Sofia (Sofiya), Bulgaria

Reference work entry


Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, situated in the west of the country in the Sofia Basin. Inhabited since the eight century BC, it was under Ottoman control from the late fourteenth until the late-nineteenth century.


The Thracian Serdi tribe were the first people to settle in the Sofia area. They gave way to the Romans in the late first century BC, who made the city provincial capital of Inner Dacia. The city prospered under Constantine I (AD 280–337), when Christianity became the Empire’s chosen religion. From the end of the fourth century until the mid-fifth century, Sofia was a major centre of the Byzantine Empire but in AD 441 it was taken by Attila the Hun. It fell again under Byzantine influence, becoming particularly successful during the sixth century rule of Emperor Justinian. Bulgars took the city for the first time in 809, lost control to Byzantia in the early eleventh century but re-imposed their rule around 1185.

During the fourteenth century the city became known as Sofia, named after the fourth century basilica of St. Sofia that still stands today. The Ottomans seized Sofia in 1382, making it capital of the province of Rumelia and beginning their long period of domination. The Muslim influences of this time are still evident in such buildings as the fifteenth century Buyuk Mosque, which houses the National Archaeological Museum, and the Banay Bashi Mosque.

The Ottomans were ousted from Sofia in Jan. 1878 by Russian troops, following a 2-year war that accounted for 200,000 Russian casualties. On 3 April 1879 Sofia became the official capital of Bulgaria. Over the next half century the city’s population increased some 15-fold. At the outbreak of World War II Bulgaria was aligned with the Axis powers, but Tsar Boris III’s refusal to declare war on Russia antagonised Germany. Bulgaria was invaded and Sofia occupied until 1944 when Russian troops liberated the city.

Modern City

As capital of a Soviet satellite state, Sofia experienced rapid industrialization. Major industries include metal work, textiles, food processing, printing and engineering. Agriculture is important in the area surrounding the city. There are road, rail and air links and public transport within the city is provided by trams, buses and trolley buses, as well as cable lifts up to Vitosha in summer.

Places of Interest

The city landscape is dominated by the Alexander Nevski Memorial Church, completed in 1912 to commemorate the efforts of the Russian forces during the War of Liberation with the Turks. Other major landmarks include the Church of St Nicholas, the Central Synagogue and St Nedlia’s Orthodox Church. There are many museums and galleries, and remnants of the Roman walls exist at various locations. Sofia has a reputation for its natural springs and the nearby Mt Vitosha provides high-quality skiing.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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