Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria with population of 1.2mn people. The city lies in central Western Bulgaria in a plain of the same name. It is surrounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Lozen mountain to the southeast, the Vitosha mountain to the south and the Lyulin mountain to the southwest. Yet of all mountains around Sofia, Vitosha is the highest with its top peak, Cherni Vrah, having a height of 2290m and the most popular among city dwellers and visitors alike. In the winter, many city residents take the 30-40min ride to enjoy the mountain’s ski and snowboard tracks while in the summer, Vitosha attracts families for hiking or just a picnic with its well-signed paths, nice meadows and pine groves. Apart from the nearby mountains, the Pancharevo Lake and the Iskar Dam also lie in close proximity to the city.
Sofia is a city with some 7,000 years of history. Excavations to date have come across objects used by our Neolithic predecessors and remains of the Stone and Bronze era. The main reason for the appearance of settlements in this area ever since antiquity is the abundance of mineral springs in the Sofia plain. The springs, the temperature of which varies between 21 and 420 C, cluster mainly around the present-day centre of the city (near the old mineral baths and around the President’s office building) and in the quarters of Lozenets, Gorna Banya and Knyazhevo. The mineral water is believed to be rather curative because of its high content of ions and mineral salts.
The first settlers of these lands, according to historical documents, were a Thracian tribe named ‘Serdi’ that gave Sofia its first name – Serdika. Around 500 BC another tribe, called ‘Odrissi’, settled there. For a short period of time in the 4th century BC the city was ruled by Philip of Macedonia and his son, Alexander the Great. In the year 29 AC, the city was conquered by Roman legions, while during the rule of Emperor Trayan, it became the centre of an administrative unit of the Roman Empire. At that time, the city expanded, while many buildings such as a large amphitheater and public baths were built. In the 2nd century AC, the city became a centre of the lower Dacia province, while Constantine the Great called it ‘My Rome’. Later, the city continued to flourish during the reign of Emperor Justinian. Even if the chief of the Huns, Attila, raided and conquered it in the 5th century AC, the Byzantine Empire returned it to its dominion after his death. The city remained within the boundaries of the Eastern Roman empire until the 9th century, even if most other pats of present-day Bulgaria were already included in the newly established Bulgarian state (681 AC).
In 809, the Bulgarian Khan Kroum conquered the city and changed its name to Sredets (meaning ‘middle land’) for its being considered the centre of the Balkan Peninsula. In 1018, the Bulgarian state fell under Byzantine rule, wihle Sredets was renamed into Triaditsa, which meant ‘between mountains’. Later, the city was renamed Sofia after the St Sofia Church, which currently stands right next to the landmark Alexander Nevski cathedral. Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman troops in 1382, while during the five centuries of Ottoman rule, it was changed beyond recognition with mosques, covered markets and public baths rising in the place of churches and Roman buildings. During the 17th century, the city grew into the biggest marketplace of the Balkan region, while in the 18th century, a stone-paved road linked the city with Europe and Asia Minor. During the 19th century, the first railway crossing the Balkans reached Sofia as a part of the famous Orient Express.
Sofia was liberated from Ottoman rule on January 4, 1978, while it became capital of the Bulgarian state in April 1979 due to its strategic location, even if its population numbered just 12,000 at that time. During the 20es of the 20th century, it acquired a true European outlook. Regretfully, a large part of the then-downtown area was destroyed by bombings during WW2. During the communist regime that started in 1944, a number of Stalinist-style buildings were constructed (such as the headquarters of the communist party, the TZUM central store, the National Palace of Culture, etc) and can be still seen among modern buildings. At present, the city is a nice urban place to live it as it still has a lot of green areas and relatively small traffic, though the latter has seen a great increase in the last couple of years.
The biggest sight of the present-day city is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, which represents the central Patriarch’s cathedral of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The cathedral was finished in 1912 after the design of the Russian architect Pomerantsev. The square around the cathedral is also a popular sight among tourists for its Monument to the Unknown Soldier where an eternal flame burns. One can also visit there an open-air market for national costumes, embroideries, paintings, crafts and objects of antiquarian value. The St Sofia Church, dating back to the 4-6th century AC but restored and open to visitors, also stands out in the same square. The eastern part of the square hosts the building of the National Gallery of Foreign Arts. There are a large number of other places that are worth seeing such as the National Library, the Sofia University, the National Assembly square, the Slaveykov square and its book market, and many more.