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Sofia

Sofia

Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital and its largest city. Founded thousands of years ago, today the city continues to develop as the country’s cultural and economic center. At present, the city has a population of 1,250,000.

Sofia is located in the western part of the country, on The Sofia Plain and on the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha. The city’s average altitude is 550 meters above sea level, the climate is moderate and continental, characterized by cold winters and relatively cool summers. The average temperature in January is 1 degree below zero Centigrade, and the average July temperature is 20 degrees Centigrade.

The city is located at a strategic crossroads. The route from Western Europe to Istanbul passes through Sofia via Beograd and Skopje, then through Plovdiv to Turkey. Sofia also connects The Near East and The Middle East, lying between the banks of The Danube and the shores of The White Sea on the one hand, and between The Black Sea and The Adriatic on the other.

Sofia is relatively close to the capitals of most Balkan countries: Ankara is 1,012 km; Athens is 837 km; Beograd is 374 km; Bucharest is 395 km; Zagreb is 762 km; Ljubljana is 897 km; Sarajevo is 549 km; Skopje is 239 km; Tirana is 553 km.

Three freeways begin in Sofia: Trakia, Lyulin, and Hemus. The Sofia Airport provides travelers with convenient connections to all major European cities, and from the central train station and bus station passengers can reach every destination in the country.

Sofia has been settled for many millennia. In honor of its hot springs, in the 8th century BCE the Thracian tribes settled here gave the city its first name – Serdika or Serdonpolis.In the 1st century BCE, Serdika was captured by the Romans, who transformed it into a Roman city. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan (reign 98-117 CE), the city took his name, Ulpia Serdika, and became the administrative center of the region. Serdika was the favorite city of Constantine the Great (reign 306-337), who said “Serdika is my Rome.” In roughly 175, massive fortified walls, with four watchtowers were built to protect the city , and a second outer fortified wall was added during the 5th-6th centuries. The city’s flourished for a second time under Justinian the Great (reign 527-565). At the beginning of the 9th century, the Bulgarian Han Krum (reign 803-814) invaded Serdika. The city became an inseparable part of The First Bulgarian Empire (7th-9th centuries) under Han Omurtag (reign 814-831). At this time the city was renamed Sredets (The Center), because of its central strategic location. From 1018-1094, Sredets was under Byzantine rule, but still remained an important strategic, economic, and cultural center. During the time of The Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1393), Sredets took on the appearance of a large Medieval city – its narrow, crowded streets witnessed the construction of more and more small churches and monasteries, which later became Sofia’s Holy Mountain. The city gained its present name at the end of the 14th century, in honor of the city’s major symbol, The Saint Sofia Basilica.

In 1382, the city fell to the Ottomans. It was liberated five centuries later, in 1878, and on April 3, 1879 it was declared the capital of the newly-liberated Bulgarian nation.

Sofia preserves many valuable monuments to its long and storied past. Visitors exploring the city’s streets can see remnants of The Eastern Gate from the days when Sofia was Serdika and Sredets, dating from the 2nd-4th centuries CE. These remains are exhibited in the underpass connecting the Presidential Palace and The Ministerial Council, surrounded by shops selling traditional Bulgarian souvenirs and rosewater.

The Saint Sofia Basilica, founded during the reign of Justinian (reign 527-565), is one of the oldest churches in the capital. It was the city’s major church during the Middle Ages, and under the Ottomans it was used as a mosque. Very close to Saint Sofia is The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky, now one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. This church was built in 1912, and was designed by the Russian architect Alexander Pomerantsev. Its bell tower rises to a height of 53 meters, and houses 53 bells, the heaviest weighing 10 tons. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Sofia, the church can hold roughly 5,000 people, and on important Christian holidays it is filled with believers. In the church’s crypt, there is an exhibit of Orthodox Christian art. Directly across from the church is The National Gallery of Art, which often exhibits works by world-famous artists.

The oldest church in Sofia is the Saint George Rotunda. It is thought that the church was built in the 6th century, during the reign of Constantine the Great. In the rotunda’s immediate proximity, in the underpass leading to the Serdika metro station, is The Saint.

Petka Samardzhiyska Church, built in the 11th century. Another Christian monument in the region is the Saint Joseph Catholic Cathedral. While walking in the area, visitors will also see the Banya Bashi Mosque, built in the 16th century. Not far from the mosque is a synagogue, which houses a museum. There is hardly another city in all of Europe that has so many noteworthy Christian, Islamic, and Jewish monuments so close together. In the immediate vicinity, other historical remains are preserved, such as the municipal baths, the marketplace, and The Holy Sunday Church. Adjacent to this church is the Theological Seminary, which houses The National Historical and Archeological Museum. Other points of interest in the city include The Lion Bridge, The Eagle Bridge, The Russian Monument, and the monument to Vasil Levski (a Bulgarian revolutionary hero who gave has life in the struggle to free Bulgaria from the Ottomans in the 19th century).

