Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city by population in the European Union, with 1.4 million people living in the Capital Municipality. Sofia is estimated to have over 2.5 million permanent population. It is located in the Western part of Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha, and is the administrative, cultural, economic, and educational centre of the country.
Sofia is a city of variety and contrasts. Along with its remarkable heritage and rich cultural life, plenty of galleries, museum, theatres, Sofia has a well-known tradition in nightlife with large number of night clubs, disco’s, and restaurants. Together with its modern architecture, the city keeps settlements from its ancient times, along with the large roads and highways, Sofia is also a very green city with number of big parks and gardens. Because of city’s excellent position between mountains, the climate is moderate with quiet weather. Just about 30 km from the city’s centre, in the nearby Vitosha mountain massif is located a huge skiing resort. Sofia is just about 300 km away from Bulgaria’s seaside. The city is popular with its mineral springs and baths.
Architecture and municipality
After the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, knyaz Alexander Battenberg invited architects from Austria–Hungary to shape the new capital’s architectural appearance. Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grünanger, Adolf Václav Kolář, Viktor Rumpelmayer and others, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly reestablished Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country’s elite. Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed. The architecture of Sofia’s centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, with the Vienna Secession also later playing an important part, but it is mostly typically Central European.
After the Second World War and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural line was substantially altered. Stalinist Gothic public buildings emerged in the centre, notably the spacious government complex around The Largo, Vasil Levski Stadium, the Cyril and Methodius National Library and others. As the city grew outwards, the then-new neighbourhoods were dominated by many concrete tower blocks, prefabricated panel apartment buildings and examples of Brutalist architecture.
After the abolition of Communism in 1989, Sofia has witnessed the construction of whole business districts and neighbourhoods, as well as modern skryscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings, but also top-class residential neighbourhoods.
Places of special interest
The city also offers many places of special interest such as the Sts. Cyril and Methodius National Library (which houses the largest national book collection and is Bulgaria’s oldest cultural institute), the Sofia State Library, the British Council, the Russian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Italian Cultural Institute, the French Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Instituto Cervantes, and the Open Society Institute. The city is also known for the Boyana Church, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. In addition, Sofia houses the Sofia Zoological Garden, which was founded in 1888.
Several international film productions were made here. Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka — ranked as the world’s 22nd most expensive commercial street — represents numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores and features exhibitions by world fashion designers. Sofia’s geographic location, situated in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city’s specific atmosphere.
Sofia houses numerous museums, notably the National Historical Museum, the Bulgarian Natural History Museum, the Museum of Earth and Men, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Museum of Military History, the National Polytechnic Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. In addition, there are the Sofia City Art Gallery, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Bulgarian National Gallery for Foreign Art as well as numerous private art galleries.
Music and nightlife
Sofia has an extensive nightlife scene with many night clubs, live venues, pubs, mehani (Bulgarian traditional taverns), and restaurants. The city has played host to many world-famous musical acts including Madonna, George Michael, Lenny Kravitz, Kiss, Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Metallica, Rihanna, Hammerfall and AC/DC.
With its well-developed infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is an important centre for international railway and automobile routes. All major types of transport (except water transport) are represented in the city, which is home to 8 railway stations and to The Sofia Airport. Three Trans-European Transport Corridors cross the city: 4, 8 and 10.
Public transit is well-developed and is provided by means of underground trains (the Sofia Metro), buses, trams and trolleybuses. In the city operate also multiple copmanies.