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This article is about the capital of Bulgaria. For other uses, see Sofia (disambiguation).
София, Sofiya
Tsarigradsko shose, National Assembly Square (Tsar Liberator Monument, Parliament and Alexander Nevsky), Sofia University, National Palace of Culture, Mall of Sofia, Ivan Vazov National Theatre, Saint Sofia Church, Eagle's Bridge
Flag of Sofia
Coat of arms of Sofia
Coat of arms
Motto: Grows, but does not age[1]
Расте, но не старее  (Bulgarian)
Raste, no ne staree (transliteration)
Sofia is located in Bulgaria
Position of Sofia in Bulgaria
Coordinates: 42°42′N 23°20′E / 42.700°N 23.333°E / 42.700; 23.333Coordinates: 42°42′N 23°20′E / 42.700°N 23.333°E / 42.700; 23.333
Country  Bulgaria
Province Sofia City
Village established 5th-6th millennium BC[2][3]
Town established (by Thracians) 13th[4]-8th century BC[5][6]
 • Mayor of Sofia Yordanka Fandakova (GERB)
 • City 492 km2 (190 sq mi)
 • Municipality/Province 1,344 km2 (519 sq mi)
Elevation 500–800 m (1,707–2,888 ft)
Population (31 December 2014)[7]
 • City 1,228,282
 • Density 2,496/km2 (6,460/sq mi)
 • Municipality/Province 1,316,557
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code 1000
Area code(s) (+359) 02

Sofia (/ˈsfiə/) (Bulgarian: София, Sofiya,[8][9]pronounced [ˈsɔfijɐ]) is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. Sofia is the 14th largest city in the European Union with population of more than 1.2 million people. The city is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country and is roughly the midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, whereas the Aegean Sea is the closest to it.[10] Located on the Balkan Peninsula, the city is the second-largest there behind Istanbul.[11]

Many of the major universities, cultural institutions and commercial companies of Bulgaria are concentrated in Sofia.[12] The city is the hot spot of internal migration and the capital population is around 17% of the national,[13] thus a small number of people with local roots remain today, they dominate the surrounding rural suburbs and are called Shopi, who are descendants of the ancient Serdi,[14] the Thracian tribe which established the city in the 8th century BCE[15] and settled the area before 1000 BC.[16] In Slatina, a Neolithic village, dating to the 5-6th millennium BC, was discovered, making Sofia one of the oldest European cities.[3][17]

Sofia is Europe's most affordable capital to visit.[18]


The feast day of Saint Sofia on September 17 is the official public holiday of the city.[19]
The seal of the City Council of Sredets in 1878

For the longest period, the city possessed a Thracian name, derived from the tribe Serdi, who today are most often defined as a Thracian tribe,[8][20] whereas it is also speculated that the Serdi were Celts.[21] The Serdi and the name of emperor Marcus Ulpius Traianus (53 – 117 AD), prompted the Romans to give the city the combinative name of Ulpia Serdica;[22][23] 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). The name Ulpius may be derived from an Umbrian cognate of the Latin word lupus, meaning "wolf".[24] During the Romans civitas Serdenisium was proclaimed the "brightest city of the Serdi". The city has been major throughout the past ever since Antiquity, when Roman emperor Constantine the Great was often referring to it as New Rome (My little Rome) and it nearly became a capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.[25]

Other of Sofia's names, Serdonpolis and Triaditsa (Σερδών πόλις, "City of the Serdi"; Τριάδιτζα, "Trinity"), were mentioned by Byzantine Greek sources or coins. The Slavic name Sredets (СРѢДЄЦЪ), which is related to "middle" (среда, "sreda") and to the city's original name, first appeared on paper in an 11th-century text. The city was called Atralissa by the Arab traveler Idrisi and Strelisa, Stralitsa or Stralitsion by the Crusaders.[26]

The earliest works where the current name Sofia is registered are the duplicate of the Gospel of Serdica, in a dialog 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"). The name is most likely derived from the ancient Saint Sofia Church. The city became somehow popular to the Ottomans by the name Sofya, but Sredets remained in use among the local Bulgarians till the 20th century. Sredets was made official in 1878 by the Bulgarian city council, but shortly after, due to an insistence by the temporary Russian government, the name Sofia was restored. In 1879 there was a serious dispute about what the name of the new Bulgarian capital should be, when the citizens created a committee of famous people, insisting for the restoration of the Slavic name again. Finally, the position of the Russians outweighed and no change was going to occur.

