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The National Palace of Culture

Sofia’s history
Sofia’s first inhabitants were the Serdi, a Thracian tribe who settled here some 3000 years ago. Their Roman conquerors named it Serdica, a walled city that reached its zenith under Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Serdica owed its importance to the position it occupied on the diagonis, the Roman road which linked Constantinople with modern Belgrade on the Danube, providing the Balkans with its main commercial and strategic artery. However, the empire’s foes also used the road as a quick route to the riches of Constantinople, and Serdica was frequently under attack – most notably from the Huns, who sacked the city in the fifth century. Once rebuilt by the emperor Justinian, Serdica became one of the Byzantine Empire’s most important strong-points in the Balkans.

Migrating Slavs began to filter into the city in the seventh century, becoming the dominant force in the region after Serdica’s capture by the Bulgar Khan Krum in 809. The city continued to flourish under the Bulgarians, although few medieval cultural monuments remain, save for the thirteenth – century Boyana church. Re-named Sredets by the Slavs /and subsequently Traditsa by the Byzantines/, the city became known as Sofia sometime in the fourteenth century, most probably taking its name from the ancient Church of Sveta Sofia /Holy Wisdom/ which still stands in the city centre. Five centuries of Ottoman rule began with the city’s capture in 1382, during which time Sofia thrived as a market centre, though little material evidence of the Ottoman period remains save for a couple of mosques.

Economic decline set in during the nineteenth century, hastened by earthquakes in 1852. Sofia was a minor provincial centre at the time of the Liberation in 1878, when defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russian forces paved the way for the foundation of an independent Bulgarian state. Sofia was chosen to become the new capital of the country in preference to more prestigious centers /such as Tarnovo in central Bulgaria/ because of its geographical location: situated on a wide plain fringed by mountains, Sofia combined defensibility with the potential for future growth. It was also thought that it would occupy a central position in any Bulgarian state which included /as was then hoped/ Macedonia. The Bulgarians were keen to stamp their identity of the city right at the outset. Mosques were demolished or turned to other uses, and 6000 of the city’s Turks chose to emigrate. Sofia underwent rapid development after 1878, although progress sometimes sat uneasily beside backwardness and poverty. The Czech historian and educational Konstantin Jirecek – one of many foreign experts brought in to help run the new state – dubbed Sofia boklukopolis / “trashville"/ in recognition of its chaotic post-Liberation appearance. However foreign observers were on the whole impressed by the way in which the Bulgarians speedily improvised a capital city out of nothing. “I had expected a semi-barbaric Eastern town," remarked Frank Cox, the Morning Post’s Balkan correspondent in 1913, “but I found a modern capital, small but orderly, clean and well – managed …..but oh, so deadly dull". Despite its increasing prosperity, Sofia didn’t experience much of a belle époque, save for the lavish palace balls presided over by the mercurial Tsar Ferdinand, and the weekly dances at the military club.


The city experienced more frenetic growth during the postwar era of “socialist construction", and a veneer of Stalinist monumentalism was added to the city centre in the shape of building like the Party House, a stern-looking expression of political authority. Sofia’s rising population was housed in the endless high-rise suburbs /places with declamatory names like Mladost – “youth", Druzhba – “friendship", and Nadezhda – “hope"/ that girdle the city today.Sadly, the factories that used to employ the inhabitants of these suburbs went into a steep decline during the 1980s, collapsing totally in the 1990s. Like most of Bulgaria, Sofia has had problems finding its feet in the years following the demise of Communism. One bedroom apartments in Sofia
Skobelev blvd.

An upsurge in private enterprise, however invigorating, has gone hand in hand with rising unemployment and declining living standards for the majority. One of the most visible symptoms of social change has been the emergence of a large stray dog population in Sofia’s downtown streets. Officially there are 35,000 of the beasts roaming the city, but the real figure may be up to three times higher. Although pretty docile during the day, the dog packs become territorial night, when lone pedestrians can become the victims of massed barking, or worse


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St.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Landmarks
The most frequent image is of the impressive edifice of St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral and Memorial Church. The temple is the central patriarch's cathedral of the autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox Church. It was completed in 1912 after a design of the Russian architect Pomerantsev, approved by the First Great National Assembly. The Crypt of the Cathedral houses a collection of masterpieces of Bulgarian icon painting. Visitors can enjoy the exhibited more than 200 icons and frescos. A remarkable sight is the square around the Cathedral where the Monument of the Unknown Soldier with eternal burning flame is located. An open-air market of national costumes, embroidery and hand-knitted wares and garments and a small antiquarian and arts exposition enliven the square

Part of the same square is occupied by the St. Sophia Church, dating back to the 4th-6th century AD. In the end of the 16th century it was transformed into a mosque for a short time, but soon after the Liberation it was sanctified as an Orthodox church. Now the church is open to visitors. Behind the church is the grave of Ivan Vazov (1850-1921) - the Patriarch of Bulgarian literature. A monument to the poet rises in the small garden in front of the church.

