The capital of the Republic of Bulgaria is the city of Sofia (1 096 389 inhabitants, 550 metres above sea level). The city lies in the Sofia Plain, enclosed by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Lozen Mountain to the southeast, Mountain Vitosha to the south, the Lyulin Mountain to the southwest. The the plain is open to the northwest in the direction of Yugoslavia, and to the southeast to the Thracian Lowland. Sofia is situated 55 km from the Yugoslav border at Kalotina checkpoint, 113 km from the Gyueshevo checkpoint with Macedonia, 183 km from the Greek border at Koulata, 315 km from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo, 211 km from the Romanian border at Vidin, 324 km at Rousse, 392 km from our maritime border at the port of Bourgas, and 470 km from the port of Varna. In close proximity to the capital city lie Pancherevo Lake and Iskar Dam. The Iskar River flows by the city, and several smaller rivers cross the city, the most popular of these being the Vladaya and the Perlovo Rivers.
Sofia is a city with a 7000-year history, which makes it a unique phenomenon in Europe, and places it among the settlements dating back to most distant antiquity. To this very day excavations in Sofia downtown bring up objects of the Neolithic man, and remnants of the Stone and Bronze Era. The reason why settlements arose so early is the abundance of thermal springs in the Sofia Plain. They cluster mainly around today’s city centre - near the old mineral baths, around the Presidency building, in Lozenets Quarter, and in Gorna Banya and Knyazhevo Quarters. The water temperature varies between 21o C and 42 o C, and they are curative, because of the significant amount of ions and mineral salts dissolved in them.
The first known tribes to settle in the plain were the Thracians from the triabe of Serdi. They gave Sofia its first name - Serdica.
Around 500 BC another tribe settled here, the Odrissi, known as a ethos having a kingdom of their own. For a short period during the 4th BC the city was in possession of Philip of Macedonia and of his son Alexander the Great. As late as in the year 29 AD Sofia was conquered by the Roman legions, and during the reign of Emperor Trayan (98-117) became the centre of an administrative region. It was given the name of Ulpia Serdica as a municipium, i.e. a centre of administrative region. Construction on the territory of the city expanded - turrets, protective walls, public baths, administrative and cult buildings, a civic basilica and a large amphitheatre, called bulevterion were built. In the 2nd century AD Sofia became the centre of the Lower Dacia province. It subsequently expanded for a century and a half, so that Constantine the Great came to call it “my Rome”. The city was of moderate size, but magnificent as an urban concept of planning and architecture, abundant in amusements and of active social life. The city flourished during the reign of Emperor Justinian when it was surrounded with great fortress walls, remains of which can be seen even today.
Fully preserved and well restored now is the Roman Rotunda, transformed into the Early Christian Church of St. George; it now stands behind the Sheraton Hotel. Attila took the city by storm in the 5th century. After his death the Byzantine Empire recovered it. It remained part of the Eastern Roman till the early 9th century AD.
When the kingdom of Danubian Bulgaria was founded in 681 AD, many Bulgarian khans coveted Serdica. But it was only in the year of 809 that Khan Kroum succeeded in conquering and including it in the Bulgarian territory. The new name of the city was changed to Sredets, which in the parlance of that time meant “middle, central part, centre”. Actually its location gave it all grounds to be considered the centre of the Balkan Peninsula. The city existed until the year 1018 AD when Bulgarian lands fell under Byzantine rule and it was renamed Triyaditsa, which meant “between mountains”. After 1194 the city regained its former name.
The city was repeatedly besieged and attacked by Magyars, Serbs and Crusaders. After the liberation of Bulgaria from Byzantine rule it was re-included in the territories of the country. Its name was now Sophia. The St. Sophia Church, which stands to this day next to the St. Aleksander Nevski Memorial Cathedral, gave the city its present-day name.
Sofia quickly expanded and became a centre of crafts and trade. New buildings and numerous churches were built in the city and the neighbouring villages, the best known of these is the Boyana Church.
