Sofia

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FALLEN MESSERSCHMITT

There is hardly a visitor to Sofia who has not crossed the vast square in front of the National Palace of Culture, or NDK, and not gasped at the sight of this strange structure that looks as if coming straight out of an urban nightmare piece of sci-fi.

Rising 35 metres from the ground, the tall thing curls somehow at an angle in the air, ending up looking somewhat like a wing. Ghostly human-like figures crawl and pose on its granite surface, where holes gape, revealing the rusting skeleton of steel.

Mon, 09/10/2012 - 12:41
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CHERNI VRAH

Sofia is perhaps an exception to the unwritten rule that every great city should be located either at sea or near a major river. Bulgaria's capital has a rare advantage, though: within an hour you can leave behind the noise and bustle of downtown and be climbing up a mountain.

With its 2,290-metre-high peak of Cherni Vrah, Vitosha is Bulgaria's fourth highest mountain. It is in the southern part of the Sofia Plain, and a mountain view or a house on its slopes command higher real estate prices in some parts of the capital.

Mon, 08/06/2012 - 13:37
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SOFIA'S HIDDEN MUSEUM

It grows but does not age, as the motto of Sofia proudly boasts: judging by the city's history, it is easy to see why. Two Neolithic settlements existed here and, in the 1st Millennium BC, the Thracians created another, which later become the Roman Serdica, the beloved "My true Rome" of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337). The city then became the Bulgarian stronghold of Sredets, the centre of an Ottoman province and, in 1879, the capital of Bulgaria. For centuries, Sofia was the place where kings and dictators ruled, and artists, composers, writers and architects created.

