Bulgaria (България) is situated in south-eastern Europe, in the north-eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The country earned its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, but having fought on the losing side in both World Wars, it fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a People’s Republic in 1946. Communist domination ended in 1990, when Bulgaria held its first multi-party election since World War II and began the contentious process of moving toward political democracy and a market economy while combating inflation, unemployment, corruption, and crime. Today, reforms and democratization keep Bulgaria on a path toward eventual integration into NATO and the EU – with which it began accession negotiations in 2000.
The climate in Northern Bulgaria is moderate continental, while the climate in Southern Bulgaria is intermediate continental tending to Mediterranean. The climate in the regions with an altitude of 1900-2000 m above sea level is mountainous and along the Black Sea coast it is maritime. The climate of the seaside regions is milder in the winter and cooler in the summer than the climate of the interior of the country. The average annual temperature is 10,50C, in winter about 00C. The lowest temperature – 38,30C – was measured in 1947.
The official language is Bulgarian and uses only the Cyrillic alphabet. To facilitate tourists, road and direction signs in populated areas, resorts, railway station, airports and along the main highways are also spelled in Roman letters. English, German, French, Russian and other languages are spoken in the country. The capital of Bulgaria is the city of Sofia. The post-1989 changes have manifested themselves most visibly in Sofia in the explosive growth of small businesses. Smart boutiques and chic restaurants provide a sharp contrast to their somber state-run counterparts. Even the humble outdoor food bazaars have been spiffed up and now feature larger and more varied selections, with imported fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round.
The Luxury BMWs and Mercedes overshadow the once-ubiquitous Ladas and Moskvitches. The building boom in the mountainside suburbs of Boyana, Dragalevtsi and Simeonovo, with posh villas going up in rapid succession, demonstrates that at least one sizeable segment of the population is enjoying new-found wealth. One readily apparent downside to the “changes” is the city’s nin-down appearance and neglected infrastructure as evidenced by crumbling building facades, pothole-filled streets and litter-strewn public places. Yet, while Sofia – a city of 1.1 million – may not at present compare favorably to other European capitals, progress is undeniably being made. Certain sections of the city, most notably Maria Louisa Boulevard and the area around the pedestrian Pirotska Street, are gradually giving way to gentrification. The European Union has allocated $300,000 for a “Beautiful Bulgaria” campaign to refurbish the city’s building facades.
The municipality has recently allocated funds to repair the streets and clean up the litter, plant greenery strips along the motorways, and revive the park and garden fountains which have not functioned for years. The underground metro, which debuted in January 1998, should help to reduce traffic snarl and engender a measure of civic pride. Given heightened foreign investment and continued sound planning by the city administration, Sofia could become – while not quite the “Paris of the Balkans”- at least a city worthy of its historic pedigree and choice natural setting. Indeed, few cities anywhere can boast such a scenic backdrop as that provided by imposing Mount Vitosha.
Bulgaria is comprised of the classical regions of Thrace, Moesia and Macedonia. It shares borders with Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Greece, and Turkey. The Balkan peninsula derives its name from the Balkan or Stara Planina mountain range which runs through the center of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia. Two mountain ranges and two great valleys mark the topography of Bulgaria. The eastern border is situated alongside the Black Sea. The Maritsa is Bulgaria’s principal river, and the Danube also flows through the country.
The southwest of the country is mountainous, containing the highest point of the Balkan Peninsula, peak Musala at 2,925 m, and the range of the Balkan mountains runs west-east through the middle of the country, north of the famous Rose Valley. Hill country and plains are found in the southeast, along the Black Sea coast in the east, and along Bulgaria’s main river, the Danube in the north. Other major rivers include the Struma and the Maritsa river in the south.
The Bulgarian climate is temperate, with cold, damp winters and hot, dry summers. The vegetation of Bulgaria is typical for the Central European forest region, but the influence of the South Russian and Asia Minor regions is also felt. The higher part of Bulgarian mountains are covered by sub -Arctic vegetation, among which juniper forests predominate. In fact, Bulgaria boasts 3000 higher plant varieties. More then one quarter of the country’s territory is covered with forests. The edelweiss which grows in places difficult of access in the Pirin Mountains and the Balkan Range, is one of the rare plants growing in the country.
