The Enchanting Secrets of Sofia: 20 Intriguing Insights into Bulgaria’s Ancient City

Start

Fact #1: Sofia is one of the most ancient capitals in Europe. Its history can be traced back to 5000 BC, the time of the Neolithic period. In 753 BC, when Romulus founded the “Eternal City” of Rome, on the map of Europe the current capitals were Athens and Sofia.

Fact #2: Sofia is the only capital in Europe that is located on the slopes of a mountain. Only 10 km from the city in the Vitosha mountain there are ski slopes that, under suitable winter conditions, also work at night.

Fact #3: Sofia is one of the richest capitals in the world in terms of number and variety of mineral waters. The city arose around a hot mineral spring. Today, there are over 45 thermo-mineral deposits with a total flow rate of 480 l/sec located on its territory and in the nearby surroundings, with temperatures ranging from 30 to 90 degrees.

Fact #4: The previous names of Sofia were Serdonopolis, Serdika, Triaditsa, Sredets. The name Sofia has an ancient Greek origin and means wisdom. The city holiday is September 17. Then the Orthodox Church honors the memory of the Holy Martyrs Sophia, Faith, Hope and Love and pays tribute to the virtues that strengthen us – faith, hope, love and wisdom.

Fact #5: At the beginning of the 4th century, a famous event took place in Serdika, which is important for world history. In April 311, the Emperor Galerius, along with the Emperors Licinius and Constantine, issued the Edict of Toleration, which permitted Christianity in the Roman Empire. In this way, Serdika became the homeland of the Free Church and was a kind of first Christian capital of the Roman Empire, before Constantinople.

Fact #6: Serdika was once a favorite place of Emperor Constantine the Great. He even intended to move his capital here, and ancient authors claim that he often said “Serdika is my Rome.”

Fact #7: There are about 240 km of underground tunnels under the city. No one knows for sure when or by whom they were made. This figure does not include subway excavations, bomb shelters, underground military sites, covered riverbeds. There are only so-called pass-through collectors. On them, practically underground, you can reach any point of the capital. Until the beginning of the 1990s, underground communications were one of the most heavily guarded facilities in the country. Some believe that these tunnels were part of the plan to evacuate party leaders during the years of communism. There are rumors that these tunnels still hide secrets from the history of Bulgaria. The largest of them is located under the Lozenets residential area, it is 16 meters underground and over four km long.

Fact #8: It is believed that the oldest preserved building in Sofia is the St. George Rotunda. It is also the only completely preserved Roman building in the city. The history of the Rotunda dates back to the beginning of the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine the Great lived in Serdika. It is located in the courtyard between the presidential buildings and the Balkana Palace Hotel.

Fact #9: The church “St. Sofia”, built on the foundations of several older temples, is among the oldest in operation in Europe. Over the centuries, the temple has changed its purpose. It was converted into a mosque, but after two earthquakes in the 19th century it was abandoned. “St. Sofia” was also used for a warehouse and a fire brigade.

Fact #10: “St. Sedmochiselnitsi”  is an Orthodox church in the center of the city. Interestingly, it was originally built as a mosque during the time of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1528. For some time it also played the role of a prison, being then called the “Black Mosque”.

Fact #11: Sofia is home to the first largest church in the Balkans and one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world – the Church-monument “St. Alexander Nevsky”. It was built in the 1882 – 1912 period in honor of the fallen soldiers of the Russian-Turkish war. According to some, it can accommodate 5,000 people at a time. By its size and decoration, by its architecture and monumentality, today the church “St. Alexander Nevsky” rivals the most famous monuments of this kind in the whole world. In good and warm weather, the ringing of the largest big bell can be heard about 30 km from Sofia.

Fact #12: The Boyana Church from the end of the 10th century is one of the cultural symbols of Bulgaria and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. The reason for this is the unique wall paintings dating back to 1259. They are proof of the amazing achievements of the Bulgarian medieval culture. The images are over 240 and feature exceptional precision and attention to detail. According to French professor Gabrar, author of one of the first materials about the Boyana church, it is the most valuable Bulgarian contribution to medieval art.

Fact #13: In the center of Sofia, very close, on an area of just a square kilometer, you can see four temples of different religions. The place is known as the Square of Tolerance. The Orthodox Cathedral “Holy Sunday”, the Sofia Synagogue, the Banya Bashi Mosque and the Catholic Cathedral “Saint Joseph” are located here.