The city's name is pronounced by Bulgarians with a stress on the 'o', in contrast with the tendency of foreigners to place the stress on 'i'. The female given name "Sofia" is pronounced by Bulgarians with a stress on the 'i'.


Vitosha Mountain seen from the central part of the city

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 mountains on all sides. The valley has an average altitude of 550 metres (1,800 ft). Three mountain passes lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, connecting the Adriatic Sea and Central Europe with the Black and Aegean Seas. A number of low rivers cross the city, including the Vladayska and the Perlovska. The Iskar River in its upper course flows near eastern Sofia. The city is known for its 49 mineral and thermal springs. Artificial and dam lakes were built in the twentieth century.

It is 150 kilometres (93 mi) northwest of Plovdiv,[27] Bulgaria's second largest city, 385 kilometres (239 mi) west of Burgas[27] and 450 kilometres (280 mi) west of Varna,[27] Bulgaria's major port-cities on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Sofia is located 310 kilometres (190 mi) southwest of Ruse, the two biggest cities and ports on Danube river. The city is less than 200 kilometres (120 mi) from the borders with four countries: 55 kilometres (34 mi) from Kalotina on the Serbian border, 113 kilometres (70 mi) from Gyueshevo on the frontier with the Republic of Macedonia and 183 kilometres (114 mi) from the Greek border at Kulata, 183 kilometres (114 mi) from the Romanian border through ferryboat in Oryahovo, but 205 kilometres (127 mi) from the Romanian border through the New Europe Bridge.

Sofia has an area of 492 km2, while Sofia City Province has an area of 1344 km2.[28]


Summer thunderstorm over Sofia

Sofia has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfb) with an average annual temperature of 10.6 °C (51.1 °F).

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 −28.3 °C (−19 °F) (January 24, 1942).[29] Fog is not unusual, especially in the beginning of the season. On average, Sofia receives a total snowfall of 99 cm (39 in) and 60 days with snow cover.[30][31] The snowiest recorded winter was 1939/1940 with a total snowfall of 198 cm (78 in).[32] The record snow depth is 57 cm (22.4 in) (December 25, 2001).[33]

Summers are 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) (July 5, 2000 and July 24, 2007).[34][35] The hottest recorded summer was in 2012 with a daily average July temperature of 24.8 °C (76.6 °F).[36]

Springs and autumns in Sofia are relatively short with variable and dynamic weather.

The city receives an average precipitation of 581.8 mm (22.91 in) a year, reaching its peak in late spring and early summer when thunderstorms are not uncommon. The wettest recorded year was 2014 with a total precipitation of 1,066.6 mm (41.99 in).[37]

Climate data for Sofia (NIMH−BAS) 1981−2010 normals, extremes 1941−present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 19
Average high °C (°F) 3.4
Daily mean °C (°F) −0.5
Average low °C (°F) −3.9
Record low °C (°F) −28.3
Average precipitation mm (inches) 33.2
Average snowfall cm (inches) 23.6
Avg. precipitation days 9 10 10 12 13 12 10 9 7 11 10 12 125
Avg. snowy days 7.2 6.3 5.8 1.4 0 0 0 0 0 0.8 3 7.2 31.7
Mean monthly sunshine hours 87.8 114.3 159.6 182.2 229.6 257.7 302.1 288.3 220.1 163.6 105.5 66.1 2,177
Source #1: [38]
Source #2: [39] (precip. days);[29][40][41][42][43] (extremes)
Climate data for Sofia (2002-2014)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 4.3
Daily mean °C (°F) 0.4
Average low °C (°F) −3.6
Mean monthly sunshine hours 88 102 122 185 269 305 331 326 233 164 122 78 2,324


Main article: History of Sofia

Prehistory and Antiquity[edit]

A restored city plan of Roman Serdica under Marcus Aurelius (161 – 180)

Sofia has a history of nearly 7000 years and it is the second oldest city in Europe according to the city's official website, though the meaning of the claim is unclear as in the world there were hardly any cities at the time. In the context, certainly the neolithic village in the central part of the city (Slatina), dating to the 5th-6th millennium BC, is described.[3][45]

Sofia was originally a Thracian settlement, populated by the tribe Serdi throughout the Bronze Age and the Antiquity. In the 500s BC, the area became part of a Thracian tribal union, called the Odrysian kingdom, when another Thracian tribe appeared in the city, the Odrysses. For a short period during the 4th century BC, the Thracian rule was interrupted by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.

