq mi) and average altitude of 550 metres (1,804 ft). Three mountain passes lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, connecting the Adriatic Sea and Central Europe with the Black and Aegean Seas.
A number of low rivers cross the city, including the Vladaiska and the Perlovska. The Iskar River in its upper course flows near eastern Sofia. The city is known for its numerous mineral and thermal springs. Artificial and dam lakes were built in the last century.
 
It is located 150 km (90 miles) northwest of Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, 390 km west of Burgas, 472 km (294 miles) west of Varna, Bulgaria's major port-cities on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The city is situted at less than 200 kilometres (124 mi) from the borders with three countries: 55 kilometres (34 mi) from Kalotina on the Serbian border, 113 kilometres (70 mi) from Gyueshevo on the frontier with the Republic of Macedonia and 183 kilometres (114 mi) from the Greek border at Kulata.
 
 

Climate 

Sofia has a moderate continental climate with high temperature amplitudes. The hottest month is August while January is the coldest. Up to 1936 the average annual temperature was +10.0 °C (50 °F) and since then it has risen with +0.5 °C (+1 °F). The city receives around 650 millimetres (25.6 in) annual precipitation with summer maximum and winter minimum. Sofia generally remains less hot in summer than other parts of Bulgaria, due to the high altitude of the valley its situated in, although temperatures can still reach 40 °C on occasions.
 
Climate table
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Mean daily maximum temperature (°C) 2.2 4.9 9.8 15.7 22.3 26.7 29.7 30.0 24.0 16.6 9.6 4.1  
Mean minimum night time temperature    (°C) −4.9 −2.9 0.3 4.8 9.0 12.1 13.8 13.4 10.4 5.7 1.2 −2.7  
Mean total rainfall (mm) 28 31 38 51 73 75 63 51 38 35 48 40  
Mean number of rain days 10 10 10 12 14 13 10 8 7 7 9 11  
Source: World Weather Information Service

 

History

 Antiquity

 

The Church of Sv. Georgi is among the oldest Christian temples in the Balkan peninsula dating back to 4th century
The Church of Sv. Georgi is
among the oldest Christian
temples in the Balkan peninsula
dating back to 4th century
 
 
Sofia was originally a Thracian settlement called Serdica, named after the Thracian tribe Serdi. Around 500 BC another tribe settled in the region, the Odrysi, known as an ethnos with their own kingdom. For a short period during the 4th century BC, the city was possessed by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.
Around AD 29, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. It became a municipium, or centre of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117).
The first written mention of Serdica was made by Ptolemy (around 100 AD).
 
The city expanded, as turrets, protective walls, public baths, administrative and cult buildings, a civic basilica and a large amphitheatre called Bouleutherion, were built. When Emperor Diocletian divided the province of Dacia into Dacia Ripensis (on the banks of the Danube) and Dacia Mediterranea, Serdica became the capital of Dacia Mediterranea. The city subsequently expanded for a century and a half, which caused Constantine the Great to call it "my Rome".
 
Serdica was of moderate size, but magnificent as an urban concept of planning and architecture, with abundant amusements and an active social life. It flourished during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, when it was surrounded with great fortress walls whose remnants can still be seen today.
The city was destroyed by the Huns in 447 but was rebuilt by Justinian and renamed Triaditsa.
 
 
 
Sofia has been a centre of Christianity since the times of the Roman Empire
 
     Sofia has been a centre of
    Christianity since the times
         of the Roman Empire

Middle Ages

The Boyana Church is among the most precious monuments from the Bulgarian Empire
The Boyana Church is among
the most precious monuments
from the Bulgarian Empire
 
 
Sofia first became part of the First Bulgarian Empire during the reign of Khan Krum in 809 after a long siege. Afterwards, it was known by the Slavic name Sredets and grew into an important fortress and administrative centre. After the fall of North-eastern Bulgaria under John I Tzimiskes's armies in 971, the Bulgarian Patriarch Damyan chose Sofia for his seat in the next year. After a number of unsuccessful sieges, the city fell to the Byzantine Empire in 1018, but once again was incorporated into the restored Bulgarian Empire at the  time of Tsar Ivan Asen I.
 
