Sofia

Location:
Sofia is located at the foot of Mount Vitosha in the western part of the country.

History:
The capital of Bulgaria was inhabited as early as 7,000 years ago which makes it  one of the oldest settlements in Europe. "Ever Growing, Never Ageing" is the motto on Sofia's coat of arms. Due to the fact that it occupies a strategic position at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula, Sofia has always been a crossroad of the key land routes from Europe to Middle East and Asia. Tribes and peoples came and went, civilizations flourished and declined but the city survived. Historically it has been recorded as Serdica, Sredets and Sofia. Over 250 archaeological, historical and cultural monuments that the Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, Proto-Bulgarians and Turks created are forming an essential part of the cityscape of a capital with a population of about 1, 5 million inhabitants. The town was first known as Sofia in the 14th century. In 1382 it was pillaged by the Turks. After 1396 it became an Ottoman administrative centre and remained such for hundreds of years. It was particularly prosperous in the 18th century, but its economical strength declined during the 19 century and by the Liberation in 1876 it had only about 20,000 inhabitants. In the 20th century it grew rapidly due to the influx of peasants from the surrounding towns. Under communism this process accelerated, with over a quarter of the entire Bulgarian working population moving to live in the capital.  

Things to see:
By far Bulgaria’s biggest city, Sofia is one of Europe’s most compact and walkable capitals. The fact that it is still one of the least known by foreign travellers makes it even more exciting to explore. The young and dynamic vibe of a city waking up after decades of slumber adds to Sofia’s characteristic charm and helps the visitor understand  the process of its  transformation to a confident and cosmopolitan European capital. The old east-meets-west feel is still here, with a scattering of onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and Red Army monuments that these days share the skyline with glitzy shopping malls, five-star hotels and the best bars and clubs the country has to offer.
Although no grand metropolis, Sofia is nevertheless an attractive and cultured city with plenty of museums, art galleries, theatres, fine restaurants. This is the best place to get acquainted with Bulgaria’s ancient and modern faces. Monuments from the Thracian, Roman and Ottoman times rub shoulders with the latest feats of urban architecture. Among the must see landmarks are the St George Rotunda, part of a large archaeological complex with rare Roman architectural features; the Sveta Sofia Basilica, which inspired the city's coat of arms; the Alexander Nevski Cathedral with its magnificent icons and frescoes; and the Boyana Church in the outskirts of the city –a fine example of Medieval architecture with unique wall paintings under UNESCO’s protection. Other places of interest worth visiting are: the Church of SvetaNedelya, the BanyaBashi Mosque (16th century) and the nearby Turkish baths, the Synagogue, the National History Museum, the Sveta Petka Saamardzhiska Church, the Russian Church,the Alexander Batenberg Square, the flea market, the many antique shops and cafes around the Kristal Square, the tree-lined Alexander Nevski Square, named after its famous Cathedral, and the international art collection housed in the St. St. Cyril and Methodius Foundation.
If you would like to get a purely authentic Sofia experience you should check out the markets in the heart of the city.The largest and busiest market in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia’s Zhenski Pazar (Women’s Market) is a chaotic centre of cheap commerce where traders vend fruit and vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, dried fruit and nuts, homemade halva and handcrafted ceramics, along with fake designer clothing and sheesha pipes. The market’s name stems from the fact that once-upon-a-time only women were allowed to trade their wares there. Today both men and women, of various nations and ages, hold court over their stalls. The Central Sofia Market Hall is a covered market on Maria Louise Blvd. also known as Halite or Tsentralni Hali. The building is a blend of different architectural styles: Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Byzantine as well as Neo-Baroque. It opened back in 1911 and today is one of the strategic shopping locations in the city. The ground floor features numerous stalls that sell bread and pastries, olives, nuts, sweets, rose oil products, souvenirs. On the upper level the shops sell clothing, accessories and jewellery.
If you are looking for party or just a nice place to have a drink or two, Sofia certainly will not fail to excite you with numerous pleasant surprises. The city centre is a maze of small streets crammed with low key urban - bohemian bars and cosy little restaurants where you can feel the true vibe of the city’s modern culture. The once aristocratic city homes are today turned into colorful artistic graffiti - adorned cafes and trendy bars offering great cocktails, attentive and friendly staff and buzzing atmosphere. One of the interesting streets in the centre lined with small galleries, popular bars and art shops is the Tsar Ivan Shishman Street, which you should definitely explore if you are into that kind of thing.
Sofia is a green city with the huge swaths of parkland within the city boundaries and the ski slopes and hiking trails of mighty Vitosha Mountain a short bus ride away. Some of the popular parks for the young people to hang out within the city centre are the Borisova Gradina Park and the Doctorska Gradina Park (the Doctor's garden), while the Uzhen Park (The South park) is more popular with families.
Arguably the best shopping street in the capital’s centre is the Vitosha Boulevard. Recently restored, the boulevard is turned into an attractive pedestrian mall with well manicured trees and monumental fountains. It offers a blend of trendy boutiques, mainstream brands, nice outdoor resting areas and plenty of cafes and restaurants.

Spring, summer and autumn are great months to enjoy Sofia's beautiful green parks and café culture as young people enjoy the outdoor hangouts in the warm evenings and tables are moved out onto the pavement and various festivals take place almost every second weekend. With most of the residents leaving the hot city in July and August, this is the perfect time to enjoy a less hectic, traffic-free Sofia.

Photos from Sofia


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