Known as Serdica in Antiquity
and Sredets in the Middle Ages
, Sofia has been an area of human habitation
since at least 7000 BC. The recorded history of the city begins with the attestation of the conquest of Serdica by the Roman Republic
in 29 BC from the Celtic
. During the decline of the Roman Empire
, the city was raided by Huns
. In 809 Serdica was incorporated into the Bulgarian Empire
by Khan Krum
and became known as Sredets. In 1018, the Byzantines
ended Bulgarian rule until 1194, when it was reincorporated by the reborn Bulgarian Empire
. Sredets became a major administrative, economic, cultural and literary hub until its conquest by the Ottomans
in 1382. From 1530 to 1826, Sofia was the regional capital of Rumelia Eyalet
, the Ottoman Empire's key province in Europe. Bulgarian rule was restored in 1878. Sofia was selected as the capital of the Third Bulgarian State
in the next year, ushering a period of intense demographic and economic growth.
Sofia has been named one of the top ten best places for start-up businesses in the world, especially in information technologies.
Sofia was Europe's most affordable capital to visit in 2013.
In 1979, the Boyana Church
in Sofia was included onto the World Heritage List
, and it was deconstructed in the Second Bulgarian Empire
, holding much patrimonial symbolism to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church
. With its cultural significance in Southeast Europe
, Sofia is home to the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria
, the National Palace of Culture
, the Vasil Levski National Stadium
, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre
, the National Archaeological Museum
, and the Serdica Amphitheatre
. The Museum of Socialist Art
includes many sculptures and posters that educate visitors about the lifestyle in communist Bulgaria
The population of Sofia declined from 70,000 in the late 18th century, through 19,000 in 1870, to 11,649 in 1878, after which it began increasing.
Sofia hosts some 1.24 million
residents within a territory of 492 km2
a concentration of 17.9% of the country population within the 200th percentile of the country territory. The urban area of Sofia hosts some 1.54 million
residents within 5723 km2
, which comprises Sofia City Province
and parts of Sofia Province
, Elin Pelin
, Gorna Malina
) and Pernik Province
), representing 5.16% of the country territory.
The metropolitan area of Sofia is based upon one hour of car travel time, stretches internationally and includes Dimitrovgrad
The metropolitan region of Sofia is inhabited by a population of 1.67 million.
The first seal of the city from 1878 which calls it Sredets
For the longest time the city possessed
name, Serdica, derived from the tribe Serdi
, who were either of Thracian
or mixed Thracian-Celtic origin.
The emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus
(53–117 AD) gave the city the combinative name of Ulpia Serdica
Ulpia may be derived from an Umbrian cognate of the Latin
, meaning "wolf"
or from the Latin vulpes
(fox). It seems that the first written mention of Serdica
was made during his reign and the last mention was in the 19th century in a Bulgarian text (Сардакіи, Sardaki
). Other names given to Sofia, such as Serdonpolis
(Σερδών πόλις, "City of the Serdi" in Greek
) and Triaditza
(Τριάδιτζα, "Trinity" in Greek
), were mentioned by Byzantine Greek
sources or coins. The Slavic name Sredets
(Срѣдецъ), which is related to "middle" (среда, "sreda") and to the city's earliest name, first appeared on paper in an 11th-century text. The city was called Atralisa
by the Arab traveller Idrisi
by the Crusaders
The name Sofia
comes from the Saint Sofia Church
as opposed to the prevailing Slavicorigin of Bulgarian cities and towns
. The origin is in the Greek word sophia
(σοφία) "wisdom". The earliest works where this latest name is registered are the duplicate of the Gospel of Serdica, in a dialogue between two salesmen from Dubrovnik
around 1359, in the 14th-century Vitosha Charter of Bulgarian tsar Ivan Shishman
and in a Ragusan
merchant's notes of 1376.
In these documents the city is called Sofia
, but at the same time the region and the city's inhabitants are still called Sredecheski
(срѣдечьскои, "of Sredets"), which continued until the 20th century. The Ottomans
came to favour the name Sofya
(صوفيه). In 1879 there was a dispute about what the name of the new Bulgarian capital should be, when the citizens created a committee of famous people, insisting for the Slavic name. Gradually, a compromise arose, officialisation of Sofia
for the nationwide institutions, while legitimating the title Sredets
for the administrative and church institutions, before the latter was abandoned through the years.