Sofia fell under Ottoman rule in 1382. In some documents of that time the city was described as a place of particular charm, which evoked the admiration of the conquerors. Irrespective of that, the Turkish authorities’ neglect rapidly changed the appearance of the city. Christian churches became derelict and started ruining, while Turkish administration buildings, mosques, public baths and covered markets rose in their place. The five centuries of Ottoman rule changed Sofia beyond recognition. Only recent excavations open to the world the true picture of the city such as it was during its eventful history along the centuries. Few buildings of the Ottoman period are preserved today. The Turkish administration recognised the advantageous location of Sofia as a crossroad and important centre of the Balkan Peninsula, and the city’s development as crafts and market centre was promoted. During the 17th century it grew into the largest marketplace of the Balkans, and in the 18th century a stone-paved road linked it with Europe and Asia Minor. During the 19th century the first railway crossing the Balkans reached Sofia as part of the famous Orient Express. Sofia became the administrative centre of a sandzhak, large administrative unit of key importance to the Ottoman Empire. After Serbia was liberated in the 19th century, Sofia Sandzhak remained on the border. The city was repeatedly attacked and plundered by kurdzhalii (Turkish brigands), who periodically devastated its surrounding settlements.
During Bulgarian Revival and the struggle for liberation, the Apostle of Freedom Vassil Levski considered Sofia as one of the centres of a future uprising and created revolutionary committees in the city. To the irony of fate, after his arrest he was brought to Sofia, where he was sentenced and hanged in 1873.
Sofia was liberated from Ottoman rule on 4th January 1878. At that time the city had a population of only 12 000, but its favourable strategic location made it suitable for a capital and on the 4th of April 1879 Sofia was proclaimed the capital city of the Principality of Bulgaria. In a couple of years the population increased nearly tenfold, the outlook of the city radically changed; the Turkish soukatsi (narrow muddy streets) were supplanted by paved and planned streets, administrative buildings, churches, and schools were erected, public gardens laid out, a modern sewerage and water-supply system was installed, and so were telegraph and telephone lines. Sofia took on the appearance of a European city, although numerous features of the East remained. During the 20-es of the 20th century Sofia acquired a more European outlook. It developed into a truly modern city of unique charm during the reign of Tsar Boris III, when the construction of houses and buildings in modern, art nouveau (secession), bauhaus, neo-classicism and European eclecticism styles flourished. Today the centre of Sofia and the quarter between the Luvov Most (Lions’ Bridge) and the Sheraton Hotel abound in buildings from the first half of the 20th century. The small streets and gas-burning street lights were preserved until nearly the World War II. US planes bombed the city during the war, causing some damage of the downtown area. At that time Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany.
During the 30-es and 40-es Sofia became the scene of workers’ strikes, political rallies and demonstrations but also a prominent centre of culture, science and arts.
Changes in the political life in the wake of 9th of September 1944 reflected strongly on the outlook of Sofia. Buildings in urbanistic and Stalinist style were constructed, the most prominent of which is the central complex consisting of the Communist party building, Balkan Hotel and TZUM Central Department Store. Today the building of Balkan Hotel now houses one of the well-known chain of Sheraton Hotels. The Presidency of the country occupies its adjoining building. The TZUM has been radically refurbished, and the adjacent building houses the Ministerial Council. The building of the former royal palace houses the exposition of the National Art Gallery. Sofia has become the country’s leading industrial centre, with one sixth of the industry of Bulgaria concentrated around it, and housing one eighth of the population, the country’s political and cultural elite, and the entire state capital.
Nowadays Sofia is a very placid place to live in. Changes in its appearance are imminent. Restitution is underway, old buildings are returned to their owners, new buildings and shops emerge, private companies establish themselves on the market. The city is in constant flux, under way is gradual restoration of its intransient cultural and architectural monuments, which make it a typically European city with ancient culture, impressive present and bright future.
Landmarks. Several buildings and venues vie for Sofia’s emblem. 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 1st Great National Assembly. The church rises on an area of 3170 sq. m. The altar and the patriarch’s throne are cut of multi-coloured Italian marble; 13 Bulgarian and 32 Russian and Czech masters made the wood-carvings, cut the stone bas-reliefs and ornaments, painted the fresoes and the icons. The belfry rises to a height of 50.52 metres; the central dome is gold-plated with a massive gold cross on top.
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 souvenir shop sells copies of some of the famous icons, post cards, albums and folders. A remarkable sight is the square around the cathedral, where the Monument to the Unknown Soldier with eternal burning flame is located. An open-air market of national costumes, embroidery and hand-knitted ware and garment 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, which gave the name of the city. In the end of 16th century it was transformed into a mosque for a short time, but soon after the Liberation it was again sanctified as an Orthodox church. Already restored, the church is open to visitors. Regrettably few of the frescoes have been preserved, but some rare icons are still in existence. A valuable exhibit kept in the church is a lock of the hair of the Apostle of Freedom Vassil Levski. 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.
