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The old Sofia

Today we would like to take you on a walk around the old city of Sofia.

That’s not going to be easy, though – even if  from all the capitols of Europe only Athens is older than Sofia, here we don’t have the typical well defined “old city”. The centre of Sofia is more like a great mixture of modern and ancient, of buildings from different styles and periods. Here you can see a functioning Roman church surrounded by a communist complex, a functioning Orthodox church from the medieval period right next to a modern metro station, a former Ottoman mosque facing an aristocratic building from the beginning of XX century in a Parisian style, or a brand new hotel built above the excavations of a Roman amphitheatre.


The Roman Church of St. George (Rotunda) surrounded by a communist building.

Photo by: Klearchos Kapoutsis

So in order to give you an idea of how Sofia used to look like during the different periods, here is a brief history of the city. Sofia was first inhabited as far back as 4000 B.C.E., by a Thracian tribe called Serdi. They gave the first name of the city – Serdica.

Then around 29 B.C. the Romans conquered it and made it into a bustling city and centre of trade and culture. The Romans built administrative and cult buildings, public baths with mineral water, a civic basilica and large roads with draining system below. Serdica was also surrounded by a massive protective wall. Close to the city a large amphitheatre, only 10 metres smaller than the Coloseum, was built.

The Romans were in charge here until the year 809 C.E. when the Bulgarian Khan Krum conquered the city and made it part of the First Bulgarian Empire. Then the city was given the Bulgarian name Sredets and continued growing as an important administrative centre.

In 1018 the city fell again to the Byzantine Empire and was renamed to Triaditsa ( after the Holy Trinity), but in 1191 after an uprising led by the Bulgarian brothers Asen and Petar it again became part of the restored Bulgarian Empire. Then it finally received its last name – Sofia.

So far so good you might say, but…

History has its own way, so Sofia together with the rest of Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottoman empire by the end of the 14th century. During the Ottoman Empire the city was still an important administrative centre but it was slowly declining,  until at the beginning of the 19 century things turned from bad to worst for Sofia – there were two big earthquakes, one great fire and a plague epidemic.


A panoramic view of Sofia from the 19th century, today the “Lions Bridge”.

Photo source: 

When Bulgaria reappeared on the political map in the year 1878 as a result of the Russo-Turkish war (1877-1878) and Sofia was no longer part of the Ottoman Empire, the inhabitants of the city were only around 12,000. Back then Sofia was so small that places today located so close to the city centre, like the area around Budapest Hotel for example, were outside the city. At that time Sofia had more Oriental rather than European type of look because of the Oriental influence during the Ottoman Empire.


A panoramic view of Sofia from the 19 century, today the area of St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral

Photo source: 

But after the city was proclaimed capital of Bulgaria in 1879, it started rapidly changing its appearance from a big dirty village to a beautiful and neat European capital. During the period between the liberation from the Ottoman and the World War II some of the most beautiful and emblematic buildings in our city were build: St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, the National Theatre “Ivan Vazov”, the Central Public Bath ( today Museum of the history of Sofia), the Sofia Synagogue, and many other beautiful administrative, public and residential buildings.


The Central Public Bath, 1926.

Photo source:

During the World War II

Sofia suffered a series of Allied bombing raids, from late 1943 to early 1944. As a result a lot of buildings were destroyed or damaged. Later, most of them were renovated, except the area between the the Mosque, the Former Royal Palace, the Archeological Museum and the Church “St. Nedelya, where a big communist architectural complex was built. Today, this communist complex forms the Independence Square in Sofia and houses the Bulgarian Presidency, the Council of Ministers, the former communist headquarters and a museum with ancient ruins of the Roman city of Serdica.


Independence square – a view from the museum of the Roman city of Serdica.

If you come and join our free Sofia tour we will be happy to show you this and so much more!

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