Sofia City Province
has an area of 1344 km2
while the surrounding and much bigger Sofia Province
is 7,059 km2
. 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 the Balkan mountains
to the north. The valley has an average altitude of 550 metres (1,800 ft). Unlike most European capitals, Sofia does not straddle any large river, but is surrounded by comparatively high mountains on all sides. Three mountain passes
lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, Vitosha being the watershed between Black
and Aegean Seas
A number of shallow rivers cross the city, including the Boyanska
. The Iskar River
in its upper course flows near eastern Sofia. It takes its source in Rila
, Bulgaria's highest mountain,
and enters Sofia Valley near the village of German
. The Iskar flows north toward the Balkan Mountains, passing between the eastern city suburbs, next to the main building and below the runways of Sofia Airport
, and flows out of the Sofia Valley at the town of Novi Iskar
, where the scenic Iskar Gorge
The city is known for its 49 mineral
springs. Artificial and dam lakes were built in the twentieth century.
A map of Sofia Valley. Vitosha is in the south; the Balkan Mountains define the valley's northern fringes. The Iskar flows north and forms the Iskar Gorge.
A view of the valley from the south. The Balkan Mountains and the beginning of the Iskar Gorge are visible in the distance.
Winters are cold and snowy. In the coldest days temperatures can drop below −15 °C (5 °F), most notably in January. The lowest recorded temperature is −31.2 °C (−24 °F) (16 January 1893).
Fog is not unusual, especially in the beginning of the season. On average, Sofia receives a total snowfall of 96 cm (37.8 in) and 57 days with snow cover.
The snowiest recorded winter was 1995/1996 with a total snowfall of 171 cm (67.3 in).
The record snow depth is 57 cm (22.4 in) (25 December 2001).
The coldest recorded year was 1893 with an average January temperature of −10.4 °C (13 °F) and an annual temperature of 8.2 °C (46.8 °F)
Summers are quite warm and sunny. In summer, the city generally remains slightly cooler than other parts of Bulgaria, due to its higher altitude. However, the city is also subjected to heat waves with high temperatures reaching or exceeding 35 °C (95 °F) in the hottest days, particularly in July and August. The highest recorded temperature is 41 °C (106 °F) (5 July 2000 and 24 July 2007).
The hottest recorded month was July 2012 with an average temperature of 25 °C (77 °F).
The warmest year on record was 2019 with an annual temperature of 11.9 °C (53 °F).
Springs and autumns in Sofia are usually short with variable and dynamic weather.
The city receives an average precipitation of 625.7 mm (24.63 in) a year, reaching its peak in late spring and early summer when thunderstorms
are common. The driest recorded year was 2000 with a total precipitation of 304.6 mm (11.99 in), while the wettest year on record was 2014 with a total precipitation of 1,066.6 mm (41.99 in).
The geographic position of the Sofia Valley limits the flow of air masses, increasing the chances of air pollution by particulate matter and nitrogen oxide
Solid fuel used for heating and motor vehicle traffic are significant sources of pollutants. Smog thus persists over the city as temperature inversions
and the mountains surrounding the city prevent the circulation of air masses.
As a result, air pollution levels in Sofia are some of the highest in Europe.
concentrations are consistently above the norm.
During the October 2017 – March 2018 heating season, particulate levels exceeded the norm on 70 occasions;
on 7 January 2018, PM10 levels reached 632 µg/m3
some twelve times the EU norm of 50 µg/m3
Even areas with few sources of air pollution, like Gorna Banya
, had PM2.5 and PM10 levels above safe thresholds.
In response to hazardous spikes in air pollution, the Municipal Council implemented a variety of measures in January 2018, like more frequent washing of streets.
However, a report by the European Court of Auditors
issued in September 2018 revealed that Sofia has not drafted any projects to reduce air pollution from heating. The report also noted that no industrial pollution monitoring stations operate in Sofia, even though industrial facilities are active in the city. A monitoring station on Eagles' Bridge, where some of the highest particulate matter values were measured, was moved away from the location and has measured sharply lower values since then.
Particulates are now largely measured by a network of 300 sensors maintained by volunteers since 2017.
The European Commission
has taken Bulgaria to court over its failure to curb air pollution.
The eastern gate of Serdica in the "Complex Ancient Serdica"
Prehistory and antiquity
Sofia has been an area of continuous human habitation since at least the 30th millennium BC.
The city has a history of nearly 7000 years,
with the great attraction of the hot water springs that still flow abundantly in the centre of the city. The neolithic village in Slatina
dating to the 5th–6th millennium BC is documented.
Remains from another neolithic settlement around the National Art Gallery
are traced to the 3rd–4th millennium BC, which has been the traditional centre of the city ever since.
gave their name to the city.
The earliest mention of the city comes from an Athenian
inscription from the 1st century BC, attesting Astiu ton Serdon
, i.e. city of the Serdi
The inscription and Dio Cassius
told that the Roman general Crassus
subdued the Serdi
and behanded the captives.
In 27–29 BC, according do Dio Cassius
, the region "Segetike" was attacked by Crassus
, which is assumed to be Serdica, or the city of the Serdi.
