Ancient cities in Bulgaria
Sofia - the capital of Bulgaria
Sofia, located in the center of the Balkan Peninsula, is the capital of Bulgaria. It lies at the food of Vitosha Mountain and is surrounded by several mountains. The impressive buildings, art galleries, concert halls, fancy restaurants and beautiful parks make a walk in the city center a memorable experience. Sofia night life never ends for those who like night walks and meeting their friends at live music clubs, bars and restaurants.Those who prefer to enjoy the sun and take a walk in the city center can relax in the City Park where the National theatre is and have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine at the cozy terrace area at the Art club museum or at one of the many open terrace restaurants in the city center. Sofia has many universities and theaters. The National Palace of Culture, built on 15000 sq. meters, hosts a lot of cultural events such as Sofia International Film Festival, concerts, festivals and art exhibitions. Close to the National Palace of Culture is Sofia largo on Vitosha Boulevard where many luxury shops and boutiques attract visitors and quests, as well as cozy restaurants and cafes with a view towards Vitosha Mountain.
Take a journey through history and discover ancient Sofia. Sofia had different names during different historical periods. The Thracian tribe Serdi settled south of the Danube River, during the first millennium BC and built their villages near thermal springs. They gave the name Sardonopolis of today’s Sofia and later they called it Serdika. In the 2nd century the Romans declared it a city. Thrace was conquered by the Greeks and in the middle of 6th century Byzantines renamed the city Triadiza. Laterin the 9th century it became part of the First Bulgarian Kingdom in 809 and received the Slavonic name Sredetz. In 15th century the city took the named Sofia, from St. Sofia Church (God’s wisdom).
In 1453 all the Thrace territories were invaded by the Ottomans and the city was the center of the Rumelia Provence. Later in 1879, after the Constituent Assembly in the ancient Bulgarian capital Tarnovo, because of its strategic location, Sofia was declared the country’s new capital.
The main historic sites in Sofia are located in the city center.
ST. SOFIA CHURCH
St. Sofia Church, the ancient basilica, was built on the place of the necropolis of the city of Serdika. According to the legend a princess, called Sofia, was sick and when she was healed, the church was built as a sign of gratitude and praise to God. Later when the princess died she was buried in the church. After the Ottoman invasion the church was turned into a mosque. After the two earthquakes in 1818 and 1858 the building was destroyed and the Muslims found it a bad sign and abandoned the temple. Nowadays, after many restorations, the beautiful wall frescos of the church attract many visitors.The original floor mosaic from St. Sofia Church can be seen in the Archeological Museum in Saborna str. in the city center.
SOFIA ANCIENT SERDICA ARCHAEOLOGICAL COMPLEX
Located in the center of Sofia, the complex was discovered in 2012 while the subway was built. It was opened for visitors in 2016 and now the remains of the ancient Roman city are exhibited on about 9000 sq meters under a protective glass roof. The settlement was inhabited by the Thracian tribe Serdi. Later itthrived to a trade and administrative center in the Roman Province of Thrace. Now visitors can see fragments of 8 streets, an early Christian basilica and six buildings with mosaic floors, courtyards, baths and sewage systems, built in the 4th and the5th centuries. The Documanus Maximus is believed to have been the main street in Roman times.
ST GEORGE ROTUNDA
St George Rotunda is the oldest Eastern European Orthodox church and the second oldest building in the city of Sofia. This early Christian church is the oldest church in Sofia. It is a red brick rotunda, located several meters under the ground level in the courtyard of the Presidency. It was built in the 4thcentury by the Romans in the antique city of Serdika, the favorite city of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great where he grew up. Constantine the Great used to say “Serdika is my Rome”. Its remnants of frescoes and the ruins behind the alter take us back to the ancient times. The church is now a museum protected by UNESCO.
ST ALEXANDER NEVSKI CATHEDRAL
St Alexander Nevski Cathedral is the second biggestOrthodox Church in the Balkans after the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade. Its impressive gold domes can be seen from a distance both in daylight and at night. The cathedral was built in honor of the Russian soldiers who died in the Russ-Turkish war (1877-1878) and helped the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule. The cathedral was built between 1904 and 1912 in Neo-Byzantine style and is 76 meters long and 53 meters wide. Its belfry is 52 meters high. The cathedral is open for visitors and the services at Easter and Christmas are really impressive.
Other historical sites that can take you back in the history of Sofia and the country are Sveta Nedelya church, the Church of St Petka, the National Archeological Museum, the National History Museum which is one of the largest museums on the Balkans, Sofia Synagogue, the Russian Church and the Statue of Sofia.
Sofia Metro connects Sofia Airport to the city center. In a close distance from Sofia, in the foot of Vitosha Mountain, is located the 13th- century medieval Bulgarian Orthodox Church - Boyana Church, a UNESCO world heritage site. About 100 kilometers from Sofia, in Rila Monastery Nature Park, is situated Rila Monastery- the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Plovdiv - the second largest city in Bulgaria
Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia. It had different names – Eumolphia, Trimontium, Paldin and Philipopolis.
