Explore the beautiful Sofia! Explore Sofia - the City of Wisdom

Tour Highlights:
♦ Dive into the history of the oldest country in Europe
♦ Experience the mesmerizing Sofia
♦ Learn about the biggest cathedral on the Balkans
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Price
€49 per person
Duration
4 hours
Destination
Sofia
Travellers
16
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Visit the capital of the oldest country in Europe.

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Destination
Departure Location
Palace of Justice Sofia - Sofia City court - bul. "Vitosha" 2, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia
Return Location
Palace of Justice Sofia - Sofia City court - bul. "Vitosha" 2, 1000 Sofia Center, Sofia
Tour Start Date & Time
Everyday at 09:00
Price includes
  • English-speaking professional tour guide
Price does not include
  • Tips to guide and driver

Sofia is the capital and largest city in Bulgaria. Here are living about 2 million people. Most of them are from different cities and countries. This is because Sofia has a lot of good universities and most of these people, who come here,  are young and want to study and work here.

The city is at the foot of the Vitosha Mountain , situated in the western part of the country. In the summer,  people  go for a walk there and in winter you can go skiing or snowboarding too. Sofia is really close to Greece, Macedonia and Serbia and a lot of Bulgarians go to the sea in Greece or make one or two day trips in these countries. We have several parks –  like the Borisova garden and the South park, which offer attractions, fresh air and place to rest.

Sofia also has very rich history. First, the city had a Thracian name Serdipolis, which was given by the tribe of  Serdi. After that, the Roman emperor Traianus gave it  the name of Ulpia Serdika in the II century. One of our subway station is named after this name, given by the Romans. Ulpia Serdika was big, important and beautiful city. Most of its remains are under the modern city so it is really hard to make excavations. The modern name Sofia comes from the Saint Sofia Church in the XIV century and Sofia is capital of Bulgaria since 1879 after our liberation from the Ottomans

  1. Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral

The temple was completed in 1912 with donations by Bulgarians.

The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a Bulgarian Ortodox cathedral. Built in Neo – Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world. These cathedral church can hold 10,000 people and it is the second – largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninusla.

It is a cross – domed basilica and the gold plated dome is 45 m high with the bell tower reching 53 metres. The temples has 12 bells with total weight of 23 tons. The biggest is weighing 12 tons. The most remarkable exterior feature of the temple is its gilded domes. We have almost 9 kilos gold on it. The interior is decorated with Italian marble in various colors. The central dome has the Lord’s Prayer inscribted aroud it, with thin gold letters.

The temple is dedicated to Alexander Nevsky, known for his victory over the Teutonic Order in the Battle of the Chudd Lake, proclaimed a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. Alexander Nevsky is a patron of the Russian Emperor Alexander II and the name of the temple is an expression of the Bulgarians’ gratitude to Russia in the face of Tsar-Osvoboditel.

The name of the cathedral was changed to the Sts. Ciryl and Methodius Cathedral between 1916 and 1920 (since Bulgaria and Russia belonged to opposng aliiances in WW1;). It is monument of culture since 1924.

During WW II  when there was air strike over Sofia the Church was demaged.

Now it is one of the most popular attractions in Sofia.

  1. Saint Sofia Church

The saint Sofia Church is the second oldest Church in Bulgarian, dating to the 4th – 6th century.

The church was built on the site of several earlier churches from 4th c. and places of worship dating back to the days when it was the necropolis of the Roman town of Serdica. Now if you go in yhe church you can see some tombs of the Roman Necropolis. Recently we made excavations near here and we found more of then, but now thy are under one hotel. In the 2nd century, it was the location of a Roman theatre. Over the next few centuries, several other churches were constructed, only to be destroyed by invading forces such as the Goths and the Huns. The basic cross design of the present basilica, with its two east towers and one tower-cupola, is believed to be the fifth structure to be constructed on the site and was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the middle of the 6th century (527-565). It is thus a contemporary of the better-known Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople.