The ancient city is located between TZUM
, Sheraton Hotel
and the Presidency.
It gradually became the most important Roman city of the region.
It became a municipium
during the reign of Emperor Trajan
(98–117). Serdica expanded, as turrets
, protective walls, public baths
, administrative and cult buildings, a civic basilica
, an amphitheatre
, a circus, the City council
(Boulé), a large forum, a big circus (theatre), etc. were built. Serdica was a significant city on the Roman road Via Militaris
, connecting Singidunum
. In the 3rd century, it became the capital of Dacia Aureliana
and when Emperor Diocletian
divided the province of Dacia Aureliana into Dacia Ripensis (at the banks of the Danube
) and Dacia Mediterranea
, Serdica became the capital of the latter. Serdica's citizens of Thracian
descent were referred to as Illyrians
probably because it was at some time the capital of Eastern Illyria
The city expanded and became a significant political and economical centre, more so as it became one of the first Roman cities where Christianity was recognised as an official religion
). The Edict of Toleration by Galerius
was issued in 311 in Serdica by the Roman emperor Galerius, officially ending the Diocletianic persecution of Christianity. The Edict implicitly granted Christianity the status of "religio licita
", a worship recognised and accepted by the Roman Empire. It was the first edict legalising Christianity, preceding the Edict of Milan
by two years.
The city was destroyed in the 447 invasion
of the Huns
and laid in ruins for a century
It was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
. During the reign of Justinian it flourished, being surrounded with great fortress walls whose remnants can still be seen today.
Serdica became part of the First Bulgarian Empire
during the reign of Khan Krum
in 809, after a long siege
. The fall of the strategic city prompted a major and ultimately disastrous invasion of Bulgaria by the Byzantine
emperor Nikephoros I
, which led to demise at the hands of the Bulgarian army
In the aftermath of the war, the city was permanently integrated in Bulgaria and became known by the Slavic name of Sredets. It grew into an important fortress and administrative centre under Krum's successor Khan Omurtag
, who made it a centre of Sredets province (Sredetski komitat, Средецки комитат). The Bulgarian patron saint John of Rila
was buried in Sredets by orders of Emperor Peter I
in the mid 10th century.
After the conquest of the Bulgarian capital Preslav
by Sviatoslav I of Kyiv
and John I Tzimiskes
' armies in 970–971, the Bulgarian Patriarch
Damyan chose Sredets for his seat in the next year and the capital of Bulgaria was temporarily moved there.
In the second half of 10th century the city was ruled by Komit Nikola
and his sons, known as the "Komitopuli
". One of them was Samuil
, who was eventually crowned Emperor of Bulgaria in 997. In 986, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II
laid siege to Sredets but after 20 days of fruitless assaults the garrison broke out and forced the Byzantines to abandon the campaign. On his way to Constantinople, Basil II was ambushed and soundly defeated by the Bulgarians in the battle of the Gates of Trajan
The city eventually fell to the Byzantine Empire
in 1018, following the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria
. Sredets joined the uprising of Peter Delyan
in 1040–1041 in a failed attempt to restore Bulgarian independence and was the last stronghold of the rebels, led by the local commander Botko.
It was once again incorporated into the restored Bulgarian Empire
in 1194 at the time of Emperor Ivan Asen I
and became a major administrative and cultural centre.
Several of the city's governors were members of the Bulgarian imperial family and held the title of sebastokrator
, the second highest at the time, after the tsar
. In the 13th and 14th centuries Sredets was an important spiritual and literary hub with a cluster of 14 monasteries in its vicinity, that were eventually destroyed by the Ottomans. The city produced multicolored sgraffito ceramics, jewelry and ironware.
In 1385, Sredets was seized by the Ottoman Empire
in the course of the Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars
by Lala Şahin Pasha
, following a three-month siege
The Ottoman commander left the following description of the city garrison: "Inside the fortress [Sofia] there is a large and elite army, its soldiers are heavily built, moustached and look war-hardened, but are used to consume wine and rakia
—in a word, jolly fellows."
Early modern history
In the late 14th century the city became the seat of newly established Ottoman Sanjak of Sofia
During the initial stages of the Crusade of Varna
in 1443, it was occupied by Hungarian forces for a short time in 1443, and the Bulgarian population celerated a mass Saint Sofia Church
. Following the defeat of the crusader forces in 1444, the city's Christians faced persecution. In 1530 Sofia became the capital of the Ottoman province
(beylerbeylik) of Rumelia
for about three centuries. During that time Sofia was the largest import-export-base in modern-day Bulgaria for the caravan trade with the Republic of Ragusa
. In the 15th and 16th century, Sofia was expanded by Ottoman building activity. Public investments in infrastructure, education and local economy brought greater diversity to the city. Amongst others, the population consisted of Muslims
speaking Orthodox Christians
Ragusans, Jews (Romaniote
), and Romani people
The 16th century was marked by a wave of persecutions against the Bulgarian Christians, a total of nine became New Martyrs
in Sofia and were sainted by the Orthodox Church, including George the New
(1515), Sophronius of Sofia (1515), George the Newest (1530), Nicholas of Sofia
(1555) and Terapontius of Sofia (1555).