In the midst of the city’s religious landmarks, directly across from The Presidential Palace, is The National Archeological Museum, which has in its collection some of the most valuable treasures discovered in Bulgaria.

Masterpieces of Bulgarian painting are on display at The National Art Gallery, located in what was formerly the Bulgarian Royal Palace. The National Museum of Ethnography is also located here, and The Museum of Natural History is a very short distance away, with exhibits of plants and animals that are very valuable, and even some that can no longer be seen in the wild. Right in front of this museum if The Saint Nikolai Church, which is an architectural landmark. The Parliament Building, Monument to the Liberator (in honor of the Russian Tsar Alexander II, who was instrumental in freeing Bulgaria from Ottoman rule), and the campus of Sofia University “Saint Kliment Ohradski” are three more of the city’s major symbols. Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful buildings in Sofia is The Ivan Vazov National Theater.

On the lower slopes of Mount Vitosha, in the Boyana District, is located The National Museum of History, with its collection from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum has one of the largest collections anywhere, with over 700,000 items of cultural importance. Close to the museum is The Boyana Church, one of the Bulgarian monuments that is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

There are many more capitals in the city, such as The Polytechnical Museum, The Museum of Anthropology, and The Sports Museum. Since it is the nation’s capital, Sofia constantly plays host to important cultural and musical events, conferences, and sports competitions. The National Palace of Culture, the city’s football stadiums, and the city’s large halls are venues for concerts and performances by famous individuals and groups.

During the months of May and June, The Palace of Culture will welcome performers participating in the festival “Sofia Music Weeks.” The capital’s many theaters and galleries offer a wide range of interesting exhibits and shows.

The city is a preferred destination for international congresses, and there are a great many halls and centers offering possibilites for every need. For example, one of the city’s most popular venues for business forums and trade fairs is The National Palace of Culture.

Sofia is also home to Bulgaria’s most prestigious and larges educational institutions – universities, colleges, and middle schools that offer solidly-grounded, up-to-date instruction in such disciplines as Architecture, Medicine, The Humanities, Engineering, Music and Choreography, and Fine Arts.

Near Sofia, in the Vitosha, Lozen, and Stara Planina (Central Balkan) Mountains, over the centuries so many monasteries have been founded that they came to be known as Sofia’s Holy Mountains. They can be considered as a single complex, and played an important role in preserving the Bulgarian spiritual heritage during the centuries of Ottoman occupation. Still standing are The Dragalevski, Lozen, Germanski, Kremikovski, Cherepishki, and Osenovlashki Monasteries, among others.

Opportunities for sport and recreation in the capital are many and varied – outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, modern gymnasiums and sports halls, and parks. The city’s stadiums draw thousands of fans for matches between major football teams.

Sofia’s parks are a favorite place for rest and recreation. Borisov Park is right in the center of the city, and South Park is next to the National Palace of Culture. There are two golf courses within an hour’s drive of the city, in the city of Ihtiman and the village of Ravno Polye, both offering excellent facilities to play and practice this sport that is becoming more and more popular in Bulgaria. During the winter, the ski resort on Mount Vitosha is a favorite with skiers and snowboarders alike, and during the summer it is a favorite place for hikers and picnickers. Mount Vitosha borders on The Vitosha Natural Park, which is the oldest nature reserve on the Balkan Peninsula. The species of flora in the park are particularly rich and varied. Ten of the peaks in the Vitosha Range are over 2,000 meters; the highest is Cherni Vrah (Black Peak), in the center of the park, at 2,290 meters. Since Mount Vitosha is a preferred destination for the capital’s residents, its fields and paths are alive with nature lovers. For more information about the park, please contact the Vitosha Nature Preservation Information Center, located roughly 1 km from the Dragolevtsi Quarter, close to the Dragolevtsi Monastery.

There are two ski centers on Mount Vitosha to accommodate visitors to this very popular sports destination. They are Aleko and Konyarnika. Aleko is at an altitude of 1,800 meters, and its slopes face north. It also has facilities for night skiing. The Konyarnika Center is 1,507 meters high. There are a total of 29 km of ski runs on Vitosha, and the longest is 5 km. The maximum vertical dro is 780 meters. The slopes are suitable for both experienced skiers beginners.

