SOFIA – THE CAPITAL OF BULGARIA

Ancient and modern times meet at the foothills of Vitosha mountain

The National Theatre – a cornerstone of Bulgarian culture and art – both in performing arts and architecture.

Your very first stop in Bulgaria, dear SCIJ friends, will inevitably be Sofia. All of you, coming by plane, will land at Sofia airport. The ones, who have chosen a pre tour in the Bulgarian capital will enjoy every minute of it. Sofia is a unique blend of ancient and modern times, of a busy political, economic (it is one of the top 10 best places world-wide for start-up business, especially in IT) and cultural centre and a recreation area with its vast parks, mineral waters and “green gems”- Vitosha and Lyulin mountains. There is no other capital in the world, where you could go hiking or skiing at an altitude of 1800 m above sea level in just 35-40 minutes from downtown.

Vitosha and the fully FIS homologated ski run “Vitoshko Lale” (Vitosha Tulip) is the place to ride above the cityscape below – both with daylight and during the night.

More than 1.7 (in fact nearly 2 million) people live now in the metropolitan area of the city which dates back to the Neolithic age – sixth millennium BC. If you are interested in history or archaeology, then the remains of the Roman and Late Antiquity Serdica (the ancient Thracian name of our city) from the II till the VI century AD or St. George Rotunda, the oldest (from the early IV century AD) and almost fully preserved Roman building could be just in front of you. No need to walk a long time because the newly discovered remnants and the church are in the very pulsating heart of Sofia – in Sveta Nedelya square. By the way Sofia is second only to Rome in the number and area of historical excavations and remains in the open air.

Sofia wouldn’t strike with magnificent buildings but will take you on a journey through the ages.

There is indeed much to see in this city, which fully justifies its motto “Grows but never ages”. Even for you, having a limited time, there are some musts: Alexander Nevski Cathedral – the biggest orthodox church in the Balkans, decorated with beautiful mural paintings, icons and mosaics, St. Sophia Basilica from the VI century AD, that lent its name in the XIV c. to our capital, the National Theatre with a remarkable façade, built in a neo-classical style in 1906, or the stylish monument to the Tsar Liberator (Italian sculptor Arnoldo Zocchi) in honour of Alexander II, Russian emperor during the Russian-Turkish war 1877-1878, resulting in Bulgaria’s liberation from Turkish yoke. The beautiful monument faces the National Assembly Hall (Bulgarian Parliament) and Sofia University in the background.

The wedding chariot of Bulgarian Prince Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1887-1918). This exquisite Louis XVI style chariot used to belong to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France. Located at the Museum of Sofia.

Do not be surprised if you meet on board of your plane or at the airport too many nationalities! Bulgaria has got for 6 months, starting January 1 st 2018, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Sofia is hosting hundreds of EU meetings and events and the National Palace of Culture (NDK) with the magnificent scenery of Vitosha mountain behind is so to say the “head office” of the Presidency. A SCIJ member is never tired. So we invite you to hundreds of smaller or bigger restaurants and taverns with tasty Bulgarian and international cuisine at reasonable prices. And since Sofia is a city that never sleeps at night, the cosy piano bars or dynamic discos and night clubs could be a good finish of the hard day.

Borislav KOSTOURKOV