In the eastern part of the square rises the building of the St. St. Cyril and Methodius Foundation, which houses the National Gallery of Foreign Arts. It contains unique exhibits of art from Africa, Asia and Europe, Spanish baroque paintings, some Rembrandts, and tableaux by the modern painter Nikolai Roerich. Opposite to the south of it rises the building of the Academy of Arts, where future artists study icon-painting, restoration of old works of art, painting, sculpture, stage design, etc.
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre is the capital’s other emblem. The theatre was founded in 1904, and its building was completed in 1907. Designed in the style of German classicism, it contains many elements of the then fashionable Secession style. The interior was twice renewed, once after the fire in the theatre in 1923, and once during the 1970-1976 period. The hall is flanked by two balconies and there are 850 seats. Two chamber stages are in operation; the one with 150 seats and the other with 100. The theatre employs some of the country’s best actors and stage directors, many of whom enjoy popularity all over Europe.
The edifice of the National Assembly (built 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 (inaugurated in 1905) - the Russian Tsar Aleksander II.
To the west of the Parliament building is the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences founded in 1869, and to the east across a small garden rises the St. Kliment of Ohrid University of Sofia, founded in 1888 (and built in 1920 with personal donations by the brothers Evloghi and Hristo Georgievi, whose statues flank the parade entrance of the university) - Bulgaria’s oldest higher school. The mausoleum of Battenberg is nearby the university.
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. The interior of the church contains wonderful majolica ornaments, Russian-style icons among which stands out the icon of St. Nikolai Chudotvorets (the Wonder-worker) from the Kiev-Pechora Monastery. Next to it to the east is the Museum of Natural Science, with its unique collections of stuffed and live flora and fauna representatives. Visitors show particular interest in the bazaar where they can purchase small rabbits, nutria, parrots, hamsters, canaries and other household pets.
The National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum are housed in the former royal palace. It was built on 1873. During the reign of Prince Aleksander Battenberg the building was entirely reconstructed on the exterior and inside in the Art nouveau (Secession) style, with elements of Neo-rococo and Baroque. Expensive and unique wooden pieces of furniture were arranged in the palace rooms. The National Art Gallery exhibits a collection of well over 12 000 works of art, the oldest dating back to the 18th century. The Bulgarian classical masters of painting and sculpture are represented with their most mature works. The National Ethnographic Museum exhibits a wealth of collections of national costumes, hand-made works of art from Bulgarian people’s daily life, tools dating from three or four centuries ago, jewellery, tissues, embroidery and other articles of typical national folk art. The exhibits include scale models of Bulgarian houses and life amenities in them, masks and costumes of the festive Bulgarian calendar rites from different ethnographic regions of the country. At the museum and the gallery there are two stands for souvenirs where one can purchase cards, albums, icons, folk music recordings, hand-made articles imitating originals of national art. Other exhibitions are often displayed in the building of the former royal palace, to fill in the vacant spaces of the impressive place. Opposite to it in diagonal rises the building of the Bulgarian National Bank. Immediately next to it, a former Turkish mosque built on top of the ruins of a Christian Church destroyed by the Ottomans, houses today’s Archaeological Museum.
Downtown, in the interior courtyard of the Presidency and Sheraton Hotel rises the famous Roman Rotunda, transformed into the St. Georgi Church during the 4th century AD. Recently restored, it is stunning for its simple and exquisite architecture, the expressive remnants of frescoes and the entire complex of ruins behind the altar. Quite imposing as well are the ruins in the underpass opposite the Presidency, north of TZUM, in the ground-level of Sofia Shop (currently under reconstruction) in Central Hali Square, etc.
The square around the Central Hali building is also noted for its sights. The Hali (1911) were a covered market from the beginning of the century. Today after being reconstructed, they are a useful facility as well as an attractive place for shopping and spending some time at a cup of coffee. The mosque (1576) is in the square, the public bath (1913) is to the east, the ruins of the Roman fortress of Serdica with the corner turrets are to the north, the Synagogue (1909) is situated west of the Hali. St. Petka Samardzhiiska Church is located in the underpass of TZUM (south of the Hali). Vassil Levski was probably buried there, according to the hypothesis. Almost completely dug into the ground, today the whole of it is outstanding. There are attractive coffee bars and other catering establishments in the underpass, as well as many souvenir shops.