From the 12th to the 14th century, Sofia was a thriving centre of trade and crafts. It was renamed Sofia (meaning "wisdom" in Greek) in 1376 after the Church of St. Sofia. However, it was called both "Sofia" and "Sredets" until the 16th century, when the new name gradually replaced the old one.
 

Ottoman rule

Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Murad I in 1382. After the campaign of Władysław III of Poland in 1443 towards Sofia, the city's Christian elite was annihilated and became the capital of the Ottoman province (beylerbeylik) of Rumelia for more than 4 centuries, which encouraged many Turks to settle there. From 16th century Sofia's appearance changed to Oriental town with many mosques, fountains, hamam (baths). During that time the town had a population of around 7,000 which rose to 55,000 in the mid 17th century. The town was seized for several weeks by Bulgarian haiduks in 1599.
 
In 1610 the Vatican established the See of Sofia for Catholics of Rumelia, which existed until 1715 when most Catholics had emigrated. In 16th century there had been 126 Jew households. The Jews had a synagogue since 967.
 

Liberated Bulgaria

Sofia was liberated by Russian forces in 1878, during the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78, and became the capital of the autonomous Principality of Bulgaria in 1879, which became Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1908.
During World War II, Sofia was bombed by Allied aircraft in late 1943 and early 1944, as well as later occupied by the Soviet Union. Bulgaria's regime, which allied the country with Nazi Germany, was overthrown and Sofia became capital of the Communist-ruled People's Republic of Bulgaria (1944–1989).
 
 

Administration

The city of Sofia is one of 28 Provinces of Bulgaria (not to be confused with Sofia Province, which surrounds but does not include the city). Besides the city of Sofia, the capital province encompasses three other cities and 34 villages, being split into a total of 24 municipalities. Each municipality has a head person who is elected by the municipal assembly. The head of the county is its mayor. The assembly members are chosen every four years. The current mayor of Sofia is Boyko Borisov.
 
 

Demographics

Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1887 20856 -
1892 30928 +48.3%
1900 46593 +50.6%
1920 154025 +230%
1946 530168 +244%
2001 1177577 +122%
2006 1203680 +2.2%
New Houses
New Houses
 
According to 1999 data, the whole Capital Municipality, with a population of 1,326,377 as of June 2006, had a population density of 917.8, by far the highest in the country. The city itself has a population of 1,203,680.
 
The ratio of women per 1,000 men was 1,114 and the rate of population ageing was 100.3. The birth rate per 1000 people was 7.9 and steadily declining in the last 15 years, the death rate reaching 12.2 and growing. The population was declining by 4.3 per cent. However, considerable immigration to the capital from poorer regions of the country, as well as urbanization, are the reason Sofia's population is in practice increasing. 5.7 people of every one thousand were married and the infant mortality rate was 11 dead babies per 1,000 born alive, down from 18.9 in 1980.
 
The unemployment is significantly lower than in other parts of the country — 2.45% of the active population in 1999 and declining, compared to 7.25% for the whole of Bulgaria as of July 1, 2007 (also on the decrease). The large share of unemployed people with higher education, 27% as compared to 7% for the whole country, is a characteristic feature of the capital.
 
When Sofia was declared capital in 1879 it was the fifth-largest city in the country after Plovdiv, Ruse, Varna and Shumen. Plovdiv remained the most populous town in Bulgaria till 1892 when Sofia took the lead.
 
 

Culture

The Church of St Sophia, built in the middle of the 6th century under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, gave the city its name
 
The Church of St Sophia, built in the middle of the 6th century under Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, gave the city its name
Sofia is one of the oldest capital cities in Europe, blending its past and present in a remarkable architectural style. Historic landmarks include the 10th century Boyana Church (one of the UNESCO World Heritage protected sites), the Alexander Nevski Cathedral (one of the world's largest Orthodox churches), and the early Byzantine Church of St Sophia.
 