Sofia in mid-19th-century
When it comes to the cityscape, 16th century sources mention eight Friday mosques
, three public libraries, numerous schools, 12 churches, three synagogues, and the largest bedesten
(market) of the Balkans.
Additionally, there were fountains and hammams
(bathhouses). Most prominent churches such as Saint Sofia and Saint George were converted into mosques, and a number of new ones were constructed, including Banya Bashi Mosque
built by the renowned Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan
. In total there were 11 big and over 100 small mosques by the 17th century.
In 1610 the Vatican
established the See of Sofia
for Catholics of Rumelia
, which existed until 1715 when most Catholics had emigrated.
Sofia entered a period of economic and political decline in the 17th century, accelerated during the period of anarchy in the Ottoman Balkans of the late 18th and early 19th century, when local Ottoman warlords ravaged the countryside. Since the 18th century the beylerbeys
of Rumelia often stayed in Bitola
, which became the official capital of the province in 1826. Sofia remained the seat of a sanjak
(district). By the 19th century the Bulgarian population had two schools and seven churches, contributing to the Bulgarian National Revival
. In 1858 Nedelya Petkova
created the first Bulgarian school for women in the city. In 1867 was inaugurated the first chitalishte
in Sofia – a Bulgarian cultural institution. In 1870 the Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski
established a revolutionary committee
in the city and in the neighbouring villages. Folling his capture in 1873, Vasil Levski was transferred and hanged in Sofia by the Ottomans.
Modern and contemporary history
Most mosques in Sofia were destroyed in that war, seven of them destroyed in one night in December 1878 when a thunderstorm masked the noise of the explosions arranged by Russian military engineers.
Following the war, the great majority of the Muslim population left Sofia.
For a few decades after the liberation, Sofia experienced large population growth, mainly by migration from other regions of the Principality (Kingdom since 1908) of Bulgaria, and from the still Ottoman Macedonia
In 1900, the first electric lightbulb in the city was turned on.
In 1925, a terrorist act of ultra-leftists failed their attempted assassination of the king but resulted in the destruction of the Saint Nedelya Church
and many victims.
During the Second World War
, Bulgaria declared war on the US and UK on 13 December 1941 and in late 1943 and early 1944 the US and UK Air forces conducted bombings over Sofia
. As a consequence of the bombings thousands of buildings were destroyed or damaged including the Capital Library and thousands of books. In 1944 Sofia and the rest of Bulgaria was occupied by the Soviet Red Army
and within days of the Soviet invasion Bulgaria declared war on Nazi Germany.
In 1945, the communist Fatherland Front
took power. The transformations of Bulgaria into the People's Republic of Bulgaria
in 1946 and into the Republic of Bulgaria in 1990 marked significant changes in the city's appearance. The population of Sofia expanded rapidly due to migration from rural regions. New residential areas were built in the outskirts of the city, like Druzhba, Mladost and Lyulin.
During the Communist Party
rule, a number of the city's most emblematic streets and squares were renamed for ideological reasons, with the original names restored after 1989.
In Sofia there are 607,473 dwellings and 101,696 buildings. According to modern records, 39,551 dwellings were constructed until 1949, 119,943 between 1950 and 1969, 287,191 between 1970 and 1989, 57,916 in the 90s and 102,623 between 2000 and 2011. Until 1949, 13,114 buildings were constructed and between 10,000 and 20,000 in each following decade.
Sofia's architecture combines a wide range of architectural styles, some of which are aesthetically incompatible. These vary from Christian Roman architecture and medieval Bulgarian fortresses to Neoclassicism and prefabricated Socialist-era apartment blocks. A number of ancient Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian buildings are preserved in the centre of the city. These include the 4th century Rotunda of St. George
, the walls of the Serdica fortress and the partially preserved Amphitheatre of Serdica
Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grünanger
, Adolf Václav Kolář, and Viktor Rumpelmayer
, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly re-established Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country's elite.
Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed. The architecture of Sofia's centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque
, with the Vienna Secession
also later playing an important part, but it is most typically Central European.