The Sofia Zoological Garden in the southern part of the city is the country’s larges zoo. It is a favorite place for a day’s outing for young and old alike.

Sofia offers many places for its children to play. The parks are equipped with safe, modern, playground equipment, and there are both children’s playgrounds and indoor recreational facilities for children.

Like every big city, Sofia has something for every taste. There are a great many luxury hotels, including those that are part of international hotel chains. There is also a wide variety of hostels and smaller family guesthouses. There are a multitude of discotheques, restaurants, bars, piano bars, folk clubs, taverns, soda fountains, fast food outlets and many other kinds of entertainment.

Sofia and the immediate vicinity also boast a great many spa complexes. The hot springs at Bankya, a nearby resort offer wonderful facilities for rest, recreation, and wellness. There are ten spa centers within the capital’s city limits offering peace and relaxation, along with therapeutic and beauty treatments.

One of Sofia’s favorite spots for both visitors and residents is Vitosha Boulevard. Here thee are shops carrying world-famous brands, and since it s a pedestrian zone, it a very pleasant place for strolling and relaxation. In general, the capital is a shoppers delight, since Sofia is still one of the major crossroads on the Balkan Peninsula for trade of all kinds

The city’s annual celebration is observed on September 17, in honor of the martyrdom of Saint Sofia and her three daughters Vyara (Faith), Nadezhda (Hope), and Lyubov (Love).


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The Ivan Vazov National Theater The National Art Gallery The City of Sofia The City of Sofia The City of Sofia
Opening hours

The National Museum of History Opening Hours:

November – March:
9.00 am 5.30 pm
(last admission at 4.45 pm)

April – October:
9.30 – 6.00 pm
(last admission at 5.15 pm)

The museum is closed for the official holidays on January 1, March 3, and December 24 and 25

Admission:
Adults – BGN 10
students – BGN 1

visitors who come from locations where museum exhibits were discovered (partners of the National Museum of History) – 50% reduction
Guided tours are given in Bulgarian, English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Russian. Price for the general tour, which lasts 1½ hours, is BGN 15 in Bulgarian and BGN 30 for all other languages.

The price for guided tours for persons with special needs, which last one hour, is BGN 10 in Bulgarian and BGN 30 in all other languages. Guided tours for students of pre-school age, for elementary and high school students, and for university students are BGN 10 in Bulgarian and BGN 30 for all other languages.

Preference is given to groups of up to 25 people with advance reservations. Reservations remain valid up to 20 minutes after the time of the reservation.

There is no admission charge to the museum on the last Monday of every month. Admission is also free for military personnel in uniform, persons with disabilities, and children of pre-school age.
On September 17, the day of the city’s annual celebration, and on November 1, The Day of National Awakening, participants in the celebrations enter free of charge, and for all other visitors the admission fee is BGN 1.

Charge for the use of a camera to take still photographs – BGN 10. charge for the use of a video camera – BGN 80.

Admission to the museum’s film projections – BGN 0.30

The National Art Gallery and Crypt at The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky Opening Hours:

10.00 am – 6.00 pm
closed Monday

Admission:
To each site – BGN 6
combined admission to both sites – BGN 10
students and seniors – BGN 3 to each site

Free admission for students enrolled in schools of the arts and for people who have written proof of disabilities
Guided tours of the museum by advance arrangement are offered in Bulgarian, English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Russian.
Price for a group up to 5 people – BGN 20; for a group over 5 people – BGN 30.

The Saint Sofia Church Opening Hours:

March – September
7.00 am – 7.00 pm

October – February
7.00 am – 6 pm

The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky Opening Hours:

Monday – Sunday
7.00 am – 7.00 pm

Guided tours in Bulgarian:
BGN 50 (regardless of the number of people in the group).
Tours need to be arranged in advance, since the priest who gives the tours needs to be informed of the day and hour.

The Saint George Rotunda Opening Hours:

8.00 am – 6.00 pm
every day

Visiting hours:
11.00 am – 5.00 pm

The Saint Petka Samardzhiyska Church
Monday – Sunday
7.30 am – 7.30 pm

There is a fee of BGN 10 to take pictures in the church.
A church attendant is prepared to provide information about the history of the church in Bulgarian and German, free of charge, to interested visitors.

The Sofia Mosque Opening Hours:

March – October
10.am – 8.00 pm
every day

November – February
10.00 am – 6.00 pm
every day

Both men and women are welcome to visit the mosque.