Sofia is the see of an Eastern Orthodox and of a Roman Catholic diocese.
Ivan Vazov National Theatre
      Ivan Vazov National Theatre
 
 
The fountain in front of the National Theatre
 
          The fountain in front
         of the National Theatre
More modern architecture is represented by the Bulgarian National Opera and Ballet, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the Rakovski Str theatre district, Slaveykov Square's outdoor book market, and the NDK, which is Southeastern Europe's largest cultural and congressional centre.
Sofia has also a huge nightlife scene with many different night clubs, live venues, pubs, mehani (Bulgarian traditional taverns), and restaurants. Many of the famous Bulgarian music groups were established in Sofia such as Shturtzite, Hipodil, Epizod and FSB. The city hosts many of the major world music acts that play shows in Bulgaria such as Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden, Marilyn Manson, Eros Ramazotti, DJ Tiesto, Transglobal Underground, Judas Priest, Wu-tang Clan and Rihanna to name a few.
 

Museums

Sofia houses numerous museums, notably the National Historical Museum, the Bulgarian Natural History Museum, the Museum of Earth and Men, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Museum of Military History, the National Polytechnical Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. In addition, there are the Sofia City Art Gallery, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Bulgarian National Gallery for Foreign Art as well as numerous private art galleries.
 
 

Places of special interest

The city also offers many places of special interest such as the Sts. Cyril and Methodius National Library (which houses the largest national book collection and is Bulgaria's oldest cultural institute), the Sofia State Library, the British Council, the Russian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Italian Cultural Institute, the French Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Instituto Cervantes, and the Open Society Institute. Families with children used to be able to enjoy Sofia Land, the nearly nine-acre amusement park adjacent to the Sofia Zoological Garden (founded in 1888). Unfortunately the park was closed in 2006.
 
Sofia currently enjoys a booming film industry as the filming ground of several international film productions. Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka — ranked as the world's 22nd most expensive commercial street — represents numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores and features exhibitions by world fashion designers. Sofia's geographic location, situated in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city's specific atmosphere.
 
The Bulgarian Academy
 of Sciences building

 
The former royal palace
  at Battenberg Square,
  now the National Art
  Gallery

 
National Palace of Culture

 
 The Neoclassical old
 Royal Printing Office
  built in 1882–1884
  is today the National
Gallery for Foreign Art

 
The architecture in
Sofia centre is an
unique mixture of
Western and Central
European Architecture. 
The Alexander Nevsky
Cathedral is one of the
largest Eastern Orthodox
churches in the world.
The centre of the city
is well-known for being
  paved with yellow
 Viennese cobblestones.
 
The Largo
 
 

 

Tourist attractions

Some of Sofia's popular tourist attractions include among others:

Religious sites    

  • The late Roman Church of St George (4th century), situated in the courtyard of the Sheraton Sofia Hotel.
  • The early Byzantine Church of St Sophia, built in the 6th century.
  • The gold-domed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, built in the early 20th century in memory of the 200,000 Russian soldiers, who died in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–1878, which led to the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule.
  • St Nedelya Church
  • The tiny Church of St Petka of the Saddlers from the 14th century featuring some fine frescoes.
  • The Banya Bashi Mosque, built in the 16th century.
  • The Sofia Synagogue, the largest in the Balkans.

Museums and galleries     

  • The Bulgarian National Historical Museum, noteworthy for its Thracian treasures.
  • The National Archaeological Museum.
  • The National Gallery of Foreign Art.

Miscellaneous places of culture    

  • The Ivan Vazov National Theatre.
  • The outdoor book-market on Slaveykov Square.
  • The National Palace of Culture cultural and congressional centre — the largest multifunctional complex in Southeastern Europe, inaugurated in 1981 and situated in a lush green park surroundings.