During the Second Bulgarian Empire (spanning the 12th to 14th centuries), the structure acquired the status of a metropolitan church. In the 14th century, the church gave its name to the city. In the 16th century, during Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque: the original 12th-century frescoes were destroyed and minarets were added. In the 19th century two earthquakes destroyed one of the minarets and the mosque was abandoned. Restoration work was begun after 1900.

The Saint Sofia Church is now one of the most valuable pieces of Early Christian architecture in Southeastern Europe. The present building is a cross basilica with three altars. The floor of the church is covered with complex Early Christian ornamental or flora and fauna-themed mosaics. The Saint Sofia Church stands in the middle of an ancient necropolis and many tombs have been unearthed both under and near the church. Some of the tombs even feature frescoes.

Because Saint Sophia represents the Divine Wisdom along with a historical saint (Sophia the Martyr), icons within the church depict Sophia as Christ Emmanuel, a young figure of Christ seated on a rainbow. The church also displays icons of historical saints, including St. George and St. Vladimir

According to popular lore, Saint Sophia’s miraculous powers protected the building over the centuries, warding off human invasions and natural disasters to keep the church as an example of the elegant, austere, and symmetrical architecture of the age.

  1. Tsar Osvoboditel (The Tsar Liberator) and National Assembly

The King of Liberator monument, also called the Monument of Liberators, is one of the most impressive monuments in Sofia.

It was erected in honor of the Liberation of Bulgaria (1878), in recognition of the Bulgarian people’s gratitude to the Russian people in the face of the Russian Emperor Alexander II and as a symbol of Bulgarian freedom. It is located on the “Tsar Osvoboditel” Boulevard in the National Assembly Square facing the building of the National Assembly. Its official opening was in 1907.

The monument is a 4.5-meter horse figure of Alexander II, made of bronze, laid on a black polished granite bench. The total height is 12 meters. The middle part is with figures and a massive Renaissance cornice, finished with the sculpture of the Russian tsar, mounted horse. A ring-shaped, high-relief of bronze, encircling the middle of the pedestal, portrays the people led by the goddess of victory, Nike. In the relief are portrayed the faces of over 30 warlords, statesmen and public figures.

The National Assembly is the unicameral parliament and body of the legislative of Bulgaria.

The National Assembly was established in 1879 with the Tarnovo Constitution.

The National Assembly’s main building has been proclaimed a monument of culture for its historic significance. Situated in downtown Sofia, it was designed in Neo-Renaissance style by Konstantin Jovanović.

Due to insufficient space in the main building at Parliament Square, some administrative offices of the National Assembly are now housed by the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party, located at the Largo. There has been a proposal that the entire National Assembly be permanently moved to the old Party house building, with its inner courtyard being converted into an interior space for the plenary chamber.

  1. Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”

The University of Sofia “St. Kliment Ohridski” the oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria.

Founded on 1 October 1888, the edifice of the university was constructed between 1924 and 1934 with the financial support of the brothers Evlogi Georgiev and Hristo Georgiev (whose sculptures are now featured on its façade) .The university has 16 faculties and three departments, where over 21,000 students receive their education.

It has been consistently ranked as the top university in Bulgaria according to national and international rankings—it is constantly among the best four percent of world universities according to QS World University Rankings.

University students in the 1930s

The university was founded on 1 October 1888, ten years after the liberation of Bulgaria, to serve as Bulgaria’s primary institution of higher education. Initially, it had 4 regular and 3 additional lecturers and 49 students. It was founded as a higher pedagogical course, it became a higher school after a few months and a university in 1904. The first rector was Bulgarian linguist Aleksandar Teodorov-Balan.

During Sofia University’s first years, it had three faculties: a Faculty of History and Philology (since 1888), a Faculty of Mathematics and Physics (since 1889) and a Faculty of Law (since 1892). The first women, 16 in number, were welcomed to the university in 1901 and 25 November (8 December N.S.), the day of St. Kliment of Ohrid, became the university’s official holiday the following year.

In 1907, as Prince Ferdinand opened the National Theatre, he was booed by Sofia University students, for which the university was closed for six months and all lecturers were fired. Not until a new government with Aleksandar Malinov at the head came into power in January 1908 was the crisis resolved.