Around BC 29, Serdica was conquered by the Romans, gradually becoming the most important Roman city of the region.[23][46] It became a municipium, or the administrative centre of Roman Moesia, 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, the City Council (Boulé), a large forum, a big circus (theatre), etc. were built. The main midway city on the Roman road Via Militaris, connecting Rome and Byzantium, was Serdica. The 1st Legion of Serdica served at the Roman conquest of Britain and particularly in London.

In the 3rd century, it became the capital of Dacia Aureliana,[47] 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. The city subsequently expanded for a century and a half, it became a significant political and economical centre, more so — it became one of the first Roman cities where Christianity was recognized as an official religion (under Galerius). For Constantine the Great it was 'Sardica mea Roma est' (Serdica is my Rome). In 343 AD, the Council of Sardica was held in the city, in a church located where the current 6th century Church of Saint Sophia was later built.

The city was destroyed in the 447 invasion of the Huns.[48] 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.

Ottoman troops advancing against Austrian forces near Sofia, 1788

Middle Ages, Renaissance and early modern history[edit]

Sofia first became part of the First Bulgarian Empire during the reign of Khan Krum in 809, after a long siege.[49] Afterwards, it grew into an important fortress and administrative centre. After the fall of North-eastern Bulgaria under John I Tzimiskes' armies in 971, the Bulgarian Patriarch Damyan chose Sofia for his seat in the next year. After a number of unsuccessful sieges, the city fell to the Byzantine Empire in 1018, but once again was incorporated into the restored Bulgarian Empire at the time of Tsar Ivan Asen I.

From the 12th to the 14th century, Sofia was a thriving centre of trade and crafts. In 1382, Sofia was seized by the Ottoman Empire in the course of the Bulgarian-Ottoman Wars after a long siege. Around 1393 it became the seat of newly established Sanjak of Sofia.[50]

Sofia in mid-19th century

After the failed crusade of Władysław III of Poland in 1443 towards Sofia, the city's Christian elite was annihilated and the city became the capital of the Ottoman province (beylerbeylik) of Rumelia for more than four centuries, which encouraged many Turks to settle there. In the 16th century, Sofia's urban layout and appearance began to exhibit a clear Ottoman style, with many mosques, fountains and hamams (bathhouses). During that time the town had a population of around 7,000.

The town was seized for several weeks by Bulgarian hajduks in 1599. In 1610 the Vatican established the See of Sofia for Catholics of Rumelia, which existed until 1715 when most Catholics had emigrated.[51] In the 16th century there were 126 Jewish households, and there has been a synagogue in Sofia since 967. The town was the center of Sofya Eyalet (1826–1864).

Modern and contemporary history[edit]

Sofia was taken by Russian forces on January 4, 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. It was proposed as a capital by Marin Drinov and was accepted as such on 3 April 1879. By the time of its liberation the population of the city was 11,649.[52] For a few decades after the liberation the city experienced large population growth mainly from other regions of the country. In 1925 a terrorist act failed an attempted assassination of the king in 1925 but resulted in the destruction of a church and many victims.

The bombing in 1944

During World War II, Sofia was bombed by Allied aircraft in late 1943 and early 1944. As a consequence of the invasion of the Soviet Red Army, Bulgaria's government, which was allied with Germany, was overthrown.

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 the country. Whole new residential areas were built in the outskirts of the city, like Druzhba, Mladost and Lyulin. The Georgi Dimitrov Mausoleum, where a body had been preserved in a similar way to the Lenin mausoleum, was detonated in 1999.


The outlook of Sofia combines a wide range of architectural styles, some of which are hardly compatible. These vary from Christian Roman architecture and medieval Bulgar fortresses to Neoclassicism and prefabricated Socialist-era apartment blocks (panelki). 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.