After World War II and the establishment of a Communist government
in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural style was substantially altered. Stalinist Gothic
public buildings emerged in the centre, notably the spacious government complex around The Largo
, Vasil Levski Stadium, the Cyril and Methodius National Library and others. As the city grew outwards, the then-new neighbourhoods were dominated by many concrete tower blocks
, prefabricated panel apartment buildings and examples of Brutalist architecture
After the abolition of Communism
in 1989, Sofia witnessed the construction of whole business districts and neighbourhoods, as well as modern skryscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings, but also top-class residential neighbourhoods. The 126-metre (413 ft) Capital Fort
Business Centre is the first skyscraper in Bulgaria, with its 36 floors. However, the end of the old administration and centrally planned system also paved the way for chaotic and unrestrained construction, which continues today.
The city has an extensive green belt
. Some of the neighbourhoods constructed after 2000 are densely built up and lack green spaces. There are four principal parks – Borisova gradina
in the city centre and the Southern
parks. Several smaller parks, among which the Vazrazhdane Park
, Zaimov Park
, City Garden
and the Doctors' Garden
, are located in central Sofia. The Vitosha
Nature Park (the oldest national park
in the Balkans
includes most of Vitosha
mountain and covers an area of 266 square kilometres (103 sq mi),
with roughly half of it lying within the municipality of Sofia. Vitosha mountain is a popular hiking destination due to its proximity and ease of access via car and public transport. Two functioning cable cars provide year long access from the outskirts of the city. The mountain offers favourable skiing conditions during the winter. During the 1970s and the 1980s multiple ski slopes of varying difficulty were made available. Skiing equipment can be rented and skiing lessons are available. However, due to the bad communication between the private offshore company that runs the resort and Sofia municipality, most of the ski areas have been left to decay in the last 10 years, so that only one chairlift and one slope work.
Government and law
A map of the 24 districts of Sofia
is identical to Sofia City Province
, which is distinct from Sofia Province
, which surrounds but does not include the capital itself. Besides the city proper, the 24 districts of Sofia Municipality encompass three other towns and 34 villages.
Districts and settlements have their own governor who is elected in a popular election. The assembly members are chosen every four years. The common head of Sofia Municipality and all the 38 settlements is the mayor of Sofia
The mayor Yordanka Fandakova
is serving a third consecutive term, having won the 2015 election at first round with 238,500 votes,
or 60.2% of the vote, when Reformist Bloc
opponent Vili Lilkov was second with 9.6%; the turnout was 41.25%.
Some party leaders claimed that ballots were falsified and called for annulment of the election.
A precedent happened, due to the suspicion, as a preventative action between 300 and 5000 people and counters had been locked inside Arena Armeets
against their will for two days,
following which the director of the Electoral Commission of Sofia resigned at the request of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov
Sofia is the seat of the executive (Council of Ministers
) and judiciary
and Constitutional Court
) bodies of Bulgaria, as well as all government agencies, ministries, the National Bank
, and the delegation of the European Commission
. The President
, along with the Council of Ministers, is located on Independence Square
, also known as The Largo or The Triangle of Power
One of the three buildings in the architectural ensemble, the former Bulgarian Communist Party
headquarters, is due to become the seat of the Parliament. A refurbishment project is due to be completed in mid-2019,
while the old National Assembly
building will become a museum or will only host ceremonial political events.
Under Bulgaria's centralised political system, Sofia concentrates much of the political and financial resources of the country. It is the only city in Bulgaria to host three electoral constituencies: the 23rd
and 25th Multi-member Constituencies
, which together field 42 mandates in the 240-member National Assembly.
With a murder rate of 1.7/per 100.000 people (as of 2009) Sofia is a quite safe capital city.
Nevertheless, in the 21st century, crimes, including Bulgarian mafia
killings, caused problems in the city,
where authorities had difficulties convicting the actors,
which had caused the European Commission
to warn the Bulgarian government that the country would not be able to join the EU unless it curbed crime
(Bulgaria eventually joined in 2007).
Many of the most severe crimes are contract killings
connected to the organised crime
, but these had dropped in recent years after several arrests of gang members. Corruption in Bulgaria
also affects Sofia's authorities. According to the director of Sofia District Police Directorate, the largest share of the crimes are thefts, making up 62.4% of all crimes in the capital city. Increasing are frauds, drug-related crimes, petty theft
According to a survey, almost a third of Sofia's residents say that they never feel safe in the Bulgarian capital, while 20% always feel safe.
As of 2015, the consumer-reported perceived crime risk on the Numbeo
database was "high" for theft and vandalism and "low" for violent crimes; safety while walking during daylight was rated "very high", and "moderate" during the night.
With 1,600 prisoners, the incarceration rate
is above 0.1%;
however, roughly 70% of all prisoners are part of the Romani minority
Arts and entertainment
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. There were 3,162 theatric performances with 570,568 people attending in 2014.