Numerous monuments adorn Sofia, and the most popular and honoured by all Bulgarians is the obelisk to the Apostle of Freedom (of 1895), which rises on the spot of his execution.
The Russian Monument is an obelisk rising west of the city centre; it bears a written dedication to the Russian Tsar and the Russian warriors who gave their lives in the war for Bulgaria’s liberation.
The Doctors’ Monument, dedicated to the medical staff of the Russian army who fell in the war, rises in the garden behind the National Library.
The monuments from the socialist years are more impressive and interesting as a detail of the country’s past. These are the Monument to the Soviet Army, south of the University building and the Monument to Freedom in the easternmost part of the Borissova Gradina Park, crowned by a big obelisk.
The monument to the Saint brothers Cyril and Methodius who devised Bulgarian alphabet rises in front of the National Library. Numerous busts of leaders of Bulgarian Revival adorn the alleys of the Borissova Garden Park, as well as effigies of poets, writers and revolutionaries. Two of the most popular bridges in Sofia could well be counted among the capital’s monumental spots. The Luvov Most (Lions’ Bridge) (formerly known as Sharen Bridge - the motley crowd bridge) over the Vladaiska River lies north of the city centre in the direction of the Central Railway Station. Four lions stay on high pedestals. The Orlov Most (Eagles’ Bridge) over the Perlovska Riover lies in the beginning of Tsarigradsko Chaussee Boulevard, which is the road to Plovdiv and Istanbu. Four bronze eagles, facing the four directions of the world, are mounted on 12-metre pylons. The Borissova Garden Park begins from that bridge, stretching to the south-east.
Among the sights of Sofia one could place the streets Graf Ignatieff, Rakovski, and Vitosha Boulevard. Graf Ignatieff Street runs from east to west. It starts at the Perlovski Bridge, adorned in the sculptures of workers and peasants demonstrating the amity between the Bulgarian and the Russian peoples. Numerous shops line the street on both sides until the crossing with Patriarch Evtimii Boulevard and Vassil Levski Boulevard, where rises a monument to Patriarch Evtimii – a man of letters and spiriual leader of the 14th century. Proceeding west, one comes to a small garden with the St. Sedmochislenitsi (St. St. Cyril and Methodius and their Five Disciples) Church.
Further west after the crossing with Rakovski Street we come to Slaveikov Square. Here, in front of the City Library, is arranged the largest open-air book market of Sofia. Recently the old three-tier bronze fountain was restored. In the spring of 2000 an original monument was placed to two of the most prominent Bulgarian writers, poets and public figures - father and son Petko and Pencho Slaveikovs, in honour of whom the square was named. One can sit for a while on the bench next to them and have his photo taken for keepsake. Author of the sculpture composition is Georgi Chapkunov - prominent Bulgarian sculptor, another of whose works is the statue of St. Sophia (opposite TZUM). There follow a couple of cinemas, company shops, photo studios and buildings of interesting architecture.
Rakovski Street lies in south-eastern direction and is considered the longest street of Sofia. It starts in the north from the railway lines of Sofia Central Railway Station, crosses the Vladaiska River, and a few streets before Dondoukov Boulevard flanks the imposing St. Paraskeva Church, with numerous interbuilt cupolas.
Beyond the Dondoukov Blvd. the street mounts steeply past the National Opera - a building, which also houses the National Ballet and the leadership of the Bulgarian Agrarian Party. The Opera house building is in neo-classical style, and in front of it rises a monument to Alexander Stamboliiski, one of the founders of Bulgarian Agrarian People’s Union and prime-minister of Bulgaria (1919-1923). After the steep rise the street passes by the monument to Ivan Vazov in the left and the square in front of the Alexander Nevski cathedral. Further south, at the crossing of Roussky Boulevard (once called Tsarya, Rousski) - or the boulevard of chestnuts and yellow brick pavement - rises the Armed Forces Club Building. To the left along Rakovski Street there is a small garden with a monument to Stefan Stambolov, then comes the Sulza y Smyah Theatre, the the Slavyanska Besseda Reading Club and Hotel (the oldest chitalishte - reading clube and cultural centre of Sofia, with a 120 years history), Theatre 199 and the house of Ivan Vazov. To the left along Rakovski Street there is the Theatre of the Army, the Ministry of Finance, the National Academy for Theatre and Film Art (NATFIZ Krustyu Sarafov); then a crossing left leads to the Theatre of Satire, followed by fashion, technology and flower shops, First City Hospital, the Indian Embassy and the French Foreign-Language Secondary School. Numerous shops and restaurants adorn both sides of the street till its end at the Perlovska River.
