The Bulgarian capital Sofia (population: 1 182 698 inhabitants) occupies a territory of 1, 311 sq. km. Sofia lies at a distance of 55 km from the Serbian border, 113 km from Gyushevo checkpoint with Macedonia, at 183 km from the Greek border, 315 km from the Turkish border and 324 km from Ruse. In close proximity of the capital lie Pancharevo Lake and Iskar Dam. Iskar River flows by east of Sofia. The capital is linked by international routes with the capitals of Europe, and via Istanbul and Ankara, with the Middle East. Sofia’s motto is: "Ever Growing, Never Ageing".
Sofia is the biggest city of Bulgaria and its capital since 3 April 1879. Founded over 7,000 years ago around numerous hot and cold mineral springs, which are still available today, Sofia has flourished and declined around a variety of civilisations. It is one of the ancient European cities. (Roman's name Serdika, Slovenian's name Sredets, and Greek’s name Triaditsa). Sofia has its name since 14th century when it was renamed after St. Sophia Church.
On this place in 8th century BC there was a Neolithic settlement. Later here sprang up an ancient Thracian city, called by the Romans Serdika. During the Rome epoch (1st-4th century AD) the town was growing as an important centre. In 5th-6th century, at the time of "Great Migration of the People" there were invasions of Huns, Goths and Barbarians. From the middle of the 6th century the town developed as an important administrative and economic centre of the Byzantine Empire with the name Triaditsa. In 809 the town was included within the limits of the Bulgarian country with the name Sredets. From the end of the 14th century till the seventies of the 19th century the town and the whole country were under the Ottoman rule. Sofia fell under Ottoman rule in 1382. In some documents from that time the city was described as a place of particular charm, which evoked the admiration of the conquerors. Irrespectively of that, the Turkish authorities’ neglect rapidly changed the appearance of the orderly city. Christian churches became derelict and crumbled away, Turkish administration buildings, mosques, baths and covered markets rose in their places. Few building of the Ottoman period have been preserved. During the Bulgarian National Revival and the liberation struggle, Vasil Levski, a key revolutionary named the Apostle of the Freedom, created a revolutionary committee in Sofia.
Several buildings and places deserve to be Sofia’s emblem. The most frequent image is the impressive edifice of the Cathedral and Memorial church St. Alexandar Nevski. The temple is the central patriarch’s cathedral of the autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox Church. A remarkable sight is also the place surrounding the cathedral, where a Monument of the Unknown Soldier with eternal burning flame is located. Part of the same square is occupied by the church St. Sophia, dating from the 4th-6th century AD. In the early 19th century it was briefly transformed into a mosque and flanked by a minaret, but soon after the Liberation it was again sanctified as an orthodox church. Behind the Monumental Cathedral rises the building of the National Gallery for Foreign Arts. It contains unique exhibits of art from Africa, Asia and Europe, Spanish baroque paintings and tableaux by the modern painter Nikolai Roerich.
Sofia is the largest transport junction of the country. Sofia has 3 subway lines, a number of bus lines that connect the capital with nearby settlements, as well as covering shorter distances in the city itself, trams lines, trolley buses that travel in many directions.
Most conspicuous to the visitors of Sofia are the mountains, which encircle Sofia Plain. Vitosha, Lyulin and Plana are interesting places that worth to be seen. Lyulin Mountain is situated south-west of the capital, 3 km from the ring road. Now virtually a part of the city, it is a good place for outgoings, picnics and walks. Bosnovi Poliani is the most frequented place in the mountain. Plana Mountain also offers interesting sights for tourists. It is situated at about 10 km south of the capital and can be reached by municipal bus transport or by car along the road to Samokov. Most frequently visited is Kokalyane Monastery, built in the 10th century by tsar Samuil. Beautiful frescoes and mural decorate the church built after Russian patterns.
The central park of Sofia is Borissova Gradina. At the very beginning of the park is Ariana Lake, where water wheels are available from spring to late autumn. Further inside the park are numerous tennis courts, a cycle-racing track, "Bulgarian Army" soccer stadium and "Vasil Levski" National Stadium.
The Municipal City Garden is situated in the capital’s ideal centre opposite Sofia Municipal Art Gallery. In front of the National Theatre there are fountains with a sculpture of a female dancer.
Yuzhen Park (Southern Park) is the second largest park after Borissova Garden. It extends from "Ivan Vazov" quarter to "Hladilnika" quarter. Numerous children’s playgrounds are included in its territory. "Spartak" swimming and sport centre is an attractive place for open-air celebrations organized by Sofia Municipality.
Zapaden Park (Western Park) is close to "Zaharna Fabrica" quarter and the beginning of "Lyulin" residential area. Several catering and spot establishments are available in it and there is enough space for walks and games.