At the beginning of the Balkan Wars, 1,379 students (725 men and 654 women) were recorded to attend the university. A fourth faculty was established in 1917, the Faculty of Medicine, the fifth, the Faculty of Agronomy following in 1921, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the Faculty of Theology being founded in 1923. In 1922–1923, Sofia University had 111 chairs, 205 lecturers and assistants and 2,388 students, of which 1,702 men and 686 women.

After the political changes of 9 September 1944 and the emergence of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, radical alterations were made in the university system of the country. At that time in 1944–1945, 13,627 students attended the university, taught by 182 professors and readers and 286 assistants. Communist professors were introduced to the higher ranks of university authority, with others that did not share these views being removed. Specific party-related chairs were established and the university was restricted after the Soviet model. Three new faculties were founded in 1947, one of forestry, one of zootechnics and one of economics and major changes occurred, with many departments seceding in later years to form separate institutions.

The Sofia University Mountains on Alexander Island, Antarctica were named for the university in commemoration of its centennial celebrated in 1988 and in appreciation of the university’s contribution to the Antarctic exploration.

  1. Royal Palace

The former Royal Palace in Sofia is located in the center of Sofia. It is a cultural monument since 1978.

Prior to the current building, there was another building – Konak, where before the Liberation were housed an Ottoman administration and a courthouse. In 1816, the building burned down and was devastated for a long time. It was not until 1873 that Mazar Pasha, with a hangar from the whole Sanjak, built a konak for the vilage administration.

During the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation (1877-1878) the building was used as a hospital. After the Berlin Congress and the announcement of Sofia as the capital of the Principality of Bulgaria, the former Konak was designated as Princely Residence of Prince Batenberg (1879-1886). The National Assembly voted for the needs of the Prince’s family to be converted into a palace as a state building.

There was almost entirely new construction. At the time of Alexander Batenberg, a representative part (ground floor administrative floor and above it the hall of ballroom lobby) and another floor (service) was built. This part was officially opened on December , 1882. It is the first representative metropolitan building in European style.

During the time of the second Bulgarian ruler, Prince Ferdinand I, built the new, northwest part of the Palace for the royal family’s apartments, service rooms, elevator. In the new annexe there were also a library, training salons, play and entertainment rooms, a dining room and a reception hall, a special covered carriageway entrance and 2 winter gardens. The third and the attic floors were the guest apartments, staff rooms, offices.

After the abolition of the monarchy (September 1946) the palace became the seat of the Council of Ministers and the Higher Party School, as well as the temporary residence of new statesmen. The Hall of the Palace has been hurriedly prepared for the office of Prime Minister Georgi Dimitrov, for which all the paneling has been sacked and destroyed, and the rest is painted with oil paint. The fence of the palace was ruined barbaric in 1946, and its park was open and left without care.

 

During the construction of the mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov in July 1949, the park promenade was destroyed in front of the central entrance. In its place a wide square is formed, where the level of the surrounding terrain is reduced by about 2 meters. The barbaric attitude towards the interior of the palace affects almost all rooms. The interior was remodeled in a very primitive way: the palace interior was painted with boards, plywood and dully painted with oil paint.

 

In 1953, according to a decision of the Council of Ministers, the building of the former palace was provided to the National Art Gallery and the National Ethnographic Museum.

6. Ivan Vazov National Theatre

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre  is the oldest and most authoritative theatre in the country and one of the important landmarks of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. It is located in the centre of the city, with the facade facing the City Garden.

Founded in 1904 by the artists from the Salza i Smyah company, it was initially called simply the National Theatre, but before being named after the writer Ivan Vazov it also bore the name of Krastyu Sarafov between 1952 and 1962. Incidentally Vazov’s play, “The Outcasts” was the first to be performed at the theatre when it opened. The theatre’s Neoclassical building, designed by famous Viennese theatre architects Hermann Helmer and Ferdinand Fellner, was finished in 1906 and opened on 3 January 1907. The building was extensively damaged by a fire in 1923 during an anniversary celebration, but was reconstructed in 1929 by German architect Martin Dülfer.