After the Liberation War, knyaz Alexander Battenberg invited architects from Austria–Hungary to shape the new capital's architectural appearance.[53] Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grünanger, Adolf Václav Kolář, Viktor Rumpelmayer and others, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly reestablished Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country's elite.[53] Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed. The architecture of Sofia's centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, with the Vienna Secession also later playing an important part, but it is mostly typically Central European.

After the Second World War and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural line 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. They still make Sofia's housing very high compared to post-Western block countries,

After the abolition of Communism in 1989, Sofia has 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. Capital Fort Business Center will be the first skyscraper in Bulgaria with its 36 floors at 126 metres in length. However, the end of the old administration and centrally planned system also paved the way for chaotic and unrestrained construction, which continues to the present day.

Architectural styles in Sofia
The St. George Rotunda; some remains of Serdica can be seen in the foreground 
Housing in Mladost, Brutalist architecture at cloudy weather 
Interior of the ancient Saint Sofia Church 
The Largo at night, an example of Stalinist architecture 
Business Park Sofia at night 
Wide view, several landmarks—including the Largo and Alexander Nevsky can be seen.

Green areas[edit]

Borisova gradina, one of Sofia's main parks.

The city has an extensive green belt. Some of the neighbourhoods constructed after 2000 which are densely built-up often lack green spaces. There are four principal parks – Borisova gradina in the city centre and the Southern, Western and Northern parks. Several smaller parks, among which the City Garden and the Doctors' Garden, are located in central Sofia. The Vitosha Nature Park (the oldest national park in the Balkans)[54] includes most of Vitosha mountain and covers an area of 266 square kilometres (103 sq mi),[55] 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 favorable skiing conditions during the winter when multiple ski slopes of various difficulty are made available. Access to the ski slopes is regulated, they are maintained daily and health and safety personnel is available to assist in case of injury. Skiing passes typically allow unlimited access to the ski slopes, cable cars and other transport facilities. Skiing equipment can be rented and skiing lessons are available.

Despite the green areas, Sofia is the capital with most polluted air among the EU capitals.[56]


Main article: Sofia districts

Politically, administratively and economically, Bulgaria is a highly centralized state, making Sofia a national administrative unit of its own right. It should not to be confused with Sofia Province, which surrounds but does not include the city itself. Besides the city proper, the 24 districts of Sofia encompass three other towns and 34 villages.[57] Each of them has its own district mayor who is elected in a popular election.[57] The head of the Sofia Municipality is its mayor. The assembly members are chosen every four years. The current mayor of Sofia is Yordanka Fandakova.

The following are some of the most culturally and economically significant districts:

  • Oborishte (Bulgarian: Оборище) is in the very center of the city, where most landmarks and administrative edifices are located. It is known for its predominantly neo-Renaissance and Viennese architecture, extensive green belts and yellow cobblestones.
  • Sredets (Bulgarian: Средец) neighbours Oborishte and shares some of its specific architecture. It is the site of Borisova gradina (Gardens of Boris) and the Vasil Levski National Stadium.
  • Vazrazhdane (Bulgarian: Възраждане) is an economically active district where many trade centres and banks, along with some light industry manufacturing companies, are located. One of its main boulevards is Marie Louise Boulevard, the site of the Central Sofia Market Hall, TZUM and St Nedelya Church.
  • Mladost (Bulgarian: Младост) is one of the most modern and fast developing areas in Sofia. It's also one of the largest districts in terms of population (second only to Lyulin) with its 110,000 inhabitants. It is generally poor in landmarks and administrative institutions, but it concentrates the headquarters of numerous domestic and international companies, large-scale department stores, official vehicle dealerships, and Business Park Sofia at its southern end. The architecture is a combination of Socialist-era apartment blocks, industrial enterprises and new buildings, most of which were constructed after 2004. Mladost has excellent transport connections to all remaining districts of Sofia.
  • Vitosha (Bulgarian: Витоша) is located on the foot of Vitosha Mountain. It holds a key location as it is the site where the Sofia ring road and Bulgaria Boulevard cross. Luxury estates and villa complexes dominate in Vitosha district. It has good connections to both the city centre and the nearby mountain resorts. Boyana is the site of the presidential residence, the Nu Boyana Film studios, the National Historical Museum and the Boyana Church.