The country has a a generous and varied nature – a sea with a 380 km. long coastal strip and golden beaches, 16 mountains with their own characteristic features, shelters valleys and high plateaus, over 550 curative mineral springs, dozen of unique natural phenomena and 2000 thrilling caves, a healthy climate and diverse flora and fauna.
There are lots of museums as well as historical places and monasteries.In winter, one can go skiing in Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo, and in summer – to resorts at the Black sea such as Golden Sands, Albena, Sunny Beach, St. St. Constantine and Helena, Sozopol, Nessebur and many others. One of the main reasons to go to Bulgaria is that a holiday in Bulgaria would cost you much less than a holiday in some of the main tourist destinations such as Italy, Turkey, Greece for summer resorts and Austria, Germany and Switzerland for winter resorts. The mountains of Pirin, Rila, the Rhodopes Vitosha and the Balkan attract climbers from different parts of the world.
There are many places of historical and cultural interest in downtown Sofia such as: The Alexander Nevski Cathedral (constructed in 1912), The Ivan Vazoff Theater, The Russian Church (1913), The Bania Bashi Mosque, the building of The National Assembly (The Parliament, built in 1884), etc . The city has several beautiful parks, and stopes of the Vitosha mountain rise above it – Vitosha is a wonderful place of for recreation of the residents of Sofia and the guests of the city. . There are 16 universities in the city, among them Sofia University, founded in 1889. It is the see of an Eastern Orthodox metropolitan and of a Roman Catholic diocese.
Where to visit in Sofia City
Sofia is a city that grows but never ages. Founded over 7,000 years ago, Bulgaria’s modern capital testifies to the country’s eternal bond between past and present. A lot of Sofia’s historic grandeur has been lost, despite various Byzantine ruins and mosques attesting to a long, colourful history. Some of its most impressive architecture post-dates Bulgaria’s Liberation of 1878. The town centre is dominated by neo-classical Stalinist architecture and is surrounded by a sprawling periphery of bleak, Socialist-era block housing – a formidable greeting for the first-time visitor.
Near Sofia lies Boyana church, which is one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church boasts frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as “the best examples of eastern mediaeval art during its twelve century history”. The area surrounding Sofia is rich in natural beauty. The tranquillity and charm of Mount Vitosha offers ideal spots for picnics or walking in the summer and superb skiing in the winter. The picturesque villages at its foothills are just a short tram or bus ride away from the bustling capital.
A peek through the side streets and century-old commercial quarter of the city itself reveals the true magic of Sofia – a very European city of tree-lined boulevards and balconied buildings by 19th-century Russian and Viennese architects. Standing among a cluster of ancient and neo-Byzantine Orthodox churches, one functioning is mosque is virtually all that remains of 500 years of Ottoman domination. However, it is in street life where the character of the city is to be found. Locals meet for coffee at open-air cafés, vast bazaars offer an array of pickles and farm produce, gypsies sell flowers on street corners, while shoppers queue to board the city’s rattling trams and folk musicians serenade the metro users.
From the earliest times, Sofia’s main attraction has been its thermal springs, which are still in public use today, as a water source. Its strategic location on military and trade routes made it an important administrative centre in Roman times, reaching its grandeur as an early centre of Christianity during the reign of Constantine in the fourth century. Two significant Byzantine churches remain. In 1382, the Turks conquered the city but when they were ousted, in 1878, Sofia became the capital and its grand boulevards were constructed, cutting through the grid-plan quarters that had grown up around the oriental nucleus. Ottoman-imposed mosques were torn down, as the Orthodox Church was reinstated.
Major landmarks include the St George Rotunda, part of a large archeological complex with rare Roman architectural features; the Sveta Sofia Basilica which inspired the city’s coat of arms; the Alexandar Nevski Cathedral, whose magnificent icons and frescoes are world famous; and the Boyana Church on Sofia’s outskirts – a listed UNESCO building – a fine example of Medieval architecture with unique wall paintings. Other tourist attractions include: the Church of Sveta Nedelya, the Banya Bashi Mosque (16th century) and nearby Turkish baths, the Hall covered market and clock tower Synagogue, the National History Museum, the Sveta Petka Saamardzhiiska Church, the Russian Church, the Alexandar Batenberg Square, the flea market, antique shops and cafes around the Kristal Square, the tree-lined Alexsandar Nevski Square, named after its famous Cathedral, and the international art collection housed in the St. St. Cyril and Methodius Foundation.