The south west of Bulgaria is a mostly mountainous region, with over 50% of the land covered by forests – much of which is protected. Consequently the region is popular with hikers during the summer and skiers during the winter. Scattered about the mountains are numerous Medieval villages, monasteries and churches. One of these being the 10th century Rila Monastery, added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1983. Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, is in the north of the region. Evidence of continuous human occupation of the city area for at least 9,000 years leads many to think this is Europe’s second oldest city. South West Bulgaria is bordered to the west by Serbia and Macedonia and by Greece to the south.
The south west region includes the provinces of Grad Sofia, Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Pernik and Kyustendil.
Designed by Mimar Sinan, one of the Ottoman Empire’s chief architects in the 16th century, the Banya Bashi Mosque is today the only functioning mosque in Sofia. Construction was completed in 1576, during the Ottoman Rule of the city. The mosque takes its name, which translates as ‘many baths’, from the thermal spring on which it was built; steam can still be seen escaping the vents near the walls. A remarkable feature of the mosque is the dome, which has a diameter of 15 metres.
In 2004 during excavations for the 5* Arena di Serdica Hotel builders came across a Roman wall. Following archaeological excavations, these remains turned out to be those of the amphitheatre built just outside the walls of the Roman city of Serdica. Coins discovered suggest that the structure was built in the 3rd or 4th century AD. And, beneath the amphitheatre are the remains of a 2nd century theatre. Remains of the amphitheatre have been restored for guests and visitors alike.
The red-brick Church of St George Rotunda is the oldest building in Sofia, having being built in the 4th century AD. The church can be found in the courtyard behind the Bulgarian Presidency, set amongst the Roman ruins of the ancient city of Serdica. Besides the age, the church is well known for its remarkable frescoes – some of which are from the 6th century, but most from the 14th century. Although a functiooning church with daily services, it is open to tourists … Read More
The complete name is Church of St Petka of the Saddlers, as it takes its name from the patron saint of saddlers. First written accounts of the church suggest it was built sometime in the 16th century, during Ottoman rule of Bulgaria – hence why its floor is dug into the ground – and an earlier Roman religious building. A crypt was discovered after the Second World War, and local folklore suggests it was here that the Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski was buried here; a view not shared by Sofia’s archaeologists.
The underpass that allows pedestrians to cross the road that runs between the Bulgarian government’s Minister’s Council building and the office of the Bulgarian President has the East Gate of the city’s first wall, built between 177 and 180 AD after an attack on the city by Barbarians in 170 AD. Here you can see fragments of what was single block inscribed in Greek that stood above the North and West Gates. The Inscription acknowledges Emperor Marcus Aurelius gift of the city walls to the people of Serdica.
The Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila is the largest and most well known of all the Eastern Orthodox Monasteries in Bulgaria. The monastery is believed to have been founded in the 10th century by a hermit called St. Ivan of Rila who lived in a nearby cave. Today the monastery is one of the most important cultural and architectural monuments in Bulgaria, attracting over a million visitors each year. In 1983 Rila monastery was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. [Website] Photo © Raggatt2000
During building work for a new metro station in the city centre, the remains of the ancient city of Serdica were discovered. These were then excavated by archaeologists and preserved in situ. On the Metro’s platform displays provide an introduction to Sofia’s prehistoric and ancient past, while the Roman remains outside the station show the remains of some of the buildings that would have lined the Cardo Maximus: the main street that connected the North and South Gates … Read More
The National Archaeological Museum, a branch of the National Archaeological Institute, is housed in Sofia’s oldest and largest Ottoman mosque. Construction of the mosque began in 1451, after the War of Liberation it was used as a hospital and then a printing shop before being established as a museum in 1892. Permanent exhibits cover the range of Bulgaria’s past, from Stone Age artefacts some 1,6 million years ago to exquisite wall paintings of the Later Medieval … Read More >>
The National History Museum (Национален исторически музей, Natsionalen istoricheski muzey) is Bulgaria’s largest museum, a collection of over 650,000 objects; of which only an estimated 10% are on permanent display. Established in May 1873, in 2000 the museum moved to its current location, the primary residence of the last Bulgarian dictator. Permanent exhibits showcase the finest artefacts from the main periods of Bulgaria’s past, including exquisite silver and gold prehistoric treasures. [Website]
The Museum of the History of Sofia is a relatively new museum in the city, having only opened in September 2015. The museum occupies the greatly restored Turkish Baths, which were built during the Ottoman period on the site of thermal springs (local residents still come to the spring to collect mineral water for personal use). In all there are eight permanent galleries, covering the history of the city from the 6th millennium BC to 1940s, as well as two temporary exhibition spaces. [Website]
Capital: Sofia Language: Bulgarian Time Zone: UTC + 3hrs Telephone Country Code: +359 Electricity: 220V/50Hz European plug
The Bulgarian currency is the Bulgarian Lev, plural Leva (лев, abbreviated лв). The Lev has been pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Lev for 1 Euro. The Euro is accepted by some businesses. Credit cards are accepted in the big cities and at major attractions and hotels, but Bulgaria is largely a cash economy in the more rural parts of the country.
The following guidebooks for Bulgaria are available on Amazon.com (see the same set of books on Amazon.co.uk):