Outdoors sights     

  • The Monument to the Tsar Liberator commemorating Alexander II of Russia.
  • Sofia's central boulevards paved with Viennese yellow cobblestones.

 

Vitosha Mountain
Vitosha Mountain
 
  • Vitosha mountain, one of the symbols of Sofia, just a short drive or lift trip away, open year round. Ski and snowboard are popular in the winter, and hiking in the summer.
  • Borisova gradina, Sofia's main and oldest garden, the construction of which began in 1884.

Other places of interest   

  • Sofia Public Mineral Baths, decorated with the finest majolica tiles and completed in 1911.
  • TZUM, Sofia's oldest and largest department store.
  • The Largo, an architectural complex in downtown Sofia which includes the headquarters of many national institutions

 

 

Economy

The DZI headquarters in central Sofia
The DZI headquarters
in central Sofia
 
 
A new office building on Bulgaria Blvd., an example of one of the many new buildings that spurred in the city in recent years.
A new office building.
 
Sofia is the major centre of Bulgaria's economic life. The manufacturing sector of the economy, represented by over 800 large manufacturing plants, includes metal products (75% of the total output in the country), textiles, rubber and leather goods, printing (50% of output) and electronics (15% of output). Sofia is also the country's financial hub, home to the Bulgarian National Bank, the Bulgarian Stock Exchange, as well as some of the country's largest commercial banks (such as HVB Bank Biochim, Bulbank, DSK Bank and United Bulgarian Bank). Construction, trade and transport are other important sectors of the local economy. Increasingly, Sofia is attracting attention as an outsourcing location for Western European and American multinationals. Sofia is also the headquarters for major Bulgarian and international companies operating in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe.
 
With the fall of the Communist government in Bulgaria in 1989, major international companies previously not present on the Bulgarian market moved in, the majority of them to Sofia. One such company is SAP AG. SAP Labs located in Sofia is one of the core Development organizations of SAP in Eastern Europe. The real estate market in Sofia has skyrocketed in recent years; for the past year or so with about 100% in just one year (2005–2006). The construction industry has exploded with new construction sites popping up everywhere. Unemployment is rather low at about 2.5% compared to the Bulgarian average of 8.2% but also to European levels where it is at about 7.3%.
 
 

Transport and infrastructure

With its well-developed infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is an important centre for international railway and automobile routes. All major types of transport (except water transport) are represented in the city, which is home to 8 railway stations, the Centre for Flight Control and the Sofia Airport (hub for flag-carrier Bulgaria Air). Three Trans-European Transport Corridors cross the city: 4, 8 and 10.
 
Public transit is well-developed, reliable and important to the city's economy; it is provided by means of underground trains (the Sofia Metro), buses, trams and trolleybuses. In the city operate also multiple taxies called "Marshrutkas" - having a capacity of about 12 people and traveling faster than other transports in the city traffic except for the subway. Fares are paid for a single journey. There are over 15,000 licensed taxi cabs operating in the city. The subway system became operational in the late 1990s but had limited extent.
 
With the extensive growth of private automobile ownership in the 1990s the number of cars registered in Sofia has exceeded 1,000,000 in the past five years. Consequently the traffic (and air pollution) problems of the city have become more severe. Subway expansion plans are set to alleviate the situation when major routes are completed by 2008.
 
Sofia has a unique, very large combined heat and power (CHP) plant. Virtually the entire city (900,000 households and 5,900 companies) is centrally heated, using residual heat from electricity generation (3,000 MW) and gas- and oil-fired heating furnaces; total heat capacity is 4,640 MW. The heat distribution piping network is 900 km long and comprises 14,000 substations and 10,000 heated buildings.
 

 

Metro station
Serdika

 
Terminal 2 at Sofia
Int. Airport

 
Trams are the most
typical transport in
Sofia

 
Heavy traffic near
Orlov most
(Eagles' Bridge) in
the centre of the city

 

 

Architecture

After the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878 and the establishment of an autonomous Bulgarian monarchy with its capital in Sofia, Knyaz Alexander Battenberg invited architects from Austria-Hungary to shape the new capital's architectural appearance.
Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grünanger, Adolf Václav Kolář, Viktor Rumpelmayer and others, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly-reestablished Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country's elite. Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed.
 
