Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria and the 12th largest city in the European Union with a population of 1.27 million people. It is located in western Bulgaria, at the foot of Mount Vitosha and approximately at the centre of the Balkan Peninsula.Sofia has a history that goes back thousands of years. Through the centuries, many peoples have inhabited it and added to its rich and diverse history. Numerous Neolithic villages have been discovered in the area, while a chalocolithic settlement has been recently discovered in the very center of modern Sofia.
The Thracian Serdi tribe settled here in the 7th century BC and gave the first recorded name of Sofia -- Serdica. The Byzantines called it Triaditsa and the Slavs - Sredets. The modern city of Sofia was named in the 14th century after the basilica St. Sofia. In Greek, word sofia means wisdom. In the 3rd century AD, the Romans built strong walls around Serdica, their capital of Inner Dacia and an important stopping point on the Roman road from Naisus (present Nish, Yugoslavia) to Constantinople.
Today there are many archaeological sites in Sofia, that display the city's diverse history - the castle gates and towers of Serdica, public buildings and streets thousands of years old. A large part of the ancient city of Serdica is underneath important modern buildings. The ancient city council (bulefteris) is hidden under the "Sheraton" hotel, while a number of basilicas are below the National Historical Museum. The Roman thermal baths are under the Sofia Mineral Baths and a Roman residence with elaborate mosaics is below the "Rila" hotel.
After the Hun invasion of 441, the town was rebuilt by the Byzantines. The Slavs gave Sredets a key role in the First Bulgarian Empire, then in 1018 the Byzantines retook Triaditsa. At the end of the 12th century, the Bulgarians returned and Sredets became a major trading center of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The Turks captured Sofia in 1382 and made it the center of the Rumelian beylerbeyship. The city declined during the feudal unrest of the 19th century, but with the establishment of the Third Bulgarian Empire in 1879, Sofia once again became the capital of Bulgaria.
Rapidly the city's image changed from an Oriental, to a European. Today many streets, buildings, parks, and even whole neighborhoods preserve the architectural style from the turn of the century. Between 1879 and 1939, the population of Sofia grew from 20 000 to 300 000, while today 1 250 000 people live in Sofia.
Since ancient times the city was famous for the abudance of cold and thermal mineral water springs in and around it. The water is still available today and is praised for its numerous qualities. Springs may be found in the city center, as well as in the neighbourhoods: Kniazevo, Gorna Bania, Bankia, Ovcha Kupel and Ivaniane.
You will probably find the center of Sofia more accessible by tram, bus, or trolley bus than by car due to the shortage of parking space. Public transport runs from 5am till midnight for buses and trolley buses and till 1am for trams. Tickets are for single trip and are sold at kiosks at the major stops, at newsstands or in driver's cabin. You have to punch them inside the vehicle. If you transfer you must use another. Tickets are inspected at random by conductor.
There are plenty of large hotels in Sofia with all the usual conveniences, good service and prices between 60 and 300$ for a double room.
Small family-run hotels, offering comfortable rooms at reasonable rates , are beginning to appear in the city center, but they are far more numerous in the outlying suburbs, and a private room is still the best-value way of getting a place close to the action. Centrally located private rooms are available either from the tourist information office in the Central Railway Station, or from Bankantours at 27, Al. Stamboliiski Blvd. for approximately. $15 a double.
If you do not mind staying some distance from the city , the spa town of Bankya , 17 km west, has several excellent small hotels, just short train ride from the city.
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