Sofia is the capital and largest cityof Bulgaria and the 12th largest city by population 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 is ranked as a Beta- world city.
Prehistoric settlements were excavated in the centre of the present city, near the royal palace, as well as in outer districts such as Slatina and Obelya. The well-preserved town walls (especially their substructures) from antiquity date back before the 7th century BC, when Thracians established their city next to the most important and highly respected mineral spring, still functioning today. Sofia has had several names in the different periods of its existence, and remnants from the city's past can still be seen today alongside modern landmarks.
Many of the major universities, institutions, and businesses of Bulgaria are concentrated in Sofia. It is also a center of media, cultural events, modern theaters, it is a home of research institutes, sporting events, orchestras, and museums. IT industry sector is gradually growing in Sofia, together with the increasing number of events in contemporary arts, festivals, etc.
Sofia houses numerous museums, notably the National Historical Museum, the Bulgarian Natural History Museum, the Museum of Earth and Men, the Ethnographic Museum, the National Museum of Military History, the National Polytechnical Museum and the National Archaeological Museum. In addition, there are the Sofia City Art Gallery, the Bulgarian National Gallery of Arts, the Bulgarian National Gallery for Foreign Art as well as numerous private art galleries.
Sofia has an extensive nightlife scene with many night clubs, live venues, pubs, mehani (Bulgarian traditional taverns), and restaurants. The city has played host to many world-famous musical acts including Elton John, Madonna, George Michael, Tiesto, Lenny Kravitz, Kiss, Kylie Minogue, Depeche Mode, Rammstein, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Judas Priest, Rihanna, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Marillion, Scorpions, Duran Duran, Simply Red, Enrique Iglesias, Roxette, Kelly Rowland, Sting and many more.
The city offers many places of special interest such as the Sts. Cyril and Methodius National Library (which houses the largest national book collection and is Bulgaria's oldest cultural institute), the British Council, the Russian Cultural Institute, the Polish Cultural Institute, the Hungarian Institute, the Czech and the Slovak Cultural Institutes, the Italian Cultural Institute, the French Cultural Institute, Goethe Institut, Instituto Cervantes, and the Open Society Institute. The city is also known for the Boyana Church, which is a UNESCO world heritage site.
In addition, Sofia houses the Sofia Zoological Garden, which was founded in 1888.
Several international film productions were made here. Vitosha Boulevard, also called Vitoshka — ranked as the world's 22nd most expensive commercial street — represents numerous fashion boutiques and luxury goods stores and features exhibitions by world fashion designers. Sofia's geographic location, situated in the foothills of the weekend retreat Vitosha mountain, further adds to the city's specific atmosphere.
With its developing infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is an important centre for international railway and automobile routes. Three Trans-European Transport Corridors cross the city: 4, 8 and 10. All major types of transport (except water transport) are represented in the city. It is home to eight railway stations, the biggest of which is the Central Railway Station. Just next to it is the new Central Bus Station, the biggest and most modern of its kind in the country. A number of other Bus Stations allow interurban and international trips from different parts of the city. The Sofia Airport with its new second terminal, finished in 2006,  handled some 2.7 million passengers in 2007.
Public transport is well-developed with bus, tram (153,6 km network) and trolleybus (97 km network) lines running in all areas of the city, although some vehicles are in a poor condition. The Sofia underground became operational from 1998 and is yet largely underdeveloped with one line and only 14 stations. Several new stations have been opened in 2009. Another, second line is being built with a targeted completion date in 2012.  The masterplan for the Sofia underground includes three lines with a total of 47 stations. In recent years the marshrutka, a private passenger van, began serving fixed routes and proved an efficient and popular means of transport by being faster than public transport but cheaper than taxis. As of 2005 these vans numbered 368 and serviced 48 lines around the city and suburbs. There are some 6,000 licensed taxi cabs operating in the city and another 2,000 operating somewhat illegally. Low fares in comparison with other European countries, make taxis affordable and popular among a big part of the city population.
A number of ancient Roman, Byzantine and medieval Bulgarian buildings have been preserved in the city and its outskirts. Most notably, the 10th century Boyana Church (one of the UNESCO World Heritage protected sites), the Church of St. George, considered the oldest building in Sofia, and the early Byzantine Church of St Sophia.
A medieval monument of significant interest is the Church of St Petka of the Saddlers located in the very centre of the city providing a sharp contrast to the surrounding three Socialist Classicism edifices of the former Party House, TZUM, and Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan.
After the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1878 and the establishment of an autonomous Bulgarian monarchy with its capital in Sofia, Knyaz Alexander Battenberg invited architects from Austria-Hungary to shape the new capital's architectural appearance.
Among the architects invited to work in Bulgaria were Friedrich Grünanger, Adolf Václav Kolá?, Viktor Rumpelmayer and others, who designed the most important public buildings needed by the newly-reestablished Bulgarian government, as well as numerous houses for the country's elite. Later, many foreign-educated Bulgarian architects also contributed.
The architecture of Sofia's centre is thus a combination of Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Renaissance and Neoclassicism, with the Vienna Secession also later playing an important part, but it is mostly typically Central European.
Among the most important buildings constructed in Sofia in the period are the former royal palace, today housing the National Art Gallery and the National Ethnographic Museum (1882); the Ivan Vazov National Theatre (1907); the former royal printing office, today the National Gallery for Foreign Art; the National Assembly of Bulgaria (1886), the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1893), etc.
After the Second World War and the establishment of a Communist government in Bulgaria in 1944, the architectural line was substantially altered. Socialist Classicism public buildings emerged in the centre, but as the city grew outwards, the new neighbourhoods were dominated by many concrete tower blocks, prefabricated panel apartment buildings (panelki) and examples of Brutalist architecture.
After the abolishment of Communism in 1989, Sofia has witnessed the construction of whole business districts and neighbourhoods, as well as modern skryscraper-like glass-fronted office buildings, but also top-class residential neighbourhoods. Capital Fort Business Center will be the first skyscraper in Bulgaria with its 126 m and 36 floors.
The capital's main attraction is probably the ample opportunity provided to Sofianites for making use of the city's sprawling parklands, many of which are densely forested. There are four such major parks - Tsar Boris's Garden in the city centre, as well as the Southern, Western and Northern and several other smaller parks, most notable of which are the City Garden and the Doctor Garden. The Vitosha Nature Park (the oldest national park in the Balkans ), which includes a big part of the Vitosha mountain to the south of Sofia, covers an area of almost 270 km² and lies entirely within the city limits. Many Sofianites take weekly hikes up the mountain, and most do so at least a couple of times a year. There are bungalows as well as several ski slopes on Vitosha, allowing locals to take full advantage of the countryside and of the mountains without having to leave the city.
The Pancharevo lake area is a popular destination due to its scenery, historical heritage (Urvich fortress and Pancharevo monastery), as well as Bulgaria's largest rowing base - "Sredets".
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