The father of Alexander the Great, Philip II conquered the city in 342 B.C. and gave the city the name Philipopolis – the city of Philip. It became part of the Roman Empire in 46 B.C. Later it came under the rule of the Byzantium Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
The remnants from the ancient Thracian, Roman, Ottoman and Medieval periods can be seen in the city center of Plovdiv.
The cultural center Tracart, covered with floor mosaics, presents a collection of ancient ceramic glass artifacts from Neolitic, Thracian and Roman periods. The AncientTheatrein the old town of Plovdiv dates back to the 2nd century. Now every year in thetheatre is held the Plovdiv International Folklore Festival.
The Stadiumin the famous Roman StadiumSquare was built in the 2nd century by Emperor Hadrin.
Another famous ancient site is the Ancient Forum and if you walk in General Gurko Street, you can see the ruins. The Odeon is a 300-seat theatre.
Take a walk in the cobblestone streetsin the old town of Plovdiv and see the 19th century houses featuring the typical Bulgarian Revival architecture. The houses are embellished with murals, columns and porches. The most impressive houses are the HindlyanHouseand the Nedcovich House.
The city offers a wide variety of fine restaurants, bars and night clubs. The hotels host international events and symposiums and are fully booked all year round.
Now the city of Plovdiv is shortlisted to be the “European Capital of Culture 2019”.
Learn evrything about the old town of Plovdiv with our Plovdiv Audio Tour.
On a rocky ridge in the Rhodope Mountains, 20 km south from Plovdiv, the medieval Assen’s Fortress (Assenova Krepost) attracts local and foreign tourists. Although the stone walls and the stairs are half ruined, the fortress still challenges many people to get to the top and enjoy the stunning view over the valley below the fortress. The fortress was built during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great in VI century. Because of its location and the difficult access, the fortress had strategic importance in the past. During the third Crusade (1189- 1192) the Crusaders took control of the fortress. During 11th century the fortress belonged to the First Bulgarian Kingdom.The second Bulgarian Kingdom emerged after endless Byzantine-Bulgarian wars. The Byzantine army of Theodore Komnenos, the ruler of Epirus and Thessaly and most of western Thrace, was defeated by Tsar Ivan Assen II. After the battle near the village of Klokotniza in 1230, the fortress came again in the possession of the Bulgarian Kingdom. Tsar Ivan Assen II rebuilt the fortress in the 13th century and unified the Bulgarian lands of the Bulgarian Kingdom.
Later, when the Ottomans took control of the Bulgarian lands, the Assen’s fortress and the church in the fortress were destroyed. The Orthodox community restored it and now the Church of the Holy Mother of God is fully renovated.
Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the second Bulgarian Kingdom
The city of VelikoTarnovo is situated the valley of the river Yantra, 241 km from Sofia, 228 km from the city of Varna and 107 km from the city of Russe.
Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the second Bulgarian Kingdom (12th-14th centuries) is now a favorite destination for many tourists. It is also known as the “City of the Tsars”.
The old city was built on three hills – Tzarevets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora above the river Yantra.
The Church of the Nativity of Jesus has frescos depicting 2000 biblical scenes and 3500 images of saints
Tsarevets is a medieval fortress, built on Tzarevets hill and was the main fortress of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. On the hill, surrounded by the river Yantra, were built the palaces of the Bulgarian tsars and also the Patriarchal Cathedral.
The audio-visual show “Tsarevgrad Tarnovo – sound and light”attracts local and foreign tourists. Through impressive lights and sound the show takes visitors back to the glorious history of Bulgaria.
A walk in the cobblestone streets of the old town takes the visitors to the crafts shops and the old houses that were built 200 years ago. The crafts shops are part of an ethnographic complex with workshops, art galleries and souvenir shops. For the visitors are open many museums – the Sarafkina House, the Stambolov Inn, the hose of P. Slaveikov, the Hadzi Nikoli Inn, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Revival and Constituent Assembley and the Museum of Contemporary History.
Built in 1985, at the celebration of 800 years since the Assen and Pitar’s rebellion, the monument of the Assen Dynasty was built in honor of the four kings Assen, Petar, Kaloyan and Ivan Assen II. The sword is a symbol of the power of medieval Bulgarian Kingdom.
Part of the ancient Roman ruins, Nikropolis ad Istrum (situated 20 km from VelikoTarnovo) was built between 101 and 106 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Trajan, in honor of his victory.
Now Veliko Tarnovo is a modern city and hosts many music and cultural events.
Arbanassi - museum village and architectural reserve
Arbanassi is a museum village, an architectural reserve where now the visitors can see the works of the Bulgarian merchants and craftsmen in the past. The decorations of the houses and churches, and the frescoes and icons attract a lot of visitors. In the Archaeological museum in Arbanassi are displayed items from the authentic houses. The authentic village and the view of the Balkan Mountains and VelikoTarnovo make Arbanassi a favorite tourist destination both for Bulgarian and foreign tourists. The beautiful nature and tranquility of Arbanassi, the authentic houses and the hospitality of the local people make the village a place where tourists can take a break from the noisy crowded cities and have a relaxing weekend.