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St. Sophia Church

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The National Assembly

The edifice of the National Assembly (build in 1884) is the third rightful candidate for the city's emblem. A motto inscribed on its main facade reads "Union makes strength" - a key element of the coat of arms of the Republic of Bulgaria. Opposite its building is the monument to the King Liberator of Bulgaria - the Russian Tsar Alexander II. The Russian church St. Nikolai is conspicuous from afar with its pointed golden cross. It was built in the years of 1912-1914 by Russian emigrants to Bulgaria.

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The Palace of Culture - features sixteen halls the largest of which seats a public of nearly 5000.

Climate

Bulgaria as a whole is situated in the moderate climatic zone. The country can be conditionally divided into two climatic zones. The Stara Planina mountain is considered the water-shed between them. Winters are colder in Northern Bulgaria and much milder in the southern part of the country. Winter temperatures vary between 0 and 7’ C below zero. Very rarely temperatures may drop below 20’ C below zero. Typical continental and changeable is the climate in spring. It is exceptionally favourable for the growth of fruit-bearing trees, for whose fruit Bulgaria has been renowned in Europe for centuries. Summer is hot and sweltering in northern Bulgaria, especially along the Danube river.
The climate in Southern Bulgaria is determined by the air-currents from the Mediterranean. Summer temperatures do not reach the extremes as in Dobroudza along the Danube and are usually moderate - about 28-30 degrees. The highest reading are usually taken in the town of Rousse and Silistra, sometimes reaching above 35’ C. Autumns are mild and pleasant in Bulgaria. The multi-coloured forests in autumn add to the picturesque landscape. Autumn showers in principle are more frequent than in spring. May, October and November are the rainest months.

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Icons
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As is natural, in the high mountains the temperatures depend on altitude. There are different climatic zones, suitable of the growth of one or another rare species of crops. Typical examples are the sub-Balkan valley, referred to as Rose Valley, some regions in the Rodope mountains where one can find the unique flower of Orpheus, the region of the town of Sandanski, where olives and citrus fruit are grown, etc.
There are some interesting areas from a climatic point of view, such as the Sofia plain, the regions of Sliven and Varna, where strong winds blow almost throughout the year. In the first two cases they are due to the proximity with the Balkan mountains and its passes, which let all winds blow constantly through them. In the case with Varna this phenomenon is due to the specific microclimate of the bay of Varna and the sea air-currents coming from the north.

Currency, payments and foreign exchange

The official monetary unit in Bulgaria is called Lev. The following coins are in circulation.
1, 2, 5 stotinki - of yellow metal
10, 20, 50 stotinki - of white metal
100 stotinki = 1 lev – white metal
Currency may be exchanged in all Bulgarian banks from Mondays to Fridays in the regular working hours or in the numerous private exchange bureaus, some of which operate non-stop. Payments in Bulgaria are effected only in leva or in leva equivalent. In larger resorts and at places authorised to effect foreign exchange, certain payments may be effected in foreign currency.
As a rule, every article in a shop must have a price tag. Bargaining over prices is not customary in Bulgaria. The bargaining habit may be done only on the free private market.

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St. Nikolay Church
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St.Clement Ochridsky University




In general, Bulgaria’s transport network divides into southern and northern routes. Thus the bus-stations and the railway stations are oriented in these directions.
Here we offer the names and phone numbers for information and booking of tickets at Sofia’s major stations, according to the type of transport.

The main international credit cards can be used in the country. In every major town there are cash dispensers (ATM) which are available near bank buildings, main streets, stations and most visited places.
Some hotel bills, tickets of large agencies, items from luxurious shops and restaurants can be paid by credit cards.

City transport

Sofia is the largest transport junction of the country. The destinations of the transport segments are numerous, and the routes and stopovers – most varied. The maps, which provide a general idea of the road network and railway transport, show the main overland communication lines between Sofia and the rest of the inhabited places in the country.
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City transport


Sofia Airport

Sofia airport - 9372212; 9372211
Central railway station - 9311111
Central railway station – international tickets – 9879535
International bus station - 9314198; 9311296; 9312186

If you dial from your own country, please, dial the code of Bulgaria 00359 and then the area code – Sofia - (2), then the required number.
If you dial from another Bulgarian town , just dial the area code (02) and then the number.

In addition to these stations, well-familiar to all residents of Sofia, there are dozens of private carriers, starting from various places in the capital, notably numerous are the private buses to the Balkan countries and close destinations. Information on them can be obtained at the central bus station, especially when one is searching for alternative transport or is willing to change the date or time of the trip. Certain international destinations will be charged in hard currency.
You can get thorough transport information in the Transport Services Centre situated in the National Palace of Culture (NDK), 5 minutes far from our office. You can book and buy all types of tickets there for planes, trains and buses. City transport in Sofia offers wide opportunities and it is difficult to describe it without a city plan.
Every tourist should buy a detailed city map-plan of Sofia showing not only the lines but also the stops of the city transport.
As of 1998 Sofia has one subway line, dozens of bus lines connect the capital with near-by settlements, as well as covering shorter distances in the city itself – trolley buses travel in many directions, trams cut across the entire city. A Transport Services Centre operates at the National Palace of Culture building (NDK), underground floor, level 2.

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tel: 00359 2 9516555
mobile: 00359 898 367112

E-mail: office@flatsinsofia.com

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