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre
, which performs mainly classical plays and is situated in the very centre of the city, is the most prominent theatre. The National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria
is a combined opera and ballet collective established in 1891. Regular performances began in 1909. Some of Bulgaria's most famous operatic singers, such as Nicolai Ghiaurov
and Ghena Dimitrova
, made their first appearances on the stage of the National Opera and Ballet.
Cinema is the most popular form of entertainment: there were more than 141,000 film shows with a total attendance exceeding 2,700,000 in 2014.
Over the past two decades, numerous independent cinemas have closed and most shows are in shopping centre multiplexes
(not part of the Odeon Cinemas
chain) shows exclusively European and independent American films, as well as 20th century classics. The Boyana Film studios was at the centre of a once-thriving domestic film industry, which declined significantly after 1990. Nu Image
acquired the studios to upgrade them into Nu Boyana Film Studios
, used to shoot scenes for a number of action movies like The Expendables 2
, Rambo: Last Blood
and London Has Fallen
The Museum of Contemporary Art
The National History Museum
, located in Boyana
, it 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 historical items are displayed 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 Earth and Man
—display minerals, animal species (alive and taxidermic
) and rare materials. The Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of Military History
hold large collections of Bulgarian folk costumes and armaments, respectively. The Polytechnical Museum
has more than 1,000 technological items on display. The SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library
, the foremost information repository in the country, holds some 1,800,000 books and more than 7,000,000 documents, manuscripts, maps and other items.
The city houses many cultural institutes such as the Russian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Italian Cultural Institute, Confucius Institute
, Institut Français
, Goethe Institut
, British Council
and Instituto Cervantes
which regularly organise temporary expositions of visual, sound and literary works by artists from their respective countries.
The Boyana Church
, a UNESCO
World Heritage site, contains realistic frescoes, depicting more than 240 human images and a total 89 scenes, were painted. With their vital, humanistic realism they are a Renaissance
phenomenon at its culmination phase in the context of the common-European art.
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 (34,122 square feet) and can hold 10,000 people.
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, as well as Balgarska Armia Stadium
, Georgi Asparuhov Stadium
and Lokomotiv Stadium
, the main venues for outdoor musical concerts. Armeets Arena
holds many indoor events and has a capacity of up to 19,000 people depending on its use. The venue was inaugurated on 30 July 2011, and the first event it hosted was a friendly volleyball match between Bulgaria and Serbia. There are two ice skating
complexes — the Winter Sports Palace
with a capacity of 4,600 and the Slavia Winter Stadium with a capacity of 2,000, both containing two rinks each.
with 5,000 seats in the city's central park
is 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). Sofia was designated as European Capital of Sport in 2018. The decision was announced in November 2014 by the Evaluation Committee of ACES Europe, on the grounds that "the city is a good example of sport for all, as means to improve healthy lifestyle, integration and education, which are the basis of the initiative."
Population growth over the years (in thousands):
Students of the National Academy of Arts
(circa 1952–53). People aged 20–25 years have been the most numerous group in the city since the process of Bulgarian urbanisation
According to 2018 data, the city has a population of 1,400,384 and the whole Sofia Capital Municipality
The first census carried out in February 1878 by the Russian Army recorded a population of 11,694 inhabitants including 6,560 Bulgarians
, 3,538 Jews
, 839 Turks
and 737 Romani
The ratio of women per 1,000 men was 1,102. The birth rate
per 1000 people was 12.3 per mile and steadily increasing in the last 5 years, the death rate
reaching 12.1 per mile and decreasing. The natural growth rate during 2009 was 0.2 per mile, the first positive growth rate in nearly 20 years. The considerable immigration to the capital from poorer regions of the country, as well as urbanisation, are among the other reasons for the increase in Sofia's population. The infant mortality
rate was 5.6 per 1,000, down from 18.9 in 1980. According to the 2011 census, people aged 20–24 years are the most numerous group, numbering 133,170 individuals and accounting for 11% of the total 1,202,761 people. The median age is 38 though. According to the census, 1,056,738 citizens (87.9%) are recorded as ethnic Bulgarians
, 17,550 (1.5%) as Romani
, 6,149 (0.5%) as Turks
, 9,569 (0.8%) belonged to other ethnic groups, 6,993 (0.6%) do not self-identify and 105,762 (8.8%) remained with undeclared affiliation.
