Bulgaria’s pleasingly laid-back capital is often overlooked by visitors heading straight to the coast or the ski resorts, but they’re missing something special. Sofia is no grand metropolis, but it’s a largely modern, youthful city, with a scattering of onion-domed churches, Ottoman mosques and stubborn Red Army monuments that lend an eclectic, exotic feel. Recent excavation work carried out during construction of the city’s metro unveiled a treasure trove of Roman ruins from nearly 2000 years ago, when the city was called ‘Serdica’.
Sofia has been settled for many millennia. In honor of its hot springs, in the 8th century BCE the Thracian tribes settled here gave the city its first name – Serdika or Serdonpolis.
In the 1st century BCE, Serdika was captured by the Romans, who transformed it into a Roman city. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan (reign 98-117 CE), the city took his name, Ulpia Serdika, and became the administrative center of the region.
Serdika was the favorite city of Constantine the Great (reign 306-337), who said “Serdika is my Rome.” In roughly 175, massive fortified walls, with four watchtowers were built to protect the city , and a second outer fortified wall was added during the 5th-6th centuries.
Sofia preserves many valuable monuments to its long and storied past. Visitors exploring the city’s streets can see remnants of The Eastern Gate from the days when Sofia was Serdika and Sredets, dating from the 2nd-4th centuries CE.
These remains are exhibited in the underpass connecting the Presidential Palace and The Ministerial Council, surrounded by shops selling traditional Bulgarian souvenirs and rosewater.
The Saint Sofia Basilica, founded during the reign of Justinian (reign 527-565), is one of the oldest churches in the capital. It was the city’s major church during the Middle Ages, and under the Ottomans it was used as a mosque. Very close to Saint Sofia is The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky, now one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. This church was built in 1912, and was designed by the Russian architect Alexander Pomerantsev.
Its bell tower rises to a height of 53 meters, and houses 53 bells, the heaviest weighing 10 tons. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Sofia, the church can hold roughly 5,000 people, and on important Christian holidays it is filled with believers.
Sofia is also home to Bulgaria’s most prestigious and larges educational institutions – universities, colleges, and middle schools that offer solidly-grounded, up-to-date instruction in such disciplines as Architecture, Medicine, The Humanities, Engineering, Music and Choreography, and Fine Arts.
There are two ski centers on Mount Vitosha to accommodate visitors to this very popular sports destination. They are Aleko and Konyarnika. Aleko is at an altitude of 1,800 meters, and its slopes face north. It also has facilities for night skiing. The Konyarnika Center is 1,507 meters high.
There are a total of 29 km of ski runs on Vitosha, and the longest is 5 km. The maximum vertical dro is 780 meters. The slopes are suitable for both experienced skiers beginners.
Sofia and the immediate vicinity also boast a great many spa complexes. The hot springs at Bankya, a nearby resort offer wonderful facilities for rest, recreation, and wellness. There are ten spa centers within the capital’s city limits offering peace and relaxation, along with therapeutic and beauty treatments.
One of Sofia’s favorite spots for both visitors and residents is Vitosha Boulevard. Here thee are shops carrying world-famous brands, and since it s a pedestrian zone, it a very pleasant place for strolling and relaxation. In general, the capital is a shoppers delight, since Sofia is still one of the major crossroads on the Balkan Peninsula for trade of all kinds
The city’s annual celebration is observed on September 17, in honor of the martyrdom of Saint Sofia and her three daughters Vyara (Faith), Nadezhda (Hope), and Lyubov (Love).
Sofia Geographical Location
Bulgarian is the official language of Sofia.
Sofia Predominant Religion
- 84% Christian
- 9% Muslim
- 4% None
- 2% Protestant
- 1% Jewish