Sofia can compete with Greek Athens for the right to be considered the most ancient capital of Europe. On the territory of the city, many testimonies of its rich history have been preserved: the ruins of a Roman amphitheater, churches from the period of the Byzantine Empire and mosques built during the Ottoman rule.
The capital of Bulgaria also boasts numerous monuments of the New Age. Among them are the magnificent temple of Alexander Nevsky, the elegant Sophia Synagogue, the Russian Church of St. Nicholas and other no less remarkable buildings.
Today the interest of tourists to Sofia is steadily growing. A few days spent in this dynamic and interesting city will definitely remain in the treasury of impressions of every enthusiastic traveler.
What to see and where to go in Sofia?
The most beautiful places and main attractions
Temple-monument of Alexander Nevsky
The Cathedral of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, located on the square of the same name. The grandiose building of the cathedral, which stands out against the backdrop of the city landscape, was erected at the beginning of the 20th century according to the design of the Russian architect A. Pomerantsev. The reason was the liberation of Bulgaria from the rule of the Ottoman Empire following the Russian-Turkish war. The temple was built in neo-Byzantine style.
Rotunda of Saint George
The oldest church in Sofia. It was erected in the 4th century under Emperor Constantine. Initially, the temple was used as a baptistery. After the conquest of Bulgaria by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, the building was turned into a mosque. During restoration work, several layers of frescoes were discovered on the inner walls of the church, the earliest of which date back to the 10th century. Nowadays, the temple houses a museum, as well as constant worship services.
The Roman amphitheater of the III-IV centuries, which at one time was considered the largest arena of the Eastern Roman Empire. Its area is slightly smaller than the famous Colosseum. The ruins were discovered by accident during the construction of a hotel in 2004. But, despite the indisputable value of the discovery, the hotel was still built, and research on the amphitheater stopped due to lack of funds. Today the ruins are open to the public.
Saint Sophie Cathedral
The basilica dedicated to St. Sophia appeared in the 6th century. She survived fires, earthquakes, wars and has survived to this day in an almost destroyed state. Restoration work was carried out at the beginning of the 20th century, at the same time scientists discovered ancient burials on its walls. The modern appearance of the cathedral is the result of careful restoration. On the territory of the temple is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
8 km from Sofia, in the small village of Boyana, there is a church of the 10th-11th centuries. The building was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. In the 13th and 19th centuries, two additional limits were added to the church. The building is made of brick and stone. Inside, valuable frescoes of the 11th-16th centuries and paintings of the 19th century have been preserved. The temple has survived to this day in almost perfect condition, having managed to avoid destruction during wars.
Russian Church of St. Nicholas
The church was erected for the needs of the Russian community, whose numbers in Sofia increased significantly after the end of the Russian-Turkish war in 1878. The temple was built at the beginning of the 20th century on the site of a destroyed market mosque. The church domes were presented to the parish by the Russian Emperor Nicholas II. The building was built in an eclectic pseudo-Russian style designed by M. Preobrazhensky.
Holy Week Cathedral
Holy Week is the second name of the martyr Kyriakia of Nicomedia. It is believed that the very first church in her honor was built in the 10th century. It was a building on a stone foundation with wooden walls. The church received the status of a cathedral in the 18th century after the remains of King Stephen II were transferred here. The modern church was built in 1863 on the site of a dilapidated one.
The Jewish Temple is one of the most picturesque architectural structures in Sofia. It was erected for the community of Sephardic Jews by the architect F. Grünager at the beginning of the 20th century. The architectural style of the building is a mixture of Moorish traditions and Viennese Art Nouveau. You won’t be able to enter the synagogue just like that, but there is an opportunity to visit a small museum dedicated to the history of Bulgarian Jews.
Archaeological Institute and Museum
Research institution founded in 1948. The Archaeological Museum has existed since 1892 and is the oldest in Bulgaria. It has the richest collection of ancient artifacts in the Balkans. The exposition is located in the building of the former mosque of the 15th century Buyuk-jamiya. The research institute belongs to the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and employs several dozen scientists.
Historical Museum of Bulgaria
The museum was founded in 1973. In 2000, the collection moved to a modern building. The exposition contains more than 650 thousand items and artifacts from different eras. It is divided into historical, ethnographic and archaeological parts. Visitors can view collections of jewelry, weapons, coins, furniture, religious utensils and household items. The medieval Boyana Church is also part of the Historical Museum.
Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History in Sofia presents the largest exposition of stuffed animals, insects, birds, as well as samples of minerals in the Balkans. The collection was founded in 1889 with the assistance of Prince Ferdinand. The scientific activity of the museum staff is aimed at studying and preserving the flora and fauna of Bulgaria. Much is being done as part of programs to improve the environment and protect the environment.
Museum of Socialist Art
The exposition consists of works of art created in the period from 1944 to 1989, when the era of socialism began in Bulgaria. The museum complex includes an art gallery, a park with monumental sculptures in the style of socialist realism and a video hall where viewers can watch documentaries. The museum was founded in 2011 by decree of the ruling coalition of Bulgaria - the Union of Democratic Forces.
