A brief introduction to history, points of interest and more.
A brief introduction to history, points of interest and more.
Information about Bulgaria’s capital in brief. Sofia’s geography, history and more.
Sofia is situated in the Western part of the country (42°42’N, 23°20’E), in the skirts of the Vitosha mountain on the Northern mountainside, at 550 m above sea-level.
According to the census of 2011, the population of Sofia is 1,2 million. However, currently it is considered to be nearly 1,3 million.
The history of Sofia dates back to thousands of years ago. Through the centuries many peoples inhabiting it added to the town’s versatility of history and culture.
Since antiquity, through the mountain passages leading to Sofia also today, major routes lied connecting the Adriatic and middle Europe with the Black and Aegean Seas and the Middle East. Thanks to its location — in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula — also in the past Sofia was a big and flourishing town.
Since ancient times Sofia has been renowned for the number of mineral and thermal springs around which, in the place of a neolith settlement, in 7th century BC a Thracian town Serdica was found.
Conquered later on by Romans in 1st century AD, the town was renamed Ulpia Serdica and became an administrative region’s centre and later on the Romans’ capital of Dacia Mediterranea and an important stopping point on the road to Constantinople. Although moderate in size the town, which expanded and prospered during the Roman times (1st-4th centuries AD), had a magnificent urban concept of planning and architecture and an active social life.
In 5th-6th centuries, during the great migration of peoples, the town suffered numerous invasions by various barbarian tribes, to revive after the middle of 6th century as an important administrative and economic centre of the Byzantine Empire under the name of Triaditsa. During the time of its most impetuous growth, the town was surrounded with big fortress walls remnants of which can be seen today.
In 809 the town became part of the First Bulgarian Kingdom and received the Slavic name of Sredets. After having fallen to the Byzantine Empire in 11th century AD, the town was again incorporated into the restored Second Bulgarian Kingdom, to grow into an important fortress and administrative centre, prospering also as a flourishing centre of trade and crafts in the period 12th-14th centuries AD.
The current name — Sofia — dates back to 14th century, after the name St. Sofia (meaning wisdom), patron of the town’s most important church of the time. However, the town was called both Sredets and Sofia until the 16th century AD when the new name finally replaced the old one.
Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 14th century AD and became the capital of the province of Rumelia for more than four centuries. During this period — for a hundred years, from the beginning of 17th century — Sofia was the home of the See of Sofia established by the Vatican.
After Bulgaria’s liberation in 1878, Sofia became the capital of the autonomous Principality of Bulgaria which became the Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1908.
One of the oldest capital cities in Europe, Sofia’s past and present are blended in a remarkable architectural style and can be found in a number of historic landmarks which the city takes pride in, among which remnants from antiquity and the Middle Ages and examples of late 19th – early 20th century.
In the heart of Sofia and its surroundings monuments of major significance can be seen. Among them are:
When an autonomous Bulgarian monarchy was established after the liberation in 1878 architects from Austria-Hungary were invited to shape the architectural appearance of the new capital of Bulgaria — Sofia. Later, many Bulgarian architects educated abroad also contributed. The architecture of the centre of Sofia is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, as well as Vienna Secession which also played an important part later.
The yellow Viennese cobblestones pavement laid then adds a special charm to the centre of the city, where the architecture is mostly typically Central European and where most of the sights can be seen. Among theme are some of the important buildings constructed in the period, such as:
The architectural examples from 20th century include:
After the Second World War the architectural line was considerably changed. It was then that Socialist Classicism public buildings emerged in the city centre, but later on new neighbourhoods of the growing capital were also dominated by examples of Brutalist architecture and many Communist-era tower blocks.
Since 1989 Sofia has witnessed a boom in construction: whole business districts were built, as well as numerous modern skyscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings and many top-class residential neighbourhoods were constructed.
Sofia hosts numerous museums, the most important of which are the National Historical Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Archeology, the Ethnographic Museum, the Museum of Earth and Man, the National Museum of Military History, the National Polytechnical Museum.
Further, there are also the Sofia City Art Gallery, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Bulgarian National Gallery for Foreign Art, as well as many private art galleries.
As the country’s capital, Sofia is an important centre of education and most of Bulgaria’s key higher education institutions are located here.
Often regarded as the top university of Bulgaria, the Sofia University was founded in 1888, and its impressive building, designed by a French architect, was officially opened on 16 December, 1934, ten years after the foundation stone was laid. Other important higher universities include the University of National and World Economy, the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, the Technical University of Sofia, the Medical University of Sofia, the National Academy of Arts, the National Academy of Music and the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts.
Furthermore, also based in Sofia are other institutions of national dignity such as the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library (housing the largest national book collection and is Bulgaria’s oldest cultural institute), as are many of the most prestigious schools. The city also offers many places of special interest such as the as well as numerous cultural institutes such as the British Council, the Cervantes Institute (the biggest branch in South-eastern Europe), the French Cultural Institute, the Russian Cultural Institute, the Goethe Institute, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Open Society Institute – Sofia.
An interesting place in downtown Sofia is the open book-market situated on Slaveykov Sq., where the Sofia City Library is, and offering a wide variety of new and second-hand books.
The major centre of Bulgaria’s economic life, Sofia and its surroundings has the manufacturing sector of the economy represented by a large number of production enterprises.
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. Other important sectors of the local economy such as construction, trade and transport, are concentrated in Sofia. With its well-developed infrastructure, Sofia forms a major part of Bulgaria’s transport system. There is a direct access from Sofia to the main thoroughfares of the country, and the transit traffic is redirected to the Ring Road of Sofia. All types of transport are represented in Sofia with the exception of water transport, and the public transportation system includes bus, tram and trolley lines, as well as an underground. Bulgaria’s major airport – Sofia Airport, the biggest bus station – Sofia Central Bus Station and the headquarters of the Bulgarian State Railways are in Sofia.
Since 1989 numerous major international companies moved in on the Bulgarian market, the majority of them to Sofia.
The headquarters for major Bulgarian and international companies operating in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe, Sofia is increasingly attracting attention as an outsourcing location for Western European and American multinationals.
The construction industry has boomed with new construction sites popping up everywhere. At the same time, the real estate market in Sofia has skyrocketed in the recent years.
The authorities – the executive, the legislature and the judicial power, of the Bulgarian state are concentrated in the city of Sofia.
Here are the Parliament (National Assembly), the President, the Government and all ministries. Also all higher institutions of the judicial power — Supreme Court of Cassation, Supreme Administrative Court, Supreme Judicial Council, Constitutional Court, Court of Appeal, Prosecutor’s Office — are located in Sofia. Sofia also hosts the Chamber of Commerce, various agencies and governmental and non-governmental organisations, numerous foundations.
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