11.05.2012 - Travel

Sofia: thirty centuries of old legacy

How often do you come home, throw your things and decide that it’s time to go on vacation? However, the question arises, where are you heading. Perhaps in the amazing Bulgarian city of Sofia?


Bulgaria boasts an exceptional natural resources and excellent bases for tourists and sportsmen from around the world. The favorable climate, hot summers, snowy winters, varied landscape with high snow-capped mountains, beautiful valleys, seaside line of considerable length, excellent hotels and sports facilities attract visitors from all over the world, and participation in sports and recreational activities is an important part of tourism services, which are offered.Bulgaria’s geographical location determines the presence of unique biological and climatic conditions that in complex have a positive impact on the human body.

Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, situated on a plateau 550 meters high at the foot of the northern slope of the Vitosha mountain to the east of the river Iskar. Location in the center of the Balkan Peninsula has made Sofia a point of intersection of the major transport routes. Her living history, numbering thirty centuries, has left its mark on many monuments that were created by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, proto-Bulgarians and Turks.

Sofia is the center of political, social and economic life of the country. In addition, the city is an enclave of active cultural activities – here are located a considerable number of historical, archaeological and other great attractions of culture, dozens of theaters, museums, galleries, here take place cultural events of national and international scale. Sofia is one of the greenest cities in Europe. It is attractive not only for its parks and squares, it amazes tourists with extraordinary natural design – the Vitosha mountain (altitude 2290 m above sea level), at the foot of which districts in Sofia abut.

On the roads of the Thracians, Romans and Turks

The history of Sofia dates back to the VIII century BC. The modern capital of Bulgaria is the symbol of the eternal connection between the past and present. Monuments of Thracian, Roman, Bulgarian and Ottoman eras stand next to the modern buildings and urban structures. There are more than 250 historical and architectural monuments in the city.

Despite the wealth of the Byzantine ruins of various buildings and mosques – evidence of a long and varied history of Sofia, after the lapse of centuries the town has lost its former greatness. Some of the most famous architectural structures of the present capital of Bulgaria are dating from after the liberation from the yoke of the Ottomans in 1878. Along the wide, tree-lined boulevards stand houses of late XІX – early XX centuries. Sofia city walls that protected it during the twelve centuries, surround the city center, where traces of the settlement Serdika, founded by the Romans in the I century AD still remain.

Tourists in Bulgaria’s capital can see one of the greatest attractions of the city – the church of St. George rotunda, part of a larger archaeological complex, that preserve specimens of Roman architecture, the temple of the St. Sophia, whose symbol is represented in the board of Stamp, Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, which stores the world famous icons and frescoes. Guests can also visit the suburbs of Sofia – Boyana, where the church, that is included in the list of cultural monuments protected by UNESCO – a vivid example of medieval architecture with its unique murals – can be found.

Areas that are adjacent to the capital, famous for its beauty of nature. The silence and charm of Mount Vitosha create ideal conditions for summer picnics and walks or skiing in the winter (there you can find a famous “Aleko” ski center). The picturesque village, situated at the foot of the mountain are only a few minutes away by tram or bus from the center of a crowded city.

Among other prominent attractions can be noted Cathedral of Holy Synday and the Mosque of Banya Bashi. Nearby are the Turkish baths, indoor market and central clock tower, a synagogue, a female market. You can also visit the National History Museum of Bulgaria, the Church of St. Petka Samardzhiyskaja, the building of the former Central Committee of Communist Party of Bulgaria, the Russian embassy church, Alexander Battenberg Square. It is worth a look in antique shops and cafes around the area of Kristallnaja square and parks around Alexander Nevsky Square, which got its name because of the same name cathedral, built in the center, and, of course, it is worth to see the art collection, which are presented in Sofia, with the assistance of the International Foundation of St. Cyril and Methodius.

The originality of the ancient traditions

Bulgaria is famous for its folk traditions. Everyone can be part of this, so we’ll give you some examples of cultural, culinary and other practices, some of them may have its roots in antiquity.

Bulgarians believe that the richer the table was served, the more fruitful will be the year. That is why they put all kinds of food there and ritual loaves are decorated with images of vines, wheat cornfields and orchards. A special place among the culinary specialties is “banitsa” (layered cake) with cornel twigs baked inside, each of which symbolizes the home and domestic livestock, health and success. The honor to light a fire in the hearth itself falls to the eldest person in the house.

In the morning hearth, which swept with fir branches, expects on “bidnik” – a thick piece of wood, usually oak, because oak is a symbol of longevity. In the evening it is set on fire, and judging on how long it will be lit at night, Bulgarians predict the future and next year’s fertility. On this night, many of the rituals are carried out with the wishes of prosperity.

On New Year eve Survakari is held – a ritual ceremony, its goal is to achieve health and well-being. It is attended by teenagers and young adults who, after midnight visit the nearby houses with cornel twigs in their hands. They patted on the back of the hosts with the wishes of good health, longevity and success in life.

On March Bulgarians give each other martenitsa – red and white threads, which are worn for the health and happiness with the arrival of spring. When the owner of this thread sees the first stork of the year, he binds martenitsa to the nearest tree.

Traditions and holidays of the Bulgarian people include ancient national, religious and family celebrations, as well as new practices introduced during the communist regime. The old folk traditions are reflected in clothing, jewelry, dances, songs and magic rituals that accompany wedding ceremonies, dances on the dying coal (nestinari) ceremonial presentation on Shrove Tuesday (kukerskiy games) and dances to induce rain (herman).

Christian Holidays – Easter and Christmas – were ignored by the communist authorities, Bulgarians begun celebrate again in 1990. Official holidays are New Year, Day of National Liberation (March 3), Bulgaria’s Unification Day (September 6), Labour Day (May 1) and the Day of Slavic Written Language and Bulgarian culture, dedicated to educators Cyril and Methodius (May 24). Since 1998, they celebrated Independence Day (September 21-22). Since 1971, every two years the international competitions of humor and satire are held in Gabrovo.

A short tourist guide: what to see in Sofia?

- Mosque of Bani Bashi, where Muslims pray today in Sofia, is one of the few surviving buildings from the Ottoman Empire. Access to it is strictly forbidden. Near the mosque a mineral spring can be found, which has a restorative and healing properties. Colorful tiles adorn the walls of Mineral Baths.
- Church of St. Petka Samardzhiyskaja was built in the late XІ century, in the early days of the rule of the Turks.
- Rotunda of St. George (II-III century) – is part of a larger archaeological complex, it is the oldest building of Sofia.
- In the collection of the National History Museum of Bulgaria among the most famous exhibits can be seen Thracian articles of gold and silver items of the famous Panagyurish gold treasure of IV and III centuries BC, silver treasure from Rogozen, found in 1986, here are also stored 165 items of V and IV centuries BC, mostly vessels and dishes decorated with ornaments, as well as scenes depicting the Thracian and Greek myths.
- National Gallery of Art presents Bulgarian painting, starting from the XІ century to its guests.
- Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built in memory of Russian soldiers who fell fighting for the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke. For the freedom of Bulgaria gave up their lives more than 100,000 Russians.
- Of great interest is the church of St. Sophia, which gave the name to the city. This is the second oldest building in Sofia (after the ruins of Serdika).

A bit of materialism

In recent years, Bulgaria has changed a lot and became little more expensive. But still it much cheaper than the cities of Greece or Spain. Sofia provides the price available to anyone who would come to this picturesque town. To go or not to go to Sofia? The choice is yours!

Olena Leonova