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Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria and with a population of 1.3 million, the largest city in the country. It is located in the Sofia Basin, a valley in the western part of Bulgaria and is located centrally with respect to the Balkans region as a whole. The city sits at the northern foot of the Vitosha mountain which is one of it's symbols and is a popular place for outdoor activities, such as hiking and skiing. The photos on this web page are from a visit made in the late 1990's and a brief text about the city follows.

Above: The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral which was built in the Neo-Byzantine style. It is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world and the second-largest cathedral on the Balkan Peninsula. As well as being one of Sofia's symbols, it is one of the city's primary tourist attractions. Work started on the cathedral in 1882 and it was completed in 1912 and has a capacity of 10,000 people.

A Brief History: There is evidence of human inhabitation in the area 30,000 years ago and it is known that continuous inhabitation has occurred in this region since the Serdi, a Thracian tribe established a settlement in the 8th century BC. The Romans arrived soon after 29 BC and named it Serdica. The locality prospered and developed, reaching its zenith during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great. In 343 AD, the Council of Sardica was held in the city which was an important meeting of Christian Bishops. From the late 4th century, when the Roman Empire had divided into two, the city was part of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). In 441-447, the city was plundered by Attila and the Huns. In the 6th century, the influence of the Byzantine Empire increased under Emperor Justinian and the Church of St Sofia survives from this period - it was from this church, the city later got it's name. In 809, the town was seized by the Bulgarian Khan Krum after a long siege and it became part of the First Bulgarian Empire. At this time, the city was given the Slav name Sredets.  After several unsuccessful sieges, the city then became part of the Byzantine Empire again in 1018, followed by incorporation once again into the restored (Second) Bulgarian Empire in 1185. In 1382, Sofia was seized by the Ottoman Empire during the Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars. The Ottoman governor of Rumelia took up residence there and the city underwent a number of changes, becoming more Oriental in appearance. Russian troops liberated the city from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and it became the capital city of Bulgaria the following year. During World War II, the city was occupied by Germany, with Russian troops liberating it in 1944. In 1946, the communist People's Republic of Bulgaria was established, which resulted in significant changes to the appearance of Sofia. Since the formation of the Republic of Bulgaria in 1990, further transformations and modernisation of the city has taken place; many changes have taken place since the visit photographed on this web page - for example, the construction of Capital Fort Business Center, a Class A office building and the first modern skyscraper in Sofia, which opened in November 2015.

The main industries in Sofia include engineering, chemicals, textiles and clothing, printing and food processing. More recently, the city has seen a growth in IT technology businesses. The city forms the centre of the Bulgaria's air and rail traffic and as well as businesses, many of the country's major educational and cultural institutions are concentrated here.

Above: The Saint Sofia Church, the second oldest church in Sofia, dating from the 6th century

The main centres of learning in the city are the University of Sofia, established in 1888, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Other important institutions include the National Library, National Theatre and Opera House and many important museums. Many religious buildings of note stand in the city. As well as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, they include the restored St. Sofia, St. George and Boyana churches, mosques and. Local transport is by trams, trolleybuses and regular buses whilst at the nearby Vitosha Mountain there are a series of cable lifts.

Above and Below: The Russian Church, officially known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker, a Russian Orthodox church in central Sofia situated on Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard. It was built in 1914.

Above: The former Party House (former headquarters of the now defunct Bulgarian Communist Party), now used as administrative offices by the National Assembly of Bulgaria. It is part of The Largo, an architectural ensemble of three Socialist Classicism edifices constructed in the 1950's.

Above: The 4th century St. George Rotunda; The Church of St George is an Early Christian red brick rotunda and is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia. It sits tucked away behind modern buildings amid remains of the ancient town of Serdica.

Above: The right of this photo shows the church of St Nedelya (or Holy Sunday Church), an Eastern Orthodox church. It is a medieval church and has suffered destruction through the ages and reconstructed on several occasions.

Addendum to Webpage I: Sofia 2017

A brief visit was made to the city centre in November, 2017, roughly 20 years later. The main changes to note were the traffic volumes and the fact that the website author was now equipped with a digital camera, thus allowing for many more photos to be taken, without the exorbitant costs associated with developing camera film in days gone by. Photos from this visit are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Addendum to Webpage II: Sofia 2019

Here, another visit to Bulgaria’s capital included further wanderings around the city, including (as well as the city centre), a visit to the Museum of Socialist Art, a walk through Borisova gradina (or Knyaz-Borisova gradina – the oldest and best known park in the city) and up to the Vasil Levski National Stadium (situated within the park’s territory). Also, an evening stroll was taken up to the famous St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, to view this, and other historical buildings in the city as seen when floodlit.

Above: Composite image showing the outdoor sculpture park of the Museum of Socialist Art

A few brief words on the Museum of Socialist Art follows: Located about 5km (3 miles) southeast of the centre of Sofia in a suburb known as "Red Star", the 7,500m² museum is housed in a reconstructed building owned by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. It is a branch of the National Art Gallery and comprises the 550m² gallery itself and an outdoor sculpture park. The Museum covers the history of the communist era in Bulgaria and was established on 19 September 2011 amidst a controversy over the name (first suggested to be the "Museum of Totalitarian Art"). The 77 statues, busts and figures of varying sizes, along with the gallery (which contains some 60 paintings and 25 easel paintings) represents the period from 1944 to 1989; the period from the establishment of the People's Republic of Bulgaria until the fall of communism. Here are represented popular communist leaders and activists, of poets, sculptures of Red army soldiers, industrial workers, agricultural labourers and the like. Amongst the paintings in the gallery are three busts, one each of Todor Khristov Zhivkov, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin. In addition, next to a small shop (selling souvenirs relating to the socialist-era) is a small video hall where newsreel and documentary films show the manifestations and key events from before 10th November 1989, the day totalitarian Bulgarian party president Zhivkov resigned, ending his 33-year dictatorship and paving the way for a new democratic nation. The museum is the home of portraits and sculptures of the former leaders, as well as the five-pointed star that used to sit atop the Party House from 1954 to 1984.
Photographs from this visit to the city, including many from the Museum of Socialist Art, may be viewed in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

References and Further Reading

1. Sofia in Your Pocket - With downloadable guide here
2. Wikipedia here
3. Visit Sofia Website here

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