National Historical and Architectural Reserve PLISKA
Pliska historical reserve is located 29 km from the town of Shumen. The settlement dates back from the 7thcentury. The excavations revealed constructions made from stone.
Pliska was the capital of the First Bulgarian Kingdom, from 681 till 893. In 811 the Byzantine Emperor Nikifor destroyed the capital. During the rule of the Bulgarian Khan Omurtag it was rebuilt and on the place of the old throne of Khan Krum was built a new one. The Palace and the throne were made from white marble. Khan Omurtag also built a high brick wall around the palace.
During the reign of King Boris I (852-889) many new churches were built and the Pagan churches were transformed into Christian churches. Now visitors can see The Great Basilica remains.
Tsar Simeon I (893 – 927) assumed the throne and moved the capital to Preslav.
One of the most significant monuments in the complex is the Palace of Khan Krum, built on 500 sq meters. The Eastern city gate and the Basilica are well preserved.
Veliki Preslav - National Historical Archaeological Reserve
Veliki Preslav National Historical Archaeological Reserve, the so-called Great Preslav, is situated on the river banks of Golyama Kamchia River, 3 km from Pliska historical reserve. The ruins of the Old Bulgarian capital Veliki Preslav (893-972) reveal remains of a great city at the time that rivaled the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Now the reserve displays masterpieces among which are the icon of St. Theodore, the Golden Treasure of Preslav and the Ceramic Iconostasis of the Palace Monastery. Visitors can see the unique collection of lead stamps – the biggest in the world and the collection of epigraphical records which are evidence that Great Preslav was an important administrative and educational center in the past.
Nessebar - the Thracian settlement called Menebria
Nessebar is situated on the Black Sea coast and is located 30 km from the city of Burgas. It is one of the oldest Bulgarian towns.
Nessebar was a Thracian settlement, called Menebria in 275 -225 B.C. In the 6th century it became a Greek colony. The historic sites in Nessebar are the agora and the Thracian fortification, the Byzantium fortification,Saint Sofia church that dates back to the 5th century and the 11th century church St. Stephan,the churches of Christ Pantocrator and St. John the Baptist.
The old town on the peninsula is connected to the modern town by a narrow isthmus.
The wooden houses and the cobblestone streets of the old town are typical features of Nessebar that have been main topics in the art works of many Bulgarian painters and artists.
The cozy restaurants and taverns in the old town offer great sea food and local specialties.
Wine lovers can visit the Nessebar wineries.
Nessebar is included in the UNESKO World Heritage.
Sozopol - the ancient seaside town
Sozopol, an ancient seaside town, located 35 km south of the city of Burgas. It is the oldest town in Bulgaria and is also called an art city. It was a Helenic colony of Miletus. Later it was named Pontica by the Greeks.
By the first century AD, the name Sozopolis (Σωζόπολις) began to appear in some written records. During the Ottoman rule the town was known as Sizebolu, Sizeboli or Sizebolou.
The Greeks also called it "Apollonia" in the name of god Apollon– the patron of arts.
"Apollonia" Music Festival is hold in Sozopol each year, from the 1st September to the 10th September.
Sozopol is also called Art city.
There are many nice small and cozy restaurants and cafes in Sozopol that offer sea food and a nice sea view.
The unique botanical garden in the palace complex in Balchik
Balchik is a resort on the Black Sea, situated 31 km north of Varna and 500 km east from Sofia.
Like all the ancient cities along the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria, Balchik reveals important facts about the history of Bulgaria.
During the Romanian control of the region, between 1926 and 1937, was built the Palace of the Romanian Queen Marie as a summer residence of the queen. She was the Princess of Edinburgh, Scotland and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She married Ferdinand I of Romania in 1893. The gardens of the palace are facing the sea and reveal a stunning view.
The construction of the Palace was carried out by Italian architects who used Balkan and Oriental motifs.The Queen valued the peaceful atmosphere of the place and put her heart in transforming it in her shelter, where to escape from the life in the Romanian court and her unfaithful husband.
Visitors can see the central palace building in the complex with a high tower and stone columns, a wine cellar and a monastery, as well as the villas. Walking around the terrace, the tourist can enjoy the tranquility and divine beauty of the sea.
The unique botanical garden in the palace complex is the biggest on the Balkan Peninsula and the second in variety of plants after the botanical garden in Monaco. The parkis arranged in 1924-1936. The project was developed by the French garden designer Jules Janine.There aremore than 3000 rare and exotic species of plants, more than 200 tree species, numerous flowers and a unique collection of cactus plants (more than 250 species).
The water of the holly spring in the complex is believed that cures diseases and chases away bad thoughts and fatigue. The legend says that a blind girl washed her eyes with water from the spring and after that, thanks to the holy water, her eyesight was restored.
A small bridge inthe gardens attracts visitors. It is believed that if you walk over it, very slowly and with your eyes closed, and make a wish, it will come true.
In the village of Balchik visitors can also see a small ethnographic museum and a beautiful old church called St. Nikola Church (1866). The Revival complex with the old school in the town is quite well preserved.
In the area around the village of Balchik many big spa hotels and small guest houses offer delicious fish dishes and homemade wine. There are also golf clubs and golf courts.