Vitosha Boulevard starts north from the St. Nedelya Church. The boulevard has on both sides hundreds of shops and representative show windows and boutiques of high fashion, and numerous exchange bureaus. At the beginning of the boulevard on the right hand side rises the Palace of Justice, one of the most imposing building in Sofia with its monumental granite staircase and two bronze lion figures on each side. Lots of shopps follow on both sides and a park at the crossing of Patriarch Evtimii Blvd. The park ends at the Palace of Culture, which features 16 halls, the largest of which seats a public of nearly 5000. Admirers of Bulgarian history could enjoy the exhibits in the National Museum of History, located in Boyana Quarter. Trolley-bus line No. 2 or rout-taxi line No. 21 links downtown to the museum. The Zoo (1, Sreburna Str.) is favourite place to youngest citizens of Sofia, as well as to the lots of visitors of the country.
Sofia is the largest transport junction of the country. The destinations of 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.
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.
Most conspicuous to the guests of Sofia are the mountains, which encircle the Sofia Plain. Vitosha, Lyulin and Plana Mountains are interesting and full of sights worth visiting. The present tour guide has a separate chapter on Vitosha Mountain.
Lyulin Mountain is situated south-west of the capital city, 3 kilometres from the ring road. Now virtually a part of the city, it is a good place for outings, picnics and walks. Bonsovy polyany are the most frequented place in the mountain. There are interesting areas with deciduous vegetation, beautiful valleys and meadows. Tourist signs mark the routes to Lulin chalets and shelters. Plana Mountain also offers interesting sights for tourists. It is situated about 10 km south of the capital and can be reached by city bus transport or by car along the road to Samokov.
Most frequently visited is the Kokalyane Monastery, built in the 10th century by Tzar Samuil. Beautiful frescoes and murals decorate the church, built after Russian patterns. Three of the monks in the monastery serve also in the Bulgarian monastery on Athos (Greece). There is a small scenic waterfall close to the monastery in southern direction. The monastery can be reached after a 45-minutes walk along the footpath above the asphalt road from the Devil’s Bridge over the Vedena River. Another popular spot is the glade with Khan Asparoukh oak, called after him because of its age nearing 14 centuries. The oak is believed to have witnessed the days in which Bulgaria was founded. Fields and a lush hazelnut forest surround the place. About 500 metres from the oak on the footpath to the village of Zheleznitsa there is a small water spring. Tourist chalets and shelters abound in this mountain.
The Pancharevo Lake (12 km from the capital city) is situated next to the village of Pancharevo. The lake is about 5 km long and 1 km wide. It is suitable for recreation, sunbathing, fishing and water sports - swimming, rowing, surfing, and water skiing. Rowing and water-ski competitions are frequently organised here. Pedalos are available, fishing and bathing in the lake are only allowed in strictly limited areas. Numerous small private restaurants can be found around the lake, Lebeda (the Swan) being the most popular of these.
The Iskar Dam is another large water reservoir near Sofia; it lies 25 km south of the city, and is a very good recreation spot where aquatic sports can be practised. The Shturkelovo gnezdo (Stork’s nest) Resort is a place worth visiting. Special attention is paid to strict observance of bathing and recreation rules, because the lake is also a drinking water reservoir for the capital. There are numerous small restaurants at the lakeside; fruits and vegetables are often offered for sale.
Within Vitosha Mountain the most interesting landmarks are the Boyana Church (built in three stages – 11th, 13th and 19th centuries) and the Dragalevtsy Monastery (14th century), both considered the heralds of European Renaissance. Most interesting are the frescoes (1259) in the Boyana Church, which art experts today rate them as a peak of realistic art of those times. The church is inluded in UNESCO List of world heritage. Remarkable are the frescoes portraying the donors of the church.
