The city of Sofia is the center of the Southwestern region and the capital of Bulgaria. Administratively Sofia District is divided into 24 municipalities. The city of Sofia has a population of 1 286 383 inhabitants. Sofia is located in the Sofia field at an altitude of 550 m at the foot of Vitosha Mountain.
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At the site of an ancient neolith settlement a new ancient Thracian town appeared. The settlement developed around the hot mineral springs situated at the center of Sofia. The town got its name from the Serdi Thracian tribe and was named Serdika.
The town was conquered by the Romans in I century. During the III c. it became the center of Internal Dakia Province. The Roman emperor Mark Ulpii Trayan added the name Ulpia to the town and gave it the same rights as all the big towns in the eastern provinces. The emperor Konstantin the Great called Serdika "My Rome". During the reign of Justinian the great Serdika had its final zenith within the limits of the Eastern Roman Empire. From ancient Serdika are preserved remains from the bath with the captured hot water-conduit, the eastern and western town gates, sarcophagi, streets etc. From the early Christian times are preserved the Rotunda ("St. George") and "St. Sofia" church. The Christian holiday commemorating Saint Sofia and her daughters Vyara/Faith/, Nadezhda /Hope/ and Lyubov /Love/ is the town's holiday. The town entered the limits of Bulgaria in 809 and got the name of Sredetz and after the fall of the town in Byzantine hands it was named Triaditza. In 1183 Serbians and Madzhars plundered the town as later on did the crusaders of Fredrik I Barbados. From the medieval period in Sofia is preserved the Boyana church which is among the significant monuments of the Bulgarian Middle Ages. It is included in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. There are more than 90 monasteries in the vicinity of present day Sofia. Most of them date back to XI-XIV c. The most well-preserved among them are "St. Nikolai Mirakliiski" near Malamovo with mural paintings from XVI c., "St Georgi" near Kremikovtzi, "St. Atanasii -The Alexandrian" near Nedelishte, "Sveta Bogoroditza"/Holy Virgin/ in Dragalevtzi built in 1354 by King Ivan Alexander. Sofia fell under the Ottoman Yoke in 1384. In present day Sofia are preserved two mosques from the period of the yoke. One of them is known as Buyuk mosque built during 1451-1453 which was turned into an archaeological museum. The other mosque Bani Bashi mosque from 1576 is situated opposite the Central Market Place /The Central Halls/ and continues to function as a mosque.
After the Liberation of the Ottoman yoke Sofia had a population of 20 000 inhabitants. The town was chosen for a capital in 1879. The fast development of the capital in territorial and demographic aspect dates back to the World War I. After the Liberation were built: the temple-monument "Alexander Nevski" in 1924, the Central Military club, the National Assembly, the "Ivan Vazov" National Theatre, the Chamber of Synods, The Clerical Academy, the Central Covered Market place and other important buildings. As a token of gratitude towards the Russian soldiers were built many monuments. The monument of Tzar Osvoboditel /the Liberator King/ is the work of the Florentine Arnaldo Dzoki and was built in 1907. The doctors' monument from 1883 was built to commemorate doctors and hospital attendants from the Russian-Turkish War from 1877-1878.
Today Sofia is a political, economic and cultural center. A great number of other settlements from the Sofia valley gravitate around it forming the big city agglomeration.
The "Saint Sofia" Church in Sofia has a remarkable architecture. The present day church is a three-nave dome basilica with a transept built over the bases of ancient churches dating from IV c. Evidence of several construction stages have been discovered from which are preserved parts of a mosaic floor and some paintings typical for the early Christian art. During the Ottoman yoke the church was transformed into a mosque. In 1935 the church was restored and its complete restoration started in 1980. The dome of the church is 19 m high and is supported by four pillars. The design and the building of the church are performed so that a cross is formed in the building itself. The church is proclaimed for a cultural monument of national significance.
The "Alexander Nevski" temple-monument was built in the period of 1904-1912. The patron of the church is the Russian King Alexander II. The church is the work of Russian and Bulgarian architects, artists and sculptors. The five-nave church has a central dome of gold coating. In front of the church entrance there are the mosaic portraits of Saint Evdokia and Saint Petka. For the internal decoration of the temple are used Italian multi-clolour marbles, Brazilian onyx and other materials. The lighting bodies in the temple are designed in Germany. The church occupies an area of 3 170 sq.m. with 73 m length, 55 m width and 52 height. There are 12 bells in the bell-tower cast in Russia. The biggest of them has a diameter of 3 m and weighs almost 12 000 kg while the smallest weighs 10 kg. The "Alexander Nevski" temple was proclaimed for a patriarchal church in 1953.
The temple's crypt is an active art gallery with exhibitions of works from the medieval and revival period icon painting art.