A theatrical school was established as part of the National Theatre in 1925. The bombing of Sofia in World War II caused considerable damage to the building, but it was reconstructed in 1945. Another reconstruction followed in 1971–1975, and a 100,000 restoration project was implemented in 2006.[1]

The Ivan Vazov National Theatre has a well-equipped main stage with 750 seats, a smaller 120-seat stage and an additional 70-seat one on the fourth floor.

The building’s facade is depicted on the obverse of the Bulgarian 50 levs banknote, issued in 1999 and 2006.

  1. Bulgarian National Bank and Archaeological museum

Bulgarian National Bank was founded on 25 January 1879 by the Provisional Russian Government in Bulgaria. It is entirely state-owned and initially has the main purpose of crediting the government. In 1880, the law on the right to coinage in the Principality was adopted, which created the Bulgarian currency – the lev, and the monopoly right of the bank was established in this area, and the following year the first Bulgarian coins of 2, 5 and 10 cents.

 

In 1885, the first law governing the status of the BNB was adopted. In addition to the usual central banking activities – such as issuing money and servicing and lending to the government, it has the right to make deposit and credit transactions with other entities, like a commercial bank. Later that year the first banknotes were put into circulation. After the financial crisis of 1899-1902, the bank moved from gold to silver.

Under the pressure of the government between 1912 and 1924, the Bank granted significant loans to central and local government, which reduced the amount of credit to private customers. A new Law on the BNB was passed in 1926, whereby the granting of loans to private clients was completely discontinued, but the bank received significant autonomy as well as opportunities for administrative intervention on the banking market. In 1937, the law was significantly changed and the BNB was forced to finance government-backed projects in the non-financial sector.

In 1947, the government of the Fatherland Front, headed by the BCP, nationalized all banks, most of them joined the BNB. It has been transformed into a Soviet model and has been transformed into a reporting and controlling authority within the planned economy.

In 1991, a new Law on the BNB was adopted by which the BNB functions as a private joint-stock company with fixed capital and management bodies, which gives the Bank the opportunity to function as a legal entity independent of the state.

However, it is under pressure from the government to finance the budget deficit by issuing money and to intervene in the foreign exchange market to keep the leu exchange rate. This led to the financial crisis of 1996-1997, after which the currency board arrangement (currency board) was introduced in the country. The law of 10 June 1997 introduced a fixed exchange rate of the leva to the German mark.

In 1998, a BNB Printing Works in Sofia was set up to produce Bulgarian banknotes as well as securities with a relatively high degree of protection. A denomination of BGN was made in 1999. [2]

Аrchaeological museum of Sofia

NAIM BAS is in the Battle of the Bulgarian state, destroyed by the self-destruction of the 15th Century Bucuque (the great) mosque. Its name was “Kodja Mahmud pasha jizim” (Grand Mosque of Mahmud Pasha), the great vizier of Sultan Murad II (1421-1451), who in 1451 became a beylerbey of Rumelia (the European possessions of the Ottomans), moved their capital from Edirne in Sofia and in the same year ordered the construction of the mosque, was built for 43 years and was completed twenty years after his death in 1494. Architectural is of the type of isopolis mosques, its domes are 9 low sectoral. The liberation of Sofia from the Russians ended with a fallen minaret, long ruined and abandoned.

 

When Metropolitan Clement is Prime Minister, the Salvation and Laughter company wants her to make her theater in her, Metropolitan refuses to say, “I from the temple, let it be to Mohammeda bela, I do not let go of a caragou!” it was given to the Public Library, officially opened in 1880 and moved from there in 1885. A collection of museums became part of it and became a museum department. Between 1900 and 1905, the Archeological Museum was finally established in the renovated building. A new building was established in 1938 – 1940, but it houses the National Bank, and the museum has two floors in two of its wings connected with the former mosque, which has been rebuilt. The old building with the museum’s exposure was hit by the Anglo-American bombardments of Sofia in 1944 and it did not open again until 1948. Full renovation began 45 years later in 1993 – 1994, the final stage of which was carried out in 2003 – 2005

 

At present, the Archeological Museum in Sofia keeps one of the richest archaeological collections on the Balkan Peninsula. The site is the 3rd oldest cornice-centered century building of Sofia after its opposite Rotunda Saint George and Hagia Sophia, unless we count the small medieval churches around the city. The twice-archaeological excavations reveal cultural layers of several eras.