Fact #14: The Russian Church “Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker” is one of the special places in Sofia. Here lies the grave of Saint Seraphim, better known as Grandfather Seraphim. His prayers helped, before he died he bequeathed the faithful to write him letters with their requests and he promised to make sure they were heard. To this day, many people come to the crypt of the temple and write their wishes in the hope that they will come true.

Fact #15: One of the emblems of Sofia are its yellow paving stones, which have been declared a cultural heritage. They cover the city center like a carpet and were placed in the first decade of the 20th century. The yellow ceramic pavers are produced from the “marl” limestone, which is extracted from a mine near Budapest.

At that time, paving stones were placed on Sofia’s streets on nearly 60,000 sq. m. Until now, there is no company in Bulgaria that can produce yellow ceramic blocks with such resistance.

Fact #16: The most famous street in the city is Vitosha Boulevard, or as the locals call it, Vitoshka. Part of the boulevard is designated as a pedestrian area and is a must-see part of the city. Vitoshka represents the colorful variety of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, street musicians, festivals and exhibitions.

Fact #17: The “Bells” park is one of the few creations of socialism that managed to fit into the modern life of Sofia. The park was created based on the idea of Lyudmila Zhivkova, the daughter of the long-time communist dictator Todor Zhivkov.

In August of the UNESCO-declared World Year of the Child in 1979, the International Children’s Assembly  ‘Banner of Peace’ was held in Sofia, in her honor. The opening of the park and the Bells monument was part of the event. Each children’s delegation brought with them one bell and one plant species from their homeland. All the bells were placed in special places, the idea being that they should only be rung by children.

The monument consists of four 37-meter vertical pylons, as well as two horizontal semicircles, where 108 bells are located. At the top of the tall body is a sphere symbolizing the planet Earth, with seven bells, as many as there are continents. At the bottom of the four pylons are another 18 bells, selected and tuned so that together with the main seven they can perform concert pieces. It is the largest percussion instrument in Europe.

Until 1989, four assemblies were held in Sofia with children from all over the world. A total of 3,900 children from 138 countries and 14,000 from Bulgaria participated in them. Today there are about 100 bells.

Fact #18: In Sofia, the food is surprisingly diverse and cheap for the foreign tourist. For about 50 euros, two people can have dinner with a three-course menu in a good restaurant, accompanied by a bottle of average, but great, Bulgarian wine. Restaurants in the city center also offer a lunch menu for two for no more than 15 euros.

Sofia is in the top three in a ranking of European capitals for food lovers. The survey was conducted and published by Uswitch, a United Kingdom-based price comparison service and switching website, in 2021 and reflects criteria such as taste, price and variety. Out of a maximum of 100 points, Sofia gets 79.63 points and is behind Athens and Belgrade.

You haven’t been to Sofia if you haven’t tried the famous Sofia banitsa and boza. Well, boza still remains a misunderstood taste by foreigners, but if you are among the true culinary adventure seekers, maybe it’s time to try one of the most famous sweet drinks in the Balkans. In Sofia, try also Shopski cheese, Shopski salad /which according to the Taste Atlas ranking is among the best in the world/, meatballs, mixed grill, mish-mash, tripe soup, yogurt, deer fillet.

An interesting fact – among the locals it is accepted that the strong alcoholic drink rakija is consumed at the beginning of the dinner – with the salad, and not as any foreign tourist would assume – with the dessert, as a digestif.

Fact #19: Sofia is one of the safest capitals in Europe. By the way, in the latest updates of sites such as statista.com or populationu.com, which rank the most dangerous cities in the world, Sofia does not appear in any of them.

Fact #20: If you arrive in Sofia by plane, the distance from the airport to the city center is only 10 km. Depending on traffic, the journey takes between 20 and 40 minutes.

The airport provides a free shuttle service connecting Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Buses operate between 07:00 and 19:15 at 30-minute intervals.

From Sofia Airport to the city center is easy to reach by public transport, metro, taxi or rental car. Traveling by public transport is cheap. A ticket for a single metro ride is just one euro.

Find Your Perfect Accommodation: View the Best Hotels in Sofia by Guest Reviews

Latest from Blog

U

Unveiling the Golden Sands of Bulgaria

Golden Sands, a jewel nestled along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, is a haven for sun-seekers, history buffs, and adventure enthusiasts alike. Just a short 17 kilometers north of the vibrant city of