Sofia, city of contrasts and a work in progress
Bulgaria’s capital city intrigues and charms me. It seems to be in a state of constant flux, built on layers of history. One minute you are walking on a Roman road, the next staring up at 1950s Stalinist monoliths. Gold-domed cathedrals and churches dominate the vistas along wide boulevards while in side streets elegant villas sit side-by-side with their crumbling, neglected cousins.
Over the next few weeks I plan to share some of the highlights of my latest trip there in a series of posts. You will see some great architectural details, some imposing communist-era monuments and some lively street art. I’ll also take you to a couple of fascinating museums.
For this week’s Monday Walk let me simply take you on a wander through the fascinating city of Sofia. It’s not in truth an actual walk I took there, but rather a blend of several days spent exploring last week. I’ll save some of the main sights for those future posts, while others I have already covered previously following my 2019 visit.
So the focus on today’s ‘walk’ will be life on the streets and in its parks, plus a handful of the architectural highlights.
We’ll start with the view along one of the city’s main thoroughfares for pedestrians, Vitosha Boulevard. It takes its name from the mountain that can be clearly seen to the south.
Let’s walk through my favourite people-watching spot, the City Garden.
The very grand National Theatre is on one side of this small park.
We can grab some street photos elsewhere too.
St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker
One of my favourite buildings in the city is the church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker.
Former Communist Party HQ
The former Communist Party headquarters building offers a complete contrast. It used to be topped with a red star (now on display in the Socialist Art Museum) but today flies the Bulgarian flag and is used as government offices.
Wandering through the side streets we can find all sorts of opportunities for photography, from flea market stalls to kittens, old cars to shiny Harley Davidson motorbikes.
A work in progress?
In places it seems Sofia is still a work in progress, with buildings on many streets in various states of disrepair. These only serve to draw attention to how far it has come and what great architectural gems await future restoration perhaps. Although to be frank, a few of these examples are almost certainly slated for demolition rather than restoration. I’m including a selection of these in part because Terri has offered me the perfect opportunity to do so, linking to her Sunday Stills theme of ‘Dilapidated’.
Sofia at night
Let’s finish our walk with a few night shots.
I last visited Sofia in September 2022; most of these photos are from that visit but a couple are from my earlier 2019 trip
What an amazing place. Very different to Sydney! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for visiting and commenting – yes, very different to Sydney and most New World cities I guess.
Interesting city for sure. And a great capture through your lens. The people watching photos are my favorite.
Thank you Donna, glad you enjoyed them 🙂 That’s always one of my favourite pastimes in a city!
Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Thank you, Sarah, for the wonderful photos of Sofia – I missed seeing it back in 2019 as I was stuck at the hotel with a flu. I would have loved to visit the church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker 🙂
I remember how ill you were there – such a shame! I visited that church with Teresa and we were both moved by the atmosphere, especially in the crypt.
There’s so much to like about this I don’t know where to start, though I think my favourite has to be the church of St. Nicholas, it looks beautiful – I’d love to see inside 🙂
That church has some beautiful icons and mosaics, but unfortunately they are strict about not permitting photos inside. Even searching online it’s hard to find any but I did track this one down for you: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_church_Sofia_8.jpg
Looks like me kind of place, plenty of history and mountains on the doorstep. Would love a rummage in the flea market, there’s sure to be treasure somewhere!
Thank you Helen 🙂 I suspect there’s not much treasure on that stall, but there’s a bigger flea / art market near the cathedral that could well throw up some good buys!
The night shots are excellent. I’ve never been good at that. I’m guessing you enhanced and b&w-ed the colors in the opening photo of pink umbrellas. I really like that one too.
Thank you Ruth 🙂 That opening shot was a colour one, rather dull because of the weather. I converted it to black and white using Silver Efex, and used a control point to restore the colour just in the umbrellas. I was taken by how the women were in matching outfits and with the same umbrellas. They may have been twins but they had already passed the museum as we came out so we only saw them from behind and I can’t be sure.
Wonderful Sarah .
So much more to the city ,
I enjoyed reading the blog.
Brought back memories of 2019
Thanks so much Josephine, glad to have brought back good memories for you 🙂 That was a lovely meet, wasn’t it? I was glad that Chris liked Sofia as much as I (we) did – it’s always a small risk when you enthuse about a place and then it doesn’t live up to expectations!
Gift N. T.
From the limited amount of what I’ve read about Sofia and seen in photos, I remember some of the churches and its Communist past. This is such a delightful post that shows me diversity and helps me learn more about what’s possibly one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe. I especially like photos of the gilded details, the flea market, and the old buildings, though they will be demolished in the future.