Bankya is 22 km from the capital in the foothills of Lyulin Mountain. It is one of the villa areas of Sofia. The town is a balneological center for cardiovascular and pulmonary ailments. It can be reached by bus or by a regular railway line. Wonderful places for picnic and tourist outings surround it. The small town has several galleries, many restaurants and café, small clubs and a race-course.
The Kremikovtsy Monastery (15th century) is located 30 km north of Sofia in the southern slopes of the Stara Planina Mountain. Its frescoes are treasured as a revelation of a new vision in church mural painting of that time. The church itself is very small yet very well preserved. Tourists rarely visit the place.
The Kourilo Monastery stands at the mouth of the Iskar gorge near the village of Kourilo, 18 km from the capital. It can be reached via the road to Mezdra or by a passenger train on the line connecting Sofia with Northern Bulgaria. The church was built and painted in the 15th century. Along the gorge, 9 km from the Eliseina station and at a 3-hour walk from the Prolet stop lies the Sedemte Prestola (The Seven Thrones) Monastery. It dates back to the 16th century and its icons and murals were painted in stages. The central nave of the church is divided into 7 chapels (thrones) and is adorned with a very beautiful wooden chandelier.
The main park of Sofia is the Vitosha Nature Park, which covers a large part of the mountain. (refer to the “The Mountains of Bulgaria" chapter for more details).
The central park of Sofia is the Borissova gradina (The Garden of Boris), along the Tsarigradsko Chaussee Boulevard beyond the Orlov Most (the Eagles’ Bridge). At the very beginning of the park is the Ariana Lake. Further in the park are the Vassil Levski National Statium and Bulgarian Army Stadium, as well as courts, a cycle-racing track, etc. About a kilometre from its entrance is the Maria Louisa Swimming Complex with two open-air pools and a 10-metre jumping tower. There are numerous alleys in the park, part of which are asphalted. Also near its entrance there is an open-air stage, dozens of children playgrounds and places for recreation and training. A large monument from socialist times rises in end of the park – Bratskata Mogila (the Mound to the Brothers). For this reason it was called The Park of Freedom before. It is also a place where dozens of busts stand of Bulgarian revolutionaries, national revival leaders, writers and poets. The Borissova Gradina Park is the favourite recreation place of most citizens of Sofia.
The Gradskata Gradina (City Garden) Park is situated in the capital’s ideal centre close to the to the Sofia City Gallery. In the middle of the park, in front of the National Theatre there are fountains with a sculpture of a female dancer; a children’s playground with wooden swings and an old newspaper stall designed after the fashion of the end of the last century, selling foreign language publications and press. Although small, this park attracts lots of people seeking recreation after work in the midday and afternoon hours. It is also the favourite place of chess players. More than 100 years ago a tourist group of about 300 Sofia citizens, led by Aleko Konstantinov, a writer democrat and enthusiastic mountaineer, started from this park and climbed Mt. Cherny Vruh (Black Peak) - Vitosha’s highest spot.
An original continuation of this garden is the small park behind the National Art Gallery. It covers a sloping terrain, and about a dozen sculptures co-exist with a number of age-old protected trees.
Yuzhen Park (the Southern Park) is the second largest after the Borissova Gradina Park. It extends from Ivan Vazov Quarter to the Hladilnika Quarter. Numerous children’s playgrounds are included in its territory; the Spartak Swimming & Sports Center at its end is the favourite spot for open-air celebrations organised by the Sofia Municipality. Hundreds of athletes, and martial arts fans exercise in it, dozens of citizens from neighbouring quarters do their morning jogging along the park alleys.
Zapaden Park (the Western Park) is close to the Zaharna Fabrika Quarter and the beginning of the Lyulin Quarter. Several catering spots are available in it and there is enough space for walks and games.
Sofia is one of world’s greenest cities. Dozens of small parks and gardens decorate it, thousands of trees in its streets come into leaf every spring.
Particularly famous with its chestnut trees and yellow brick pavement is Rousski Boulevard. Green and tended as small gardens are hundreds of small courtyards in the city centre behind old blocks of flats. The Lozenets, Mladost, Zone B-5 quarters, etc., are also green spots of Sofia.
The city breathes not only through its "lung" Vitosha but also by its numerous areas and streets planted with greenery.