According to the 2011 census, throughout the whole municipality some 892,511 people (69.1%) are recorded as Eastern Orthodox
Christians, 10,256 (0.8%) as Protestant
, 6,767 (0.5%) as Muslim
, 5,572 (0.4%) as Roman Catholic
, 4,010 (0.3%) belonged to other faith and 372,475 (28.8%) declared themselves irreligious
or did not mention any faith. The data says that roughly a third of the total population have already earned a university degree. Of the population aged 15–64 – 265,248 people within the municipality (28.5%) are not economically active, the unemployed being another group of 55,553 people (6%), a large share of whom have completed higher education. The largest group are occupied in trading, followed by those in manufacturing industry
. Within the municipality, three-quarters, or 965,328 people are recorded as having access to television at home and 836,435 (64.8%) as having internet. Out of 464,865 homes – 432,847 have connection to the communal sanitary sewer
, while 2,732 do not have any. Of these 864 do not have any water supply
and 688 have other than communal. Over 99.6% of males and females aged over 9 are recorded as literate. The largest group of the population aged over 20 are recorded to live within marriage (46.3%), another 43.8% are recorded as single and another 9.9% as having other type of coexistence/partnership, whereas not married in total are a majority and among people aged up to 40 and over 70. The people with juridical status divorced or widowed
are either part of the factual singles or those having another type of partnership, each of the two constitutes by around 10% of the population aged over 20. Only over 1% of the juridically married do not de facto live within marriage. The families that consist of two people are 46.8%, another 34.2% of the families are made up by three people, whereas most of the households (36.5%) consist of only one person.
Sofia was declared the national capital in 1879. One year later, in 1880, it was the fifth-largest city in the country after Plovdiv
. Plovdiv remained the most populous Bulgarian town until 1892 when Sofia took the lead. The city is the hot spot of internal migration, the capital population is increasing and is around 17% of the national,
thus a small number of people with local roots remain today, they dominate the surrounding rural suburbs
and are called Shopi
. Shopi speak the Western Bulgarian dialects
Sofia is ranked as Beta- global city
by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network
It is the economic hub of Bulgaria and home to most major Bulgarian and international companies operating in the country, as well as the Bulgarian National Bank
and the Bulgarian Stock Exchange
. The city is ranked 62nd among financial centres worldwide.
In 2015, Sofia was ranked 30th out of 300 global cities in terms of combined growth in employment and real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, the highest one amongst cities in Southeast Europe.
The real GDP (PPP) per capita growth at the time was 2.5% and the employment went up by 3.4% to 962,400.
In 2015, Forbes
listed Sofia as one of the top 10 places in the world to launch a startup business, because of the low corporate tax (10%), the fast internet connection speeds available – one of the fastest in the world, and the presence of several investment funds, including Eleven Startup Accelerator, LAUNCHub and Neveq.
The city's GDP (PPS) per capita stood at €29,600 ($33,760) in 2015, one of the highest in Southeast Europe and well above other cities in the country.
The total nominal GDP in 2018 was 38.5 billion leva ($22.4 billion), or 33,437 leva ($19,454) per capita,
and average monthly wages in March 2020 were $1,071, the highest nationally.
Services dominate the economy, accounting for 88.6% of the gross value added
, followed by industry 11.3% and agriculture 0.1%.
Historically, after World War II and the era of industrialisation under socialism, the city and its surrounding areas expanded rapidly and became the most heavily industrialised region of the country, with numerous factories producing steel, pig iron, machinery, industrial equipment, electronics, trams, chemicals, textiles, food.
The influx of workers from other parts of the country became so intense that a restriction policy was imposed, and residing in the capital was only possible after obtaining Sofianite citizenship.
However, after the political changes in 1989, this kind of citizenship was removed.
The most dynamic sectors include Information technology
(IT) and manufacturing. Sofia is a regional IT hub, ranking second among the Top 10 fastest growing tech centers in Europe in terms of annual growth of active members.
The sector employs about 50,000 professionals, 30% of them involved in programming, and contributes for 14% of the city's exports.
The IT sector is highly diverse and includes both multinational corporations, local companies and start-ups. Multinationals with major research, development, innovation and engineering centers in Sofia include the second largest global IT center of Coca Cola
, Robert Bosch GmbH
, Financial Times
Several office and tech clusters have been established across the city, including Business Park Sofia
, Sofia Tech Park, Capital Fort
Manufacturing has registered a strong recovery since 2012, increasing the exports three-fold and the employment by 52% accounting for over 70,000 jobs.
Supported by the city's R&D expertise, Sofia is shifting to high value-added manufacturing including electrical equipment, precision mechanics, pharmaceuticals. There are 16 industrial and logistics parks in Sofia, some sprawling to towns in neighbouring Sofia Province
, such as Bozhurishte
and Elin Pelin
Manufacturing companies include Woodward, Inc.