The architecture of Sofia's centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, with the Vienna Secession also later playing an important part, but it is mostly typically Central European.

Among the most important buildings constructed in Sofia in the period are the former royal palace, today housing the National Art Gallery and the National Ethnographic Museum (1882); the Ivan Vazov National Theatre (1907); the former royal printing office, today the National Gallery for Foreign Art; the National Assembly of Bulgaria (1886), the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1893), etc.
 
After the Second World War and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural line was substantially altered. Socialist Classicism public buildings emerged in the centre, but as the city grew outwards, the new neighbourhoods were dominated by many Communist-era tower blocks (panelki) and examples of Brutalist architecture.
 
After the abolishment of Communism in 1989, Sofia has witnessed the construction of whole business districts and neighbourhoods, as well as modern skryscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings, but also top-class residential neighbourhoods.
 
 
Foreign embassies occupy some of Sofia's most beautiful historic houses
 
Foreign embassies occupy some of Sofia's most beautiful historic houses

 

The seven-storey
house of Baron
Gendovich, one of
the first high-rise
buildings in the city,
was completed in
1914

 
The Council of
Ministers of Bulgaria
in central Sofia

 
A business district:
Mall of Sofia, Sofia
Tower and the first
IMAX cinema in
Southeastern Europe.

 
Typical Architecture

 
TZUM - Street Lamps 

 
Ivan Vazov National
Theatre at night.

 
The Centre of Sofia
at Night

 
A typical narrow
street in Sofia

 
Aerial View of Sofia

 
Classical Architecture 

 
Architecture in the
centre of Sofia

 
View of Central Sofia

 

 

Education

Sofia University
Sofia University
 
There are 16 universities in Sofia. The Saint Clement of Ohrid University of Sofia is often regarded as the most prestigious university of Bulgaria, being founded in 1888 and having an incoming class of 14,000 students each year. Other important universities include the National Academy of Arts, the Technical University of Sofia, the University for National and World Economics, Sofia Medical University, the Krastyo Sarafov National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts and New Bulgarian University.
Furthermore, institutions of national significance, such as the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library are located in Sofia. The American College of Sofia, founded in 1860 and regarded as the oldest American academic institution outside the United States provides secondary education to some of Bulgaria's brightest students. The school was closed during the communist era and reopened in 1992. The first class of the reopened school graduated in 1997 and will celebrate their 10th year reunion in June 2007.
 

Sport

Top-level football in Sofia: PFC Levski Sofia playing Chelsea F.C. at the Vasil Levski National Stadium during the UEFA Champions League 2006-07
 
Being the country's capital, Sofia is also the centre of Bulgaria's sport activities, with a large number of sports clubs being based in the city, including most of Bulgaria's primary, such as Levski Sofia, CSKA Sofia, Akademik Sofia, Spartak Sofia, Lokomotiv Sofia and Slavia Sofia. Football is arguably the most popular sport in the city, as well as the whole country, but sports such as basketball and volleyball also have strong traditions in Sofia.
The capital is also home to a large number of sports venues, including the 43,000-seat Vasil Levski National Stadium which hosts most major outdoor events in Bulgaria, Levski Sofia's Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, CSKA Sofia's Balgarska Armiya Stadium and Slavia Sofia's Ovcha Kupel Stadium. Another important sports facility is Universiade Hall, where in turn many indoor events are held.
Sofia applied to host the Winter Olympic Games in 1992 and in 1994, coming 2nd and 3rd respectively. The city was also an applicant for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but was not selected as candidate. In addition, Sofia hosted Eurobasket 1957 and the 1961 and 1977 Summer Universiades, as well as the 1983 and 1989 winter editions.
 
 

Sister cities

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