Admission:
Adults – BGN 4
students – BGN 2
Group guided tours – BGN 10

Use of a camera to take photographs – BGN 3
Use of a video camera – BGN 5
Tours of the mosque are offered in Bulgarian, Russian, English, and Turkish.

The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Ethnographic Institute

Tuesday – Sunday
10.00 am 5.30 pm
closed Monday

Admission:
Adults – BGN 3
students and seniors – BGN 1

Guided tours (in Bulgarian and English)
for groups up to 5 persons – BGN 10 per group
for groups over 5 persons – BGN 15 per group.

The Russian church “Saint Nikolai” Opening Hours:

8.00 am – 6.30 pm
all year round

The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Museum of Natural History

Monday – Sunday
10.00 am – 6.00 pm

The museum is closed on January 1, March 3, and December 25.

Admission:
Adults – BGN 4
students and seniors – BGN 2
children under 7 years of age and persons with disabilities – BGN 1.
Last admission – 5.00 pm.

Guided tours by advance arrangement.
Tours in Bulgarian – BGN 20
Tours in English – BGN 40

The Boyana Church, affiliated with the National Museum of History Opening Hours:

November – March
9.00 am – 5.30 pm
every day
(last admission – 5.00 pm)
Closed December 24 and 25 and January 1.

Group visits must be arranged in advance.

Admission:
Adults – BGN 10
students – BGN 2

Combined admission to Boyana Church and The National Museum of History – BGN 12
Combined admission to Boyana Church and The Zemen Monastery – BGN 14
Groups over 10 visitors – BGN 8 per person

Free admission for persons with disabilities and children under 7 years of age.
Guided tours are in Bulgarian, English, German, French, and Russian – BGN 10.

The Holy Synod National Historical and Archeological Ecclesiastical Museum

Monday – Friday
9.00 am – 5.00 pm
closed Saturday and Sunday

Admission: BGN 5

Free guided tours in Bulgarian and German for groups of more than 10 persons.

The city’s Tourist Information Center offers a free guided walking tour of landmarks in the center of Sofia – The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky, The Saint Nikolai Russian Orthodox Church, and The Saint Sofia Church.
The tour is given on Wednesday and Saturday at 9.30 am, by prior arrangement for groups of more than 10 persons.

To make a group reservations for the tour, please call

Tel: +359 2 4918344
Tel: +359 2 4918345

e-mail: tourist@info-sofia.bg

Contacts

The National Museum of History
16 Vitoshka Lale (Vitosha Tulip), Sofia

Tel: +359 2 955 42 80
Tel: +359 2 955 76 04

e-mail: nim1973@abv.bg
Website: www.historymuseum.org

The National Art Gallery
1 Knyaz Alexander Street, 1000 Sofia

Tel: +359 2 9800093

Website: www.nationalartgallerybg.org

The Crypt at The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky
1 Alexander Nevsky Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 981 5775

The Saint Sofia Church
2 Parizh (Paris) Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 29870971
Tel: +359 2 9809460

The Memorial Church Saint Alexander Nevsky
1 Alexander Nevsky Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 9881704

The Saint George Rotunda
2 Knyaz Dondukov Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 9809216

Website: www.svgeorgi-rotonda.com

The Saint Petka Samardzhiyska Church
2 Maria Luiza (Louisa) Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 9807 899

The Sofia Mosque
14 Maria Luiza (Louisa) Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 9816001
Tel: +359 894 446233

The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Ethnographic Institute
1 Alexander Batenberg Street

Tel: +359 2 805 26 21

e-mail: eim_ban@abv.bg
Website: www.ethnography.cc.bas.bg

The Russian church Saint Nikolai
3 Tsar Osvoboditel Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 986 2715
Tel: +359 339 25 66 125

e-mails:
nbox@podvorie-sofia.org
s_nikola_sofia@rambler.ru
Website: www.podvorie-sofia.org

The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Museum of Natural History
1 Tsar Osvoboditel Street, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 987 41 95
Tel: +359 2 988 51 15

e-mail: contact@nmnhs.com
Website: www.nmnhs.com

The Boyana Church, affiliated with the National Museum of History
1-3 Boyansko Ezero (Lake Boyana) Street, 1616 Sofia

Tel: +359 2 959 0939
Tel: +359 2 959 2963

e-mail: nmbc@nmbc.orbitel.bg
Website: www.boyanachurch.org

The Holy Synod National Historical and Archeological Ecclesiastical Museum
19 Holy Sunday Square, Sofia

Tel: +359 2 959 0939
Tel: +359 2 959 2963

e-mail: nmbc@nmbc.orbitel.bg
Website: www.boyanachurch.org

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