Museum of Military History
The museum is located on the territory of the military academy and belongs to the Ministry of Defense of Bulgaria. Part of its exposition, consisting of military equipment, is located in the open air, the other is indoors. A fairly large part of the collection consists of Soviet vehicles, there are also several Czech, German and French tanks. The museum has a thematic library and a computer center.
Art Gallery of Bulgaria
The exhibition hall appeared in 1948. To date, his collection includes several thousand items. The exposition consists of three parts: Christian art of the XVIII-XIX centuries, national Bulgarian art and art of the Middle Ages. The museum has several branches. One of them is located on the territory of the temple-monument of Alexander Nevsky. The main branch is located in the former royal palace.
Foreign Art Gallery
The gallery opened in 1985 in the building of a former printing house, which was erected at the end of the 19th century according to the design of the Viennese master F. Schwanberg. The extensive collection of the museum occupies 19 exhibition halls and has more than 10 thousand items. There are paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Rembrandt, Goya and Dali, which used to decorate the walls of the National Art Gallery, and then were donated.
National Palace of Culture
The building was built in 1981 on the initiative of Lyudmila Zhivkova, daughter of the CPB General Secretary. The complex consists of 8 floors and several dozen halls. It is intended for exhibitions, congresses, concerts and other cultural events. The interior of the building is generously decorated with mosaics, as well as paintings and sculptures. Around the palace there is a picturesque park with fountains and canals.
Ivan Vazov Theater
The main theater in Bulgaria was built in 1906. The building was badly damaged during the Second World War, but after the restoration in 1945, it again began to delight the residents of the capital with its festive appearance. The repertoire of the stage consists of works by famous world authors. There are many plays by Bulgarian composers in the schedule. The theater was named after the outstanding poet, the true "patriarch" of national literature I. Vazov.
Bulgarian National Opera and Ballet Theater
The first opera troupe appeared in Sofia in 1980, but due to lack of funding, it did not last long. The revival of the stage took place in 1908 after several successful premieres. In 1922 the theater was given the status of a national theater. The first ballet performance took place on its stage in 1928. The theater's repertoire consists of classical works by European and Russian composers.
The university is named after one of the founders of Slavic writing, St. Kliment of Ohrid. This educational institution is considered the most prestigious in the country. It is housed in a 1934 renaissance building. A. Breanson worked on the initial project, later the architect J. Milanov made his own changes to the plan, adding elements of expressive baroque and eclecticism to it.
Bulgarian parliament building
Bulgaria's main legislative body sits in a picturesque building built in 1886, which is classified as an architectural monument. It was erected in the neo-Renaissance style according to the project of K. Jovanovich. In 1890 and 1928, additional premises and a central entrance with columns were added to the structure. The palace is located in the very center of Sofia on the People's Assembly Square.
Statue of Hagia Sophia
The monument adorned the capital of Bulgaria in 2000. The sculpture was installed on the site of the demolished monument to V.I. Lenin. Hagia Sophia by sculptor Georgy Chapkynov symbolizes wisdom and God's grace. She seems to be stretching her arms over the city. In her features, one can guess the appearance of the ancient Greek goddess Athena. The statue reaches a height of 8 meters. The five-ton sculpture stands on a 12-meter pedestal.
Monument to the Tsar Liberator
In the very center of Sofia there is an impressive monument to the Russian Emperor Alexander II. Bulgarians highly appreciate the contribution of the Russian Tsar to the liberation of their country from Ottoman rule. The monument was erected at the beginning of the 20th century. The opening of the monument took place in the presence of Tsar Ferdinand I and Grand Duke Vladimir, the son of Alexander II. The figure of the emperor sitting on a horse is made of bronze and mounted on a granite pedestal.
Park Borisov Gradina
A picturesque city park in the center of Sofia, which the residents call the "Garden of Boris". It was created at the end of the 19th century on the initiative of a Swiss gardener. By 1924, the territory of the park had almost doubled, fountains, rose gardens, a pond and a Japanese garden appeared. In the middle of the 20th century, an observatory was built here. Today this green oasis is visited with pleasure by tourists and residents of the capital.
The Boyana waterfall is located on the slopes of the Vitosha mountain range. In clear weather, it can even be seen from the center of Sofia. Jets of water fall from a height of 15 meters and break on stones with thousands of sprays. The stream becomes especially full-flowing after the snow melts, when the water level in the river that feeds the threshold reaches its maximum level. The waterfall can be reached by several hiking trails.
Vitosha mountain range
A mountain range in the vicinity of Sofia, stretching for a length of 19 km. On its territory there is a national park of the same name. The highest peak of Vitosha is Mount Cherni-Vrykh (more than 2200 meters). The first climbers climbed the peaks of Vitosha at the end of the 19th century. Today there is a popular ski resort with a total length of tracks of about 30 km.