  1. Central Sofia Market Hall

The Central Sofia Market Hall is a covered market in the centre of Sofia. It was opened in 1911 and is today an important trade centre in the city.

The style of the building, which is regarded as Torbov’s best work,[2] is Neo-Renaissance, featuring also elements of Neo-Byzantine architecture and Neo-Baroque. The façade is known for its relief of the coat of arms of Sofia above the main entrance created by the artist Haralampi Tachev. The famous little clock tower with three dials tops the edifice. The building was originally constructed with four entrances, though not all are used today.

 

  1. Largo complex

The Presidency (E) houses the head of state of the Republic of Bulgaria and his team. The building itself was built between 1954 and 1956. Its chief architect is Ivan Danchov. In front of the parade entrance of the Presidency there is a Guards’ Guard, which changes every hour.

10. Church of St. George, Sofia

The Church of St George (Bulgarian: Ротонда „Свети Георги“ Rotonda “Sveti Georgi”) is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.[1] It is situated behind the Sheraton Hotel, amid remains of the ancient town of Serdica.

Built by the Romans in the 4th century, it is a cylindrical domed structure built on a square base. It is believed that it was built on the site of a pagan temple, though the original purpose of the building was for public use.[1] The building is famous for the 12th-, 13th- and 14th-century frescoes inside the central dome. Three layers of frescoes have been discovered, the earliest dating back to the 10th century. Magnificent frescoes of 22 prophets over 2 metres tall crown the dome. Painted over during the Ottoman period, when the building was used as a mosque, these frescoes were only uncovered and restored in the 20th century.

 

The church is located in the courtyard between the Sheraton Hotel and the Presidency at a level a few metres below the modern streets of the capital. It is considered to be the oldest preserved building in the city, built at a time when Sofia was the residence of the emperors Galerius and Constantine the Great.

The church is part of a larger archaeological complex. Behind the apse, there are ancient ruins: a section of a Roman street with preserved drainage, foundations of a large basilica, probably a public building, and some smaller buildings. One of the buildings had been equipped with hypocaust and the tiles lifting the floor can be seen today. Experts define it as one of the most beautiful buildings in the so-called “Constantine district” of Serdika-Sredets, where the palace of Emperor Constantine the Great, and later of Sebastokrator Kaloyan were situated. Having survived the trials of time and having kept its appearance almost untouched, it is assumed that some of the most important meetings of the Serdica Ecumenical Council had taken place in the church.

The Rotunda is a part of a large complex of ancient buildings from the late 3rd and early 4th century. It was built of red bricks and has a complex symmetry. At the centre, there is a domed rotunda room with a circular plan on a square base with semicircular niches in the corners. Since the 4th century, it has been used for christening (baptising) ceremonies. The dome rises to 13.70 m from the floor. Through the centuries it had been used as a public, religious and even a representative building.

There are five layers of partially preserved frescoes on the walls: the oldest is a Roman-Byzantine with floral motifs from the 4th century; the second in Bulgarian medieval style with angels from the 10th century; the third from the 11th and 12th centuries – a frieze with prophets and frescoes depicting the Ascension, Assumption, etc.; the fourth is from the 14th century with a donor’s portrait of a bishop north of the entrance, and the fifth with Islamic ornamental motifs.

Outstanding among all the murals is the one from the 10th century, created most probably during the reign of Tsar Simeon I the Great, Tsar Peter I and Tsar Samuil. The soulful human face of an angel, painted under the dome, is unique and one of the most influential examples of the high mastership of Bulgarian artistic school of the golden age of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. Some experts believe that the mastership of the fresco surpasses the ones displayed in the much later-built Boyana Church and the Italian Protorenaissance.