You’re right, Sofia is definitely underrated! Some of those old buildings may well be demolished but I reckon others will be restored as you can find some great examples of restored old houses all over the city 🙂
Aletta - nowathome
What an amazing place Sarah! Thank you so much for sharing!
I’m glad you liked it Aletta – it’s a fascinating city!
Aletta - nowathome
The Roman road is magical … just to walk there, must be very special (or is it just my fascination with ancient roads)? Lovely people pictures in the City Garden and the church of St. Nicholas is beautiful (or is the word ‘unique’)? You have really great photos here Sarah … I especially like the one with the dog (he/she has such big ears 😁).
Thank you 🙂 Yes, knowing you are walking on a road that old and walked upon for centuries is truly amazing! The dog was a great spot – he only looked out for a minute so we were pleased to capture him with our cameras!
I love urban photos especially with cobblestone and just a little bit wet so they have a nice shine on them.
Thanks Marilyn. Some of the major roads in the centre here, like the one in my night photo, are cobbled with special yellow clay-based stones imported from Germany, a tradition that goes back to when the Austrian Empire gifted some to the city. They look good and as you have noticed especially so when wet and shiny at night, but I found them very slippery to walk on when wet!
You have brought Sofia to life here Sarah. Some lovely people shots that show authentic daily life in all its varied forms. Appreciated the animal shots too, you really grabbed some timely moments. I relate to the contrast of the sparklingly new and the crumbly, wonky old. It’s much like that here in Batumi too.
Thanks Leighton, glad you liked this look at Sofia 🙂 Have you visited? I think you’d like it! I had to look up Batumi, I confess, to see exactly where you were. It looks/sounds interesting – as you can tell, I love this combination too 🙂
No, not done any of Bulgaria yet. It’s on the list!
Good, you’ll love it!
A “work in progress” where the remnants of Communism sit slightly uneasily with modern attitudes and development – sounds a lot like our experiences in Tirana. Sofia though looks to have more beauty than Tirana, and I love that shot of the Boulevard with the mountains in the background. Look forward to reading your later posts.
Sofia is surrounded by mountains. We didn’t get the chance on this trip to venture outside the city but my friends who live there love being so close to so much nature. In winter they ski, in summer they hike, and all just an hour or so from the city centre 🙂
Lovely! Sarah, is this an appropriate place to ask how Fergy is? I saw his reply so I know he’s not well again. Have you heard more?
I haven’t really. He left me a comment on another blogging site that I dip into now and then so I took the opportunity to ask how he is but haven’t heard back. The last I heard he was in hospital and the doctors were puzzled as to what was wrong with him. But I take it as a sort-of good sign that he’s engaging online. I’ll let you know if I hear more.
Yes please xx
I love the mix of interesting architecture, street life and people watching that you have here. It felt like having a pleasant stroll with you.
Thanks so much Margaret – that’s pretty much the ‘feel’ I was trying to create 😊
Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome – and thanks for visiting!
I am happy to tag along Sarah. Great photos 🙂
Thanks Brian 😊 Good to have you along!
Mike and Kellye Hefner
Thank you for the pleasure of joining you on your walk, Sarah.
Good to have your company 🙂
There are no shortage of dilapidated buildings around here too, Sarah, but I expect they have a better chance of renovation. I like a place with character and it does seem to have that. Love the fountains, that beautiful church that I’m sure I’ll see more of, and the dog in the dilapidated window. Many thanks for sharing.
Thanks Jo, I’m glad you enjoyed this sort-of walk 😀 I’m not sure you’ll see much more of that church (no photos allowed inside) but I hope to show you more of the city soon!
Ah, well! Did you buy any postcards? I sometimes do if I’m not allowed to take photos.
I do quite often but didn’t there I’m afraid. It’s not the same I know, but I took some inside the Bulgarian Orthodox cathedral last time I was there: https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/gallery-sofias-st-alexander-nevsky-cathedral/ I also took some there on this visit which I may include in a future post if I can do so without repeating myself too much!
The motto of the city on its coat of arms is “Расте, но не старее” (Grows, but never ages).
I didn’t know that Michael – it seems appropriate!
Now I found the comments box 😅 Looking forward to reading the next posts about my hometown. So sorry we couldn’t meet this time.
Glad you found it 🙂 Yes, such a shame we couldn’t meet – hope to do so some time in the future!
Terri Webster Schrandt
I’m glad you could show Sofia from so many points of view, Sarah. Quite the contrasts you show of a beautiful city.
Thank you Terri 🙂 I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to show of the city over the next couple of weeks!
Thanks for reviving so many happy memories from our visit there in 2019.
It was lovely to go back and realise I liked the city just as much as on that first visit – and I was relieved that Chris really liked it too!