Sofia – Bulgaria, Europe
Sofia (Bulgarian: София, Sofiya) is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and is ranked as a Beta- world city.
Prehistoric settlements were excavated in the centre of the present city, near the royal palace, as well as in outer districts such as Slatina and Obelya. The well-preserved town walls (especially their substructures) from antiquity date back before the 7th century BC, when Thracians established their city next to the most important and highly respected mineral spring, still functioning today. Sofia has had several names in the different periods of its existence, and remnants from the city’s past can still be seen today alongside modern landmarks. Its ancient name, Serdica, derives from the local Celtic tribe of the serdi who inhabited the region since the 1st century BC.
Many of the major universities, institutions, and businesses of Bulgaria are concentrated in Sofia. It is also a center of media, cultural events, modern theaters, it is a home of research institutes, sporting events, orchestras, and museums. IT industry sector is gradually growing in Sofia, together with the increasing number of events in contemporary arts, festivals, etc.
Sofia’s development as a significant settlement owes much to its central position in the Balkans. It is situated in western Bulgaria, at the northern foot of the Vitosha mountain, in the Sofia Valley that is surrounded by mountains on all sides. The valley is the largest in the country with territory of 1,186 square kilometres (458 sq mi) and average altitude of 550 metres (1,800 ft). Three mountain passes lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, connecting the Adriatic Sea and Central Europe with the Black and Aegean Seas. A number of low rivers cross the city, including the Vladaiska and the Perlovska. The Iskar River in its upper course flows near eastern Sofia. The city is known for its numerous mineral and thermal springs. Artificial and dam lakes were built in the last century.
It is located 130 kilometres (81 mi) northwest of Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, 340 kilometres (210 mi) west of Burgas and 380 kilometres (240 mi) west of Varna, Bulgaria’s major port-cities on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The city is situated at less than 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the borders with three countries: 55 kilometres (34 mi) from Kalotina on the Serbian border, 113 kilometres (70 mi) from Gyueshevo on the frontier with the Republic of Macedonia and 183 kilometres (114 mi) from the Greek border at Kulata.
Sofia has a humid continental climate with high temperature amplitudes. It is one of the coldest cities in Bulgaria with an annual temperature of 10.5 °C (50.9 °F). Annual clear days vary from 39 to 68, while annual rainy or stormy days vary from 141 to 185.
Winters are very cold, and summers are warm. The coldest month is January, when the temperature can drop down to −22 °C (−8 °F) in some places. The temperature can even reach 35 °C (95 °F), but Sofia generally remains cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to the high altitude of the valley in which it is situated. Thunderstorms often occur during the summer season. The city receives around 650 millimetres (26 in) annual precipitation with summer maximum and winter minimum.
Sofia concentrates the majority of Bulgaria’s leading performing arts troupes. Theatre is by far the most popular form of performing art, and theatrical venues are among the most visited, second only to cinemas. The oldest such institution is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, which performs mainly classical plays and is situated in the very centre of the city. A large number of smaller theatres, such as the Sfumato Theatrical Workshop, show both classical and modern plays.
The National Opera and Ballet is a combined opera and ballet collective, established in 1891. However, it did not begin performances on a regular basis until 1909. Some of Bulgaria’s most famous operatic singers, such as Nicolai Ghiaurov and Ghena Dimitrova, have made their first appearances on the stage of the National Opera and Ballet. Bulgaria Hall and Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture regularly hold classical concerts, performed both by foreign orchestras and the Sofia Philharmonic. The city has played host to many world-famous musical acts including Sting, Elton John, Madonna, George Michael, Tiesto, Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Rammstein, Rihanna and Roxette.
Visual arts expositions are also of interest. The National Art Gallery holds a collection of works mostly by Bulgarian authors, while the National Gallery for Foreign Art displays exclusively foreign art, mostly from India, Africa, China and Europe. Its collections encompass diverse cultural items such as Ashanti Empire sculptures, Buddhist art, Dutch Golden Age painting, works by Albrecht Dürer, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Auguste Rodin, among others. The crypt of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral holds a collection of Eastern Orthodox icons from the 9th to the 19th century.
Sofia is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Bulgaria alongside coastal and mountain resorts. Among its highlights is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the symbols of Bulgaria, constructed in the late 19th century. It occupies an area of 3,170 square metres (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people. The city is also known for the Boyana Church, a UNESCO world heritage site. The SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library houses the largest national collection of books and documents (1,714,211 books and some 6 million other documents) and is Bulgaria’s oldest cultural institute.
Sofia also holds Bulgaria’s largest museum collections, which attract both tourists and students for practical studies. The National Historical Museum in Boyana district has a vast collection of more than 650,000 historical items dating from Prehistory to the modern era, although only 10,000 of them are permanently displayed due to the lack of space. Smaller collections of items related mostly to the history of Sofia are located in the National Archaeological Museum, a former mosque located between the edifices of the National Bank and the Presidency. Two natural sciences museums – the Natural History Museum and the Earth and Man display a variety of minerals, animal species (both alive and taxidermic) and rare materials. The Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum of Military History are other places of interest, holding large collections of Bulgarian folk costumes and various armaments, respectively.
Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka, has numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores. Sofia’s geographic location, situated in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city’s specific atmosphere.
A large number of sports clubs are based in the city. During the Communist era most sports clubs concentrated on all-round sporting development, therefore CSKA, Levski and Slavia are dominant not only in football, but in many other team sports as well. Basketball and volleyball also have strong traditions in Sofia. A notable local basketball team is twice European Champions Cup finalist Lukoil Akademik. The Bulgarian Volleyball Federation is the world’s second-oldest, and it was an exhibition tournament organised by the BVF in Sofia that convinced the International Olympic Committee to include volleyball as an olympic sport in 1957. Tennis is increasingly popular in the city. Currently there are some tentennis court complexes within the city including the one founded by former WTA top-ten athlete Magdalena Maleeva.
Sofia applied to host the Winter Olympic Games in 1992 and in 1994, coming 2nd and 3rd respectively. The city was also an applicant for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but was not selected as candidate. In addition, Sofia hosted Eurobasket 1957 and the 1961 and 1977 Summer Universiades, as well as the 1983 and 1989 winter editions. In 2012, it will host the FIVB World League finals.
The city is home to a number of large sports venues, including the 43,000-seat Vasil Levski National Stadium which hosts international football matches, and Lokomotiv Stadium, the main venue for outdoor musical concerts. Armeets Arena holds many indoor events and has a capacity of up to 19,000 people depending on its use. There are two ice skating complexes — the Winter Palace of Sports with a capacity of 4,000 and the Slavia Winter Stadium with a capacity of 2,000, both containing two rinks each. A velodrome with 5,000 seats in the city’s central park is currently undergoing renovation. There are also various other sports complexes in the city which belong to institutions other than football clubs, such as those of the National Sports Academy, the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, or those of different universities. There are more than fifteen swimming complexes in the city, most of them outdoor. Nearly all of these were constructed as competition venues and therefore have seating facilities for several hundred people.
There are two golf courses just to the east of Sofia — in Elin Pelin (St Sofia club) and in Ihtiman (Air Sofia club), and a horseriding club (St George club).