Arts and entertainment[edit]

Ivan Vazov National Theatre

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. The oldest such institution is the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, which performs mainly classical plays and is situated in the very centre of the city. A large number of smaller theatres, such as the Sfumato Theatrical Workshop, show both classical and modern plays.

The National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria is a combined opera and ballet collective, established in 1891. However, it did not begin performances on a regular basis until 1909. Some of Bulgaria's most famous operatic singers, such as Nicolai Ghiaurov and Ghena Dimitrova, have made their first appearances on the stage of the National Opera and Ballet. Bulgaria Hall and Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture regularly hold classical concerts, performed both by foreign orchestras and the Sofia Philharmonic. The city has played host to many world-famous musical acts including AC/DC, Sting, Elton John, Madonna, George Michael, Metallica, Tiesto, Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Rammstein, Rihanna, Roxette and Lady Gaga.

Bulgaria's largest art museums are located in the central areas of the city. The National Art Gallery holds a collection of works mostly by Bulgarian authors, while the National Gallery for Foreign Art displays exclusively foreign art, mostly from India, Africa, China and Europe. Its collections encompass diverse cultural items such as Ashanti Empire sculptures, Buddhist art, Dutch Golden Age painting, works by Albrecht Dürer, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Auguste Rodin, among others. The crypt of the Alexander Nevsky cathedral holds a collection of Eastern Orthodox icons from the 9th to the 19th century. Other museums are the National Historical Museum with a collection of more than 600,000 items; the National Polytechnical Museum with more than 1,000 technological items on display; the National Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

Cinema is the most popular form of entertainment. In recent years, cinematic venues have been concentrating in trade centres and malls, and independent halls have been closed. Mall of Sofia holds one of the largest IMAX cinemas in Europe. Most films are American productions, although European and domestic films are increasingly shown. Odeon (not part of the Odeon Cinemas chain) shows exclusively European and independent American films, as well as 20th century classics. Bulgaria's once thriving film industry, concentrated in the Boyana Film studios, has suffered a period of decay after 1990. A relative revival of the industry began after 2001. After the acquisition of Boyana Film by Nu Image, several moderately successful productions have been shot in and around Sofia, such as The Contract, The Black Dahlia, Hitman and Conan the Barbarian. The Nu Boyana Film studios have also hosted some of the scenes for The Expendables 2.

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, the French Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, British Council, Instituto Cervantes, and the Open Society Institute, which regularly organise temporary expositions of visual, sound and literary works by artists from their respective countries.

Some of the biggest telecommunications companies, TV and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and web portals are based in Sofia, including the Bulgarian National Television, bTV and Nova TV. Top-circulation newspapers include 24 Chasa and Trud.


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 (34,100 sq ft) and can hold 10,000 people. The city is also known for the Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library houses the largest national collection of books and documents (1,714,211 books and some 6 million other documents)[58] and is Bulgaria's oldest cultural institute.

Sofia holds Bulgaria's largest museum collections, which attract tourists and students for practical studies. The National Historical Museum in Boyana district 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.[59] Smaller collections of items related mostly to the history of Sofia are 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 the Earth and Man — display minerals, animal species (alive and taxidermic) and rare materials. The Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum of Military History are other places of interest, holding large collections of Bulgarian folk costumes and armaments, respectively.

Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka, has numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores. Sofia's geographic location, in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city's specific atmosphere.


A moment from the Eternal derby of Bulgarian football - CSKA (red) against Levski (blue) in February 2011

A large number of sports clubs are based in the city. During the Communist era most sports clubs concentrated on all-round sporting development, therefore CSKA, Levski, Lokomotiv and Slavia are dominant not only in football, but in many other team sports as well. Basketball and volleyball also have strong traditions in Sofia. A notable local basketball team is twice European Champions Cup finalist Lukoil Akademik. The Bulgarian Volleyball Federation is the world's second-oldest, and it was an exhibition tournament organised by the BVF in Sofia that convinced the International Olympic Committee to include volleyball as an olympic sport in 1957.[60] Tennis is increasingly popular in the city. Currently there are some ten[61] tennis court complexes within the city including the one founded by former WTA top-ten athlete Magdalena Maleeva.[62]

Sofia applied to host the Winter Olympic Games in 1992 and in 1994, coming 2nd and 3rd respectively. The city was also an applicant for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but was not selected as candidate. In addition, Sofia hosted Eurobasket 1957 and the 1961 and 1977 Summer Universiades, as well as the 1983 and 1989 winter editions. In 2012, it hosted the FIVB World League finals.

