SOFIA - HISTORY
Sofia boasts a millenium of history. Many people groups have inhabited the city over the centuries and have contributed to its rich and varied history. According to archaeologists and their research the territory of Sofia and its vicinity were populated as far back as the 4th-3rd millenia B.C.
The Thracian tribe of Serdi moved here during the 7th century B.C. and gave Sofia its first recorded name, Serdika. During the 1st century B.C. the Romans, appreciating the important geographic position of the city (surrounded by mountains and its numerous warm mineral springs), built a city surrounded by stone fortresses and called it Ulpia Serdika. Under the rule of the Roman Emperor Trayan, Ulpia Serdika was given autonomy; reached the zenith of its development and was even included in the official travel guide of the Great Roman Empire. The city was defended by a 9-meter-high (over 29 feet) fortified wall, constructed of stone and brick. Watch towers for following the movement in and out were erected every 50 meters (160 feet). A public forum was opened in the centre of the city. Beautiful estates, large basilicas, temples, municipal buildings and residential quarters made up Ulpia Serdika, which covered a territory of 164 000 m2 (40 acres). Serdika expanded and gained importance and glory. Inspired by its image in the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Konstantin the Great exclaimed in a loud voice, "Serdika is my Rome!"
But an unhappy fate awaited the city. During the 5th century, as they were passing through the region, the Huns entered the city and destroyed it. Later in the century, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian took on the serious task of rebuilding it. He began with massive construction work. The city was renamed Triaditsa. Some of the oldest buildings in modern Sofia, and especially one of the main symbols of the city, the St. Sofia church, date from the time of Justinian rule.
The Bulgarian Khan Krum added part of today's southwestern Bulgaria, including Triaditsa, to the First Bulgarian Empire in 809. From this moment on the city was re-conquered often, first by Byzantium and then by Bulgaria. The Slavs renamed the city from Triaditsa to Sredets. After the two centuries of Byzantine dominion Sredets appeared on maps of Bulgaria once again in 1194; this year was the beginning of a new period of growth and development. It flourished as a city of craftsmen - goldsmiths, coppersmiths, potters and armorers.
During the 14th century the city received its current name, Sofia, or Wisdom, according to the name of the St. Sofia (e.g. Holy Wisdom) church. But "Divine Blessing" could not defend Sofia from the Turkish invasion of 1392.
During Turkish rule the city was one of the greatest political, trade and military centres of the Ottoman Empire. Its importance was increased by its position on the crossroads between Belgrade, Athens and Istanbul.
At the time of the fateful Russo-Turkish War, the Turkish commander had decided to burn the city down knowing that the Russian Army grew ever closer, but, thanks to the timely action of the Italian and Belgian Consuls, Sofia was saved. Sofia's residents tasted freedom, brought by General Gurko, on January 4, 1878. Immediately after the Liberation, Sofia naturally became the most important city in Bulgaria. Bulgarian politicians optimistically saw the city as the ethnic centre of the new state - the point of intersection between Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia. On April 3, 1879 the National Assembly voted for Sofia to become the new capital. After that date a fast-paced urbanization and intensive building program began. Over a period of 60 years - from 1879 to 1939 - the population of Sofia grew from 20 thousand to 300 thousand people.
Many foreign architects were hired to turn Sofia into a true European capital and the results of their efforts were beautiful, richly-ornate and stylish buildings. Unfortunately, approximately 25% of them were destroyed during the English and American bombings during 1943-1944. Their restoration was completed around 1970.
Present-day Sofia is the largest demographic, trade, political, cultural and educational centre in Bulgaria. Its population is approximately 1 500 000 people. Around one quarter of the industrial production of the country is concentrated in the city and the surrounding region - from coal mining and machinery to electronics and light industry.
Every foreign firm that wants to begin business in Bulgaria opens its first office in the capital. The seats of the executive and legislative branches of government are here.
Sofia is the centre of many cultural events - of both local and national significance - concerts, competitions, fairs and festivals.
With its many prestigious universities the capital also attracts a majority of the Bulgarian university students.