Sofia is a city with a sparkling future; it’s the energetically resilient Bulgarian capital that still revels in its own idiosyncrasies as it forges towards a more cultured and urbane existence.
Dramatically ringed by the Balkan Mountains to the north and the Vitosha Mountains to the south, Sofia stands on an open plain 550m (1,804ft) above sea level in western Bulgaria. It is this duality between urban sprawl and natural wonder that makes it a fascinating place to visit, with more to arrest the attention than many other Eastern European capitals.
Development is rife and roads are mercifully being improved. It boasts boutique hotels galore and the spanking new Metro lines and stations are enough to make Western visitors look on with jealousy.
Of course, the Communist influence still pervades in the streets; the country’s relatively short occupation from 1945 to 1989 is still visible in its neo-Stalinist architecture. Despite this, most of Sofia’s major tourist attractions pre-date this era. Buildings like the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral, the Central Sofia Synagogue and the Banya Bashi mosque are stark reminders of the country’s multicultural past, whilst the charming UNESCO-listed Boyana Church in the Vitosha Mountains is an absolute must-visit.
Locals strike the balance between Russian insouciance and Mediterranean flare and continue to be proud up-keepers of the country’s hospitable heritage. The Bulgarian language and Cyrillic alphabet still prosper, resisting tourism’s penchant for English internationalism, which is not widely spoken outside of restaurants, shops and hotels.
Built at the end of the 19th century, this church is the direct successor of several smaller churches from medieval times and is said to lie directly above the crossroads of ancient Serdica. In 1925 it was largely destroyed in a bomb blast assassination attempt on Tsar Boris III in which over 200 people were killed, although the intended victim was spared. The beautifully preserved wood carved iconostasis dates back to 1865; the murals were added as late as 1976.
Faculty of Theology was founded in 1923 and has since been active as a centre for the dissemination of religious knowledge.
The Boyana Church (Bulgarian: Боянска църква, Boyanska tsărkva) is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church situated on the outskirts of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, in the Boyana quarter. In 1979, the building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
With its art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafes, Plovdiv (Plov-div) equals Sofia in things cultural and is a determined rival in nightlife as well – it has a lively, exuberant spirit befitting its status as a major university town. Being a smaller and less stressful city than Sofia, Plovdiv is also great for walking.
Plovdiv’s appeal derives from its lovely old town, largely restored to its mid-19th-century appearance. It’s packed with atmospheric house museums and art galleries and – unlike many other cities with ‘old towns’ – has eminent artists still living and working within its tranquil confines. The neighbourhood boasts Thracian, Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian antiquities, the most impressive being the Roman amphitheatre – the best-preserved in the Balkans, it's still used for performances.
Plovdiv’s modern centre, on the south side of the Maritsa River, features a shop-lined pedestrian mall, ul Knyaz Aleksandâr, which passes over the Roman Stadium and up to a splendid square with gushing fountain. The nearby Tsar Simeon Garden is a shady, popular spot for relaxing. Plovdiv’s cafes and bars are widespread, though one concentration of popular places is in the Kapana district, northwest of the old town.
Like Rome, Plovdiv boasts seven hills, though one was flattened by communists and only four impress: Nebet Tepe, with Thracian fort ruins above the old town; Sahat Tepe (Clock Hill), crowned with a clock tower; Bunardjika (the ‘Hill of the Liberators’) to the west; and Djendem (‘Hill of the Youth’) in the southwest.
Plovdiv’s always been one of Bulgaria’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city.
Тhe Roman theatre of Plovdiv (Latin: TEATRUM TRIMONTENSE) is one of the world's best-preserved ancient theatres, located in the city center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It was constructed during Roman Emperor Trajan (reigned 98–117 AD), it can host between 5000 and 7000 spectators and it is currently in use.
Dzhumaya Mosque is located in Plovdiv, Plovdiv Province, Bulgaria. Its Turkish name is Hüdavendigâr Camii or Cuma Camii. The mosque is located in the centre of Plovdiv and was built in 1363–1364 on the site of the Sveta Petka Tarnovska Cathedral Church after the conquest of Plovdiv by the Ottoman army.
Ancient Plovdiv Architectural Reserve is a well-preserved complex where on a relatively small area visitors can take walks through different historical ages, see ancient buildings adapted to the modern way of life and feel the spirit of the town from the Bulgarian Revival Period.