History of Sofia

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For the ecclesiastical history, see Archbishopric of Sardica.

The history of Sofia, Bulgaria's capital and largest city, spans thousands of years from Antiquity to modern times, during which the city has been a commercial, industrial, cultural and economic centre in its region and the Balkans.

Antiquity[edit]

The 6th century Church of St Sofia which gave the city its name

Sofia was originally a Thracian settlement called Serdica or Sardica, possibly named after the Celtic[1] tribe Serdi that had populated it. For a short period during the 4th century B.C., the city was possessed by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.

Around 29 B.C., Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica.[2] It became a municipium, or centre of an administrative region, during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117). The city expanded, as turrets, protective walls, public baths, administrative and cult buildings, a civic basilica and a large amphitheatre called Bouleutherion, were built. When Emperor Diocletian divided the province of Dacia into Dacia Ripensis (on the banks of the Danube) and Dacia Mediterranea, Serdica became the capital of Dacia Mediterranea. The city subsequently expanded for a century and a half, which caused Constantine the Great to call it "my Rome". In 343 A.D., the Council of Sardica was held in the city, in a church located where the current 6th century Church of Saint Sofia was later built.

Serdica was of moderate size, but magnificent as an urban concept of planning and architecture, with abundant amusements and an active social life. It flourished during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, when it was surrounded with great fortress walls whose remnants can still be seen today.

The city was destroyed by the Huns in 447, but was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and renamed Triaditsa. Although also often destroyed by the Slavs, the town remained under Byzantine dominion until 809.

Middle Ages[edit]

Sofia first became part of the First Bulgarian Empire during the reign of Khan Krum in 809. Afterwards, it was known by the Bulgarian name Sredets and grew into an important fortress and administrative centre.

After a number of unsuccessful sieges, the city fell again to the Byzantine Empire in 1018. In 1128, Sredets suffered a Magyar raid as part of the Byzantine Empire, but in 1191 was once again incorporated into the restored Bulgarian Empire at the time of Tsar Ivan Asen I after the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion.

From the 12th to the 14th century, Sofia was a thriving centre of trade and crafts. It was renamed Sofia (after Saint Sophia the Martyr) in 1376 after the Church of St Sophia. However, it was called both "Sofia" and "Sredets" until the 16th century, when the new name gradually replaced the old one.

During the whole of the Middle Ages, Sofia remained known for its goldsmithing, particularly aided by the wealth of mineral resources in the neighbouring mountains. This is evidenced by the number of gold treasures excavated from the period and even from Antiquity.

Ottoman rule[edit]

A Bulgarian Cyrillic document from the early Ottoman rule of the city

Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Murad I in 1382 and saw the 1443 crusade of John Hunyadi and Władysław III of Varna in a desperate effort to drive out the Ottomans, for the participation of which many citizens of Sofia were persecuted, particularly those from the elite classes. Muslims first appeared in the still predominantly Bulgarian town during the time, as Sofia rose to become in 1444 the capital of Rumelian beylerbeylik, spanning most of the Ottoman possessions in Europe, remaining the centre of the region until the 18th century.

Many Ottoman buildings emerged during the period, of which few are preserved until today, including only a single mosque, Banya Bashi. The tax registers of the 16th century witness a significant rise in the Muslim population at the expense of Bulgarians, with 915 Muslim and 317 Christian households in 1524–1525, 1325 Muslim, 173 Christian and 88 Jewish in 1544–1545, 892 Muslim, 386 Christian, 126 Jewish and 49 Romani in 1570–1571, as well as 1017 Muslim, 257 Christian, 127 Jewish and 38 Roma households in 1573. The Ottoman rule saw a major demographic growth, as the city grew from a total population of 6,000 (1620s) through 55,000 (middle 17th century) to 70-80,000 (18th century data from foreign travellers, albeit possibly exaggerated).

During the 16th century, Sofia was a thriving trade centre inhabited by Bulgarians, Romaniote, Ashkenazi, and Sephardic Jews,[3] Armenians, Greeks and Ragusan merchants. In the 17th century, the city's population included even Albanians and Persians.[4] At the end of the Ottoman occupation, the city had a population of 20,501 of whom 56% Bulgarian, 30% Jewish, 7% Turkish and 6% Roma.

Destruction in Sofia in 1944 after the bombing as photographed by Tsanko Lavrenov

In 1610 the Vatican established the Bishopric of Sofia for Ottoman subjects belonging to the Catholic millet in Rumelia, which existed until 1715 when most Catholics had emigrated to Habsburg or Tsarist territories.

Liberated Bulgaria[edit]

Sofia was liberated by Russian forces in 1878, during the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78, and became the capital of the autonomous Principality of Bulgaria in 1879, which became the Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1908.

Most mosques in Sofia perished 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.[5]

In 1925, the gravest act of terrorism in Bulgarian history, the St Nedelya Church assault, was carried out by the Bulgarian Communist Party, claiming the lives of 150 and injuring other 500.

During World War II, Sofia was bombed by Allied aircraft in late 1943 and early 1944, as well as later occupied by the Soviet Union. Bulgaria's regime which allied the country with Nazi Germany was overthrown and Sofia became capital of the Communist-ruled People's Republic of Bulgaria (1946–1989).

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 3, Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and Other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.C. by John Boardman, I. E. S. Edwards, E. Sollberger, and N. G. L. Hammond ,ISBN 0-521-22717-8,1992,page 600: "In the place of the vanished Treres and Tilataei we find the Serdi for whom there is no evidence before the first century bc.It has for long being supposed on convincing linguistic and archeological grounds that this tribe was of Celtic origin"
  2. ^ Smith, Dictionary: "Se'rdica"
  3. ^ "The Virtual Jewish History Tour Bulgaria". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 
  4. ^ Гюзелев, Боян (2004). Албанци в Източните Балкани (in Bulgarian). София: Международен център за изследване на малцинствата и културните взаимодействия. pp. 206–207. ISBN 954-8872-45-5. 
  5. ^ Crampton, A Concise History of Bulgaria, p. 114.

Sources and references[edit]

  • Gigova, Irina. "The City and the Nation: Sofia’s Trajectory from Glory to Rubble in WWII," Journal of Urban History, March 2011, Vol. 37 Issue 2, pp 155-175; the 110 footnotes provide a guide to the literature on the city
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.  Sardica
  • "Sofia — 129 Years Capital" (in Bulgarian). Municipal website of Sofia. Retrieved 2006-04-05. 

External links[edit]