The center of Sofia, the bustling capital of Bulgaria, stands as a vibrant and multifaceted urban hub, encompassing the geographical heart of the city, its rich historical core, key governmental institutions, and a myriad of cultural landmarks. This central district not only serves as a testament to Sofia’s ancient roots but also embodies the city’s dynamic evolution through different historical periods.
Historically, Sofia’s roots are intertwined with the still-flowing Sofia Mineral Spring, believed to be the site of the earliest settlement in the region. The development of the ancient fortress and town of Serdika can be traced back to this point, marking the genesis of Sofia’s historical narrative.
During the medieval period, Sofia experienced significant growth, particularly in the northwestern part of the modern city center. The remnants of this medieval heritage contribute to the rich tapestry of Sofia’s historical landscape.
The “Historical Center of Sofia,” also known as “Old Sofia,” was delineated after the declaration of Sofia as the capital of Bulgaria in 1879. This area is defined by the boulevards Slivnitsa, Hristo Botev, Patriarch Evtimiy, Vasil Levski, Tsar Osvoboditel, and Georgi Rakovski street. Within this territorial expanse lies a wealth of historical, cultural, and architectural gems that narrate Sofia’s journey through time.
Post-liberation, Sofia experienced substantial development, expanding in various directions – west, east, south, and north. The administrative epicenter shifted to its current location, centered around the National Assembly. However, this period of urban development came at a cost, as numerous ancient and medieval monuments, spiritual landmarks, and culturally significant structures faced destruction. This process began in the late 19th century, with Mayor Dimitar Petkov (1888 – 1893), and persisted through socialist construction in the 1950s, leaving an indelible impact on Sofia’s architectural heritage.
The complex interplay of historical preservation and urban development reflects Sofia’s ongoing narrative, where the city’s vibrant present coexists with the echoes of its past. As Sofia continues to evolve, efforts to balance progress with the preservation of its unique heritage remain critical in shaping the identity of this European capital.
The modern center of Sofia, often referred to as “Sofia – the central part of the city” or “Ideal Center,” holds a distinct place in the town planning fabric of the Bulgarian capital. Classified within the town planning zone C (C1, C2, and C3), this area was meticulously planned and developed from approximately 1908 to 1915. It constitutes a historical core, preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of Sofia during this pivotal period of urban expansion. Notably, this central region excludes villages that were later annexed to the city, such as Poduyane.
The boundaries that encapsulate this central part are defined by prominent streets and boulevards, creating a geographical framework that has withstood the test of time. To the south, it is demarcated by Pencho Slaveykov Blvd., while to the southwest, the boundaries extend along Joakim Kirchovski St., Dobrudzhanski Kray St., Osogovo St., and Alexander Stamboliyski Blvd. The western limits are outlined by Konstantin Velichkov Blvd., Pirotska St., and Eng. Ivan Ivanov Blvd., while the northwest encompasses Slivnitsa Blvd., Dimitar Petkov St., Iliicho P. Iliev St., Vranya St., Opalchenska St., Kavala St., and Strandzha St. The northern boundaries are marked by Maria-Louisa Blvd., Central Station, Veslets St., Klokotnitsa St., Kozloduy St., and Konstantin Stoilov St. To the northeast, it extends to Stock station, Danail Nikolaev Blvd., and Prof. Milko Bichev St., while the eastern and southeastern peripheries are defined by Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi Blvd.
Noteworthy landmarks within this central expanse include the Doctor’s Monument, even though the adjacent district of Oborishte lies just beyond its confines. The former Vladimir Zaimov district is now seamlessly integrated into the city center, enriching its historical tapestry.
During the early 20th century, distinct neighborhoods or “mahals” had emerged in Sofia, each carrying a unique identity. While some of these names have faded from everyday use, they persist in municipal and administrative documents. Several neighborhoods that form a part of the modern Center include Bash-fountain, Bukata (southeast of the Russian monument), Draz neighborhood (northeast of Lviv bridge, known as the “Cartsmen’s neighborhood” to Stochna station), Jewish Geren (located in today’s Zone B-5), Kuru-fountain, Kyulutsite (east of Georgi Rakovski St. and north of Dondukov Blvd., west of Vasil Levski Blvd., south of Slivnitsa Blvd.), Ligina Hamlet, Perlovets, The Barns, The Black Mosque (around the church of St. Sedmochiselnitsi), An Ulcer, and Yuch Bunar (Three Wells) (situated west of Hristo Botev Blvd.).
This central part of Sofia not only serves as a testament to the city’s past but also remains a vibrant and integral component of its present urban landscape.
The central part of Sofia, enriched with a myriad of points of interest, is a mosaic of cultural, historical, and architectural wonders that captivate both locals and visitors alike. Key landmarks dotting the periphery of this central hub include the National Palace of Culture, Aleksandrovsk Hospital, Banya Madara, the Five Cabinets, Russian Monument, Macedonia Square, Vazrazhdane Square, Saint Nicholas Sofia Church, Women’s Market, Sofia Central Station, Lion’s Bridge, Stochna Station Square, Monument to Vasil Levski, Zaimov Park and Military Academy, Eagle Bridge, Borisova Garden, and Vasil Levski National Stadium.
The layout of the center, characterized by an intricate combination of perpendicular neighborhoods and streets, is complemented by a network of boulevards, with several pointing toward the central focal point, St. Sunday, or encircling it in concentric circular directions, forming inner and outer ring roads. Notable boulevards, such as Pencho Slaveykov Blvd. and Konstantin Velichkov Blvd., were once referred to as Okrajno shose (Ring Road).
At the heart of this central area stands the cathedral of St. Sunday, marking the geographical center. From its square, three main boulevards extend in different directions – Vitosha to the south, Maria Luisa to the north, and Al. Stamboliyski to the west. Independence Square, nearby, serves as a crucial nexus, hosting prominent structures like the Council of Ministers, the Presidency, and the Party House. From this square, three additional main thoroughfares radiate – Tsar Osvoboditel to the southeast (notably adorned with yellow cobblestones), Al. Dondukov to the northeast, and Todor Alexandrov to the west.
The central part of Sofia is also home to iconic landmarks such as the Holy Week Cathedral, the National Assembly, St. Alexander Nevsky Memorial Temple, Sofia Synagogue, Sofia University, National Library, National Art Gallery in the Royal Palace, National Gallery of Foreign Art, Banya Bashi Mosque, and Sofia’s Mineral Bath. The area showcases numerous ancient buildings and structures, including the Rotunda of St. George (IV century), the Basilica of Saint Sophia (IV-VI century), Sofia’s Roman amphitheater (II-III century), and remnants of Serdika, such as the eastern and western gates of the ancient fortress (II – VI century).
Neighboring districts and residential complexes, like Lozenets (Lower Lozenets), Ivan Vazov, Kriva Reka, the Zones (Zone B-5, Zone B-5-3, sometimes Zone B-18, Zone B-19), the western part of Banishora (the eastern part is part of the center), Oborishte (around Oborishte St.), and Yavorov (around Tsar Ivan Asen II St.), seamlessly integrate into the cultural tapestry of the central area, collectively forming the dynamic and ever-evolving “Wide Centre.”