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 the 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 July 30, 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.[63] A velodrome with 5,000 seats in the city's central park is currently undergoing renovation.[64] 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.[65] 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 set to bid for the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics but didn't submit a bid citing they filled the requirements set by the IOC. The Bulgarian Olympic Committee have expressed interest in potentially bidding for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics[66]


Year 1887 1910 1934 1946 1956 1965 1975 1985 1992 2001 2005 2009 2011 2013
Population 30,500 102,800 287,100 435,000 639,900 802,400 965,700 1,121,800 1,114,900 1,091,700 1,202,700
Highest number 1,228,200 in 2015
Sources: National Statistical Institute, „“, „“, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Population growth over the years
(The number is shown in thousands)

The construction boom in Sofia lasted until 2009 and saw the construction of many new apartment buildings, such as this one in Borovo.

According to 2015 data, the city has a population of 1,228,282 and the whole Sofia Capital Municipality of 1,316,557.[7]

The ratio of women per 1,000 men was 1,102. The birth rate per 1000 people was 12.3 per mille and steadily increasing in the last 5 years, the death rate reaching 12.1 per mille and decreasing. The natural growth rate during 2009 was 0.2 per mille, 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. 4.8 people of every one thousand were wedded in 2009 (only heterosexual marriage is possible in Bulgaria) and 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. According to the census, 1,056,738 people (87.9%) are recorded as ethnic Bulgarians, 17,550 (1.5%) as Romani (Gypsy), 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.[67] This statistic should not necessarily be taken at face value due to conflicting data – such as for the predominanly Roma neighbourhood of Fakulteta, which alone may have a population of 45,000.[68]

The unemployment is lower than in other parts of the country — 2.45% of the active population in 1999 and declining, compared to 7.25% for the whole of Bulgaria as of 1 July 2007.[69] The large share of unemployed people with higher education, 27% as compared to 7% for the whole country, is a characteristic feature of the capital.

Sofia was declared the national capital in 1879. One year later, in 1880, it was the fifth-largest city in the country after Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse and Shumen. Plovdiv remained the most populous Bulgarian town until 1892 when Sofia took the lead.


Edifice of the Bulgarian National Bank

Sofia is the economic heart 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 and its surrounding Yugozapaden NUTS II planning region have a PPS GDP of €18,400,[70] which makes it the most developed region in the country. In 2008, the average per capita annual income was 4,572 leva ($3,479).[71] For the same year, the strongest sectors of the city's economy in terms of annual production were manufacturing ($5.5 bln.), metallurgy ($1.84 bln.), electricity, gas and water supply ($1.6 bln.) and food and beverages ($778 mln.).[72] Economic output in 2011 amounted to 15.9 billion leva, or $11.04 billion.[73]

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.[74] 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.[74] However, after the political changes in 1989, this kind of citizenship was removed.

Increasingly, Sofia is becoming an outsourcing destination for multinational companies, among them IBM, Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Siemens, Software AG.[75] Bulgaria Air, PPD, the national airline of Bulgaria, has its head office on the grounds of Sofia Airport.[76] From 2007 to 2011, the city attracted a cumulative total of $11,6 billion in foreign direct investment.[73]

Up until 2007 Sofia experienced rapid economic growth. In 2008, apartment prices increased dramatically, with a growth rate of 30%.[77] In 2009, prices fell by 26%.[78]

In January 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 in 2013-2014. This was the highest rank amongst cities in Southeast Europe.[79] The real GDP (PPP) per capita growth was 2.5% to $33,105 (28,456 euro) and the employment went up by 3.4% to 962,400 in 2013-2014.[80]

Transport and infrastructure[edit]

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, VIII and X.[81] All major types of transport (except water) are represented in the city. The Central Railway Station is the primary hub for domestic and international rail transport. Sofia has 186 kilometres of railway lines.[73] Sofia Airport handled 3,815,158 passengers in 2014. [82]