The Rotunda was built by the emperor Konstantin the Great at the end of IV c. and in X c the church was transformed into a Christian temple. In the XVI c. it was turned into a mosque. Five layers of murals have been preserved dating back to X-XVI c. and having great artistic value.
The "Saint Petka Samarzhiyska" church dates back to the XIV c. The church was built during the Ottoman yoke and that is why it is dug into the ground. "Saint Petka Samardzhiyska" was restored over the foundations of an ancient cult place. Roman tombs have been discovered under it during archaeological excavations.
The "Saint Nikolai" church is better known as the Russian church. It was built in 1906-1907.
The Central Covered Market Place was built in 1909 in Secessial style with a clock-tower above it.
The "Ivan Vazov" Theatre in Sofia was built in 1906-1907 under a project of the Venetian architects Helmer and Felner. In 1929 the theater was considerably changed and reconstructed after its burning from 1923. In 1975 the main repair works were finished and the building got its original design. The roof of the National Theatre is decorated with sculptural compositions of Apollonius with his Muses on a three-angle fronton and chariots on top of the two symmetrical towers at both sides of the entrance. The theater is named after the greatest Bulgarian poet and writer Ivan Vazov.
The National Art Gallery in Sofia is an ex-administrative building from the period of the Ottoman yoke/ known at that time as the "Konak"/ which was restored after the Liberation by the architect Rupelmayer from Vienna for the needs of the Bulgarian prince Ferdinand. The building is decorated with plaster ornaments made by master Grays from Vienna. The National Art Gallery keeps the works of the greatest Bulgarian artists - Zahari Zograf, Stanislav Dospevski, Nikolay Pavlovich, Vladimir Dimitrov- Maistora (The Master), Tzanko Lavrenov, Zlatyo Boyadzhiev, Iliya Beshov, Svetlin Russev.
The Archaeological Museum in Sofia is situated in the building of Buyuk mosque which was built over the foundations of early Christian church knocked down by the Ottoman Turks. The Archaeologial Museum is the oldest one in the country. There are findings from prehistoric, ancient times and Middle Ages.
The Boyana church in Sofia is included in the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List. It is located in Boyana quarter in Sofia on one of the southern slopes of Vitosha Mountain. The Boyana church owes its popularity to the mural paintings from XI-XII and XIII-XIV c. depicting the remarkable achievements of the Bulgarian Middle-age culture and marks the zenith of the achievements of the Tarnovo art school. They are among the most precious Bulgarian contributions to the medieval European art school. The 240 images are unique and vital. The murals have a remarkable art technique of performance, complexity and realism. The complex also includes the cross-dome church "St. Nikola" from IX c. and a double-storey tomb from 1259.
The Monastery of Dragalevtzi is situated at the northeastern foot of Vitosha Mountain in the Dragalevtzi quarter. The monastery was built in 1345 from King Ivan Alexander. The greatest treasure of the monastery are the mural paintings in the church "Uspenie Bogorodicho"/ The Assumption/.
The Monastery of Kremikovtzi lies at a distance of 4 km north of Kremikovtzi quarter at the southern foot of Stara Planina. It was built during the period of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1186-1396) and was destroyed during the Ottoman invasion. The monastery was renovated in 1493 with donations from Radivoi and bishop Kalevit. The small single-nave church was restored in 1611. The monastery is a precious monument of the medieval Bulgarian art. There are mural paintings from 1493 in the monastery.
The Iliyanski Monastery was built during the Middle Ages. From the medieval monastery is preserved only the church which has three layers of mural paintings the oldest of which dates back to XIV-XV c.
The "St.St. Cyril and Methodius" Monastery of Liyulin, also known as the Gorna Banya Monastery lies on the northern slopes of Liyulin Mountain. The monastery was built on the site of a small chapel-church from XIII c. Here are brought the relics of the Serbian king Stephen II Milutin proclaimed for a saint. The monastery was destroyed in XVII and for a long time after that remained derelict. The monastery was later renovated in 1875.
The Kokalyanovo Monastery is situated at a distance of 16 km south of Sofia on the territory of the Kokalyane village. The monastery lies at the northern slope of Plana Mountain. The monastery was founded in XIII-XIV c.
The "St. Spas" Monastery of Lozen is located at a distance of 19 km south-east of Sofia on the northern slopes of the Lozen Mountain. The monastery was destroyed in 1382 and was later on restored in XVII c. The monastery is a cultural-educational center. The present day church dates back to 1821 and has precious mural paintings.
The remains of the medieval fortress Urvich are situated on the western slope of Lozen Mountain. The fortress is spread along the right bank of the Iskar river and was built in XII-XIV c. Today one can see parts of the fortified walls and the foundations of two churches.
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