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Sofia



     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.
     Numerous archaeological, cultural and historical monuments from its rich Thracian, Byzantine, Roman, Slav and Turkish history have been preserved among the modern edifices, the blend of the new and the old lending a charming quality to the capital. Some of the city centre was destroyed in World War II, but in recent years the city has benefited greatly from European Union's ongoing Beautiful Bulgaria Project, which is gradually sprucing up historic buildings and energising old neighbourhoods.
     Located in the Sofia Valley, the capital city of Bulgaria lies at the foot of the Vitosha and Lyulin Mountains, and is the centre of the country’s political, business and cultural life. Despite its modern, cosmopolitan nature, Sofia has a laid back atmosphere and the proximity of Mount Vitosha, offering a myriad of recreational opportunities on the city’s doorstep, adds to the relaxed feel of the city. Like any capital city, Sofia also has a wealth of museums and galleries, and boasts plenty of cultural entertainment.
     Among the attractions of the city is the Rotunda St. George which is the oldest cultural monument in the city, built in 4th century. Other monuments are the cathedral St. Alexander Nevski, the fortress's walls of ancient Serdika, the church St. Petka Samardjijska (14th century), the church St. Sophia (6th century), the Russian Church St. Nicholay - built in typical Moscow architectural style. The National Theatre, built in neoclassical style, has a very interesting architecture. The Parliament is also here. It has been built in three steps: in 1884, 1890 and 1928.
     Other places to visit are the National History Museum, the Museum of Natural Science and History, Earth and Man Museum, the National Gallery.
     Sofia boasts the biggest on the Balkans Congress Centre - National Palace of Culture. It is equipped with modern high-quality facilities. It has to offer 16 halls and more than 5000 seats. Ideal place for congresses, meetings, festivals, concerts, etc. 


     History

     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. 
     Sofia was liberated from the Ottoman rule on January 4, 1878. At that time the city had a population of only 12 000, but its favourable strategic location made it suitable for a capital and on the 4th of April 1879 Sofia was proclaimed the capital of Bulgaria.


     Landmarks

     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. 
     Another landmark in the capital is Ivan Vazov National Theatre. The theatre was founded in 1904, and its building was completed in 1907. The edifice of the National Assembly was built in 1884. and it is the third rightful candidate for the city’s emblem. A motto inscribed on its main facade reads "Union renders strength". To the west of the Parliament building is the Bulgarian Academy of Science created in 1869, and to the east across a small garden rises St. Kliment Ohridski University, founded in 1888, and built in 1920 with personal donations by the brothers Evlogy and Hristo Georgievi. You can also visit the National Art Gallery which contains a collection of over 12 000 works of art, the oldest of which dating from the 18th century.
     The National Ethnographic Museum exhibits a wealth of collections of national costumes, hand – made works of art from Bulgarian people’s daily life, tools of labour, jewelry, tissues, embroideries and other objects of typical national folk art. In the inner courtyard of the Presidency and Sheraton hotel rises the famous Roman Rotunda transformed into the church of St. George, dating to the 4th century AD. Recently restored, it is stunning for its simple and exquisite architecture. The Russian Monument is an obelisk rising west of the city centre. It bears a written dedication of the Russian Tsar and the Russian warriors who fell in the war for Bulgaria’s liberation.
     St. St. Cyril and Methodius Monument rises in front of the National Library. 


     Transport

     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. 


     Surroundings

     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. 
     Pancharevo Lake is about 15 km from the capital and is situated next to Pancharevo village. The lake is about 5 km long and 1 km wide. It is suitable for recreation, sunbathing, fishing, water sports and swimming. Rowing and water-ski competitions are frequently organized here. Iskar Dam is another large artificial water reservoir near Sofia. It lies 25 km south of the city. Within the Vitosha's limits the most interesting landmarks are Boyana Church and Dragalevski Monastery. They were built in the 13th and 14th century respectively and are considered the forerunners of the European Renaissance. Vranya Residence and its small lake are situated along the very ring road. The place used to be a residence of tsar Boris III. Today the place is used only in the summer. Bankya is 22 km from the capital. The town is a balneological centrer for cardiovascular and pulmonary ailments. It can be reached by bus or by a regular railway line. Wonderful place for picnic and tourist outgoings surrounds it. Kremikovski Monastery is located 30 km north of Sofia. Kourilo Monastery stands at the mouth of Iskar Gorge near Kourilo village, 18 km from the capital. It can be reached by the road to Mezdra or by passenger train on the line connecting Sofia with Northern Bulgaria. The monastery church was built and painted in the 15th century.


     City Parks

     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.