Public transport is well-developed with bus (2,380 km (1,479 mi) network),[83] tram (308 km (191 mi)) network,[84] and trolleybus (193 km (120 mi) network),[85] lines running in all areas of the city,[86] [87] although some of the vehicles are in a poor condition. The Sofia Metro became operational in 1998, and now has two lines and 27 stations.[88] As of 2012, the system has 31 km (19 mi) of track. Six new stations were opened in 2009, two more in April 2012, and eleven more in August 2012. Construction works on the extension of the first line are underway and it is expected to reach the airport by 2014. A third line is currently in the late stages of planning and it is expected that its construction starts in 2014. This line will complete the proposed subway system of three lines with about 65 km (40 mi) of lines. [89] The master plan for the Sofia Metro includes three lines with a total of 63 stations.[90] In recent years the marshrutka, a private passenger van, began serving fixed routes and proved an efficient and popular means of transport by being faster than public transport but cheaper than taxis. As of 2005 these vans numbered 368 and serviced 48 lines around the city and suburbs.[81] There are around 13,000 taxi cabs operating in the city. [91] Low fares in comparison with other European countries, make taxis affordable and popular among a big part of the city population.

Tsarigradsko shose, one of the busiest boulevards in Sofia

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.[92] 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, where long chains of cars are formed at peak hours and traffic jams occur regularly.[93] 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.

Sofia has an extensive district heating system based around four combined heat and power (CHP) plants and boiler stations. Virtually the entire city (900,000 households and 5,900 companies) is centrally heated, using residual heat from electricity generation (3,000 MW) and gas- and oil-fired heating furnaces; total heat capacity is 4,640 MW. The heat distribution piping network is 900 km (559 mi) long and comprises 14,000 substations and 10,000 heated buildings.


One of the lecturing halls in the Rectorate of Sofia University

Sofia concentrates a significant portion of the national higher education capacity, including 109,000 university and college students[94] and 22 of Bulgaria's 51 higher education establishments.[95] These include four of the five highest-ranking national universities - Sofia University (SU), University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, the Technical University of Sofia, University of National and World Economy and the University of Mining and Geology.[96] Sofia University was founded in 1888.[97] More than 20,000 students[98] study in its 16 faculties.[99] A number of research and cultural departments operate within SU, including its own publishing house, botanical gardens,[100] a space research centre, a quantum electronics department,[101] and a Confucius Institute[102] Rakovski Defence and Staff College, the National Academy of Arts, and Sofia Medical University are other major higher education establishments in the city.[96]

Secondary education institutions are numerous and include vocational and language schools. The "elite" secondary language schools provide education in a selected foreign language. These include the First English Language School, Sofia High School of Mathematics, 91st German Language School, 164th Spanish Language School, and 9th French Language School. Some of them provide a language certificate upon graduation, while the 9th French Language School has exchange programs with a number of lycées in France and Switzerland, such as the Parisian Collège-lycée Jacques-Decour. The American College of Sofia, a private secondary school which developed from a school founded by American missionaries in 1860, is among the oldest American educational institutions outside of the US.[103]

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, including the Bulgarian Space Agency.

Notable residents[edit]

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO
Nina Dobrev, actress
Jerry Jordanoff, American inventor, engineer, and aviator

Notable people born in Sofia:

Related cities[edit]

Twin towns — Sister cities[edit]

Sofia is twinned with:

Similarly to Bucharest, the estimated 9,200 stray dogs which Sofia hosts are the number one problem of the city, sometimes prompting fatal consequences.[111]

Cooperation agreements[edit]

In addition Sofia has cooperation agreements with:


Serdica Peak on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named after Serdica.


Satellite image of Sofia 
Aerial view 
Sofia at night 
Sunset behind Vitosha 
Red moon 
Lightning storms 
Old tram 
A faculty of Sofia University 
Artifacts from Serdica 
The Ancient City of Serdica 
Remains from the 7000 years old Neolithic settlement in Slatina 

See also[edit]


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Further reading[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
  • Sofia in Figures 2009, annual report of the National Statistical Institute

In Bulgarian[edit]

External links[edit]