, producing airframe and industrial turbomachinery systems, Festo
, producing microsensors, Visteon
, development and engineering of instrument clusters, LCD displays and domain controllers,
Melexis, producing micro-electronic semiconductor solutions in the automotive sector,
Sopharma, producing pharmaceuticals, the largest Lufthansa Technik
maintenance facilities outside Germany etc.
Transport and infrastructure
With its developing infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is a major hub for international railway and automobile transport. Three of the ten Pan-European Transport Corridors
cross the city: IV
All major types of transport (except water
) are represented in the city.
A Siemens Desiro
train of the Bulgarian State Railways at the Central Railway Station
The Central Railway Station
is the primary hub for domestic and international rail transport, carried out by Bulgarian State Railways
(BDZ), the national rail company headquartered in the city. It is one of the main stations along BDZ Line 1
, and a hub of Lines 2
. Line 1 provides a connection to Plovdiv
, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, while Line 2 is the longest national railway and connects Sofia and Varna
, the largest coastal city. Lines 5 and 13 are shorter and provide connections to Kulata
, respectively. Overall, Sofia has 186 km (116 miles) of railway lines.
is well-developed with bus
(2,380 km (1,479 mi)), tram
(308 km (191 mi))
(193 km (120 mi))
lines running in all areas of the city.
The Sofia Metro
became operational in 1998, and now has four lines and 47 stations.
As of 2012, the system has 39 km (24 mi) of track. Six new stations were opened in 2009, two more in April 2012, and eleven more in August 2012. In 2015 seven new stations were opened and the underground extended to Sofia Airport
on its Northern branch and to Business Park Sofia
on its Southern branch. In July 2016 the Vitosha Metro Station
was opened on the M2 main line. A third line was opened in August of 2020 and re-organisation of the previous lines lead to a 4th line being created.
This line will complete the proposed underground system of three lines with about 65 km (40 mi) of lines.
The master plan for the Sofia Metro includes three lines with a total of 63 stations.Marshrutkas
provide an efficient and popular means of transport
by being faster than public transport, but cheaper than taxis. There are around 13,000 taxi cabs
operating in the city.
Additionally, all-electric vehicles
are available through carsharing
, which is set to increase its fleet to 300 cars by mid-2019.
Cherni Vrah Boulevard
Private automobile ownership has grown rapidly in the 1990s; more than 1,000,000 cars were registered in Sofia after 2002. The city has the 4th-highest number of automobiles per capita in the European Union at 546.4 vehicles per 1,000 people.
The municipality was known for minor and cosmetic repairs and many streets are in a poor condition. This is noticeably changing in the past years. There are different boulevards and streets in the city with a higher amount of traffic than others. These include Tsarigradsko shose, Cherni Vrah, Bulgaria, Slivnitsa and Todor Aleksandrov boulevards, as well as the city's ring road.
Consequently, traffic and air pollution problems have become more severe and receive regular criticism in local media. The extension of the underground system is hoped to alleviate the city's immense traffic problems.
Education and science
Much of Bulgaria's educational capacity is concentrated in Sofia. There are 221 general, 11 special and seven arts or sports schools, 56 vocational gymnasiums and colleges, and four independent colleges.
The city also hosts 23 of Bulgaria's 51 higher education establishments and more than 105,000 university students.
The American College of Sofia
, a private secondary school with roots in a school founded by American missionaries in 1860, is among the oldest American educational institutions outside of the United States.
Higher education includes four of the five highest-ranking national universities – Sofia University
(SU), the Technical University of Sofia
, New Bulgarian University
and the Medical University of Sofia
Sofia University was founded in 1888.
More than 20,000 students
study in its 16 faculties.
A number of research and cultural departments operate within SU, including its own publishing house, botanical gardens
a space research centre, a quantum electronics
and a Confucius Institute
.Rakovski Defence and Staff College
, the National Academy of Arts
, the University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy
, the University of National and World Economy
and the University of Mining and Geology
are other major higher education establishments in the city.
Other institutions of national significance, such as the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
(BAS) and the SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library
are located in Sofia. BAS is the centrepiece of scientific research in Bulgaria, employing more than 4,500 scientists in various institutes. Its Institute of Nuclear Research and Nuclear Energy will operate the largest cyclotron
in the country.
All five of Bulgaria's supercomputers
and supercomputing clusters are located in Sofia as well. Three of those are operated by the BAS; one by Sofia Tech Park
and one by the Faculty of Physics at Sofia University.
Twin towns – sister cities
- Algiers, Algeria
- Amman, Jordan
- Ankara, Turkey
- Bucharest, Romania
- Doha, Qatar
- Kyiv, Ukraine
- Moscow, Russia
- Pittsburgh, United States
- Salalah, Oman
- Shanghai, China
- Sidon, Lebanon
- Tel Aviv, Israel
In addition Sofia cooperates with:
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