In the church, there were kept the holy relics of the patron of Bulgaria – St. Ivan Rilski and, according to the legend, they were used to cure the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus. The relics were stolen from the Hungarians in 1183, during the reign of Béla III, when allied Serbs and Magyars troops invaded, destroyed and looted the city. After a short stay in the capital Esztergom, where the Catholic bishop lost his ability to talk after an indecent act with the relics, they were returned to Bulgaria in 1187. The relics of the saint rested here again when they were solemnly carried from Tarnovo to the Rila Monastery in 1469. At first, here was buried the Serbian king Stefan Milutin, himself beatified, whose relics were later transferred to the Church of St. King (today, the Sveta Nedelya Church).

During the Ottoman rule in the 16th century, the church became a mosque. In the middle of the 19th century, the Rotunda, along with the St. Sophia Church and the Sofia Mosque (today National Archaeological Museum) was abandoned by the Muslims. Not long later, the Bulgarians reclaimed its original purpose of a Christian church. Despite its small size, the church is similar to the rotunda Rotunda of Thessaloniki in Thessaloniki. Carrying the spirit of the early Christian era and Bulgarian medieval culture, St. George has a huge cultural impact. It is subject to extensive research and legitimate interest not only among the Orthodox and Catholic church communities and prominent science and culture figures, but it attracts many pilgrims and ordinary tourists.

In exceptional occasions, the church is used as a setting for solemn military ceremonies and concerts with Orthodox and classical music.

 

  1. The Central Mineral Baths

The Central Mineral Baths (Централна минерална баня, Tsentralna mineralna banya) is a landmark in the centre of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, a city known for the mineral springs in the area. It was built in the early 20th century near the former Turkish bath (then destroyed) and was used as the city’s public baths until 1986.

Public baths have existed in Sofia since at least the 16th century. During Hans Dernschwam visit to Sofia in 1553–1555, the Bohemian traveller noted the presence of 1 large bath and 2 smaller baths on either side of the city. Dernschwam described the baths as follows:

The baths are located on the square; there is a big quadrangular building in front by the entrance, with a round Greek-style dome on top, like the Pantheon in Rome. It is richly covered in white marble … The big water conduits that lead the water into the baths are made of potter’s clay. Each tube is approximately one Viennese cubit long and the separate tubes go through each other. They are plastered up like I have seen in Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) too, in old buildings in Thorenburg (Turda).[1]

The current Central Mineral Baths building was designed in the Vienna Secession style, but integrating typically Bulgarian, Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox ornamental elements, by the architects Petko Momchilov and Friedrich Grünanger in 1904–1905 and approved on 30 January 1906, as projects by an Austrian (in 1889) and a French architect (in 1901) were declined. The raw construction was finished in 1908 and a Bulgarian company constructed the complex roof and the mineral water conduit. The baths opened on 13 May 1913, but the building was completely finished after 2 more years and a garden was arranged in front of the baths. Artists Haralampi Tachev and St. Dimitrov designed the building’s ceramic majolica decoration.[2]

The north wing was damaged during the bombing of Sofia in World War II, but was restored several years later. The baths continued to work as public baths until 1986, when the building was closed due to its bad condition and the possible collapse of the roof. It was subsequently partially reconstructed and thoroughly cleaned and accommodates the Museum of Sofia history since September 2015.

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Covid19 Update: It’s recommended that you check with us prior to your trip or go to this link for up to date information. You can also prepare sandwiches or small snacks sold everywhere in Sofia.

Attire: Comfortable shoes are recommended as the some of the streets are cobbled.

Photos
Photos are allowed everywhere with the exception of churches.

Cash is important
Please have cash with you as not all places accept debit / credit cards and ATMs.

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      Sofia - the City of Wisdom

      Price
      €49 per person
      Duration
      4 hours
      Destination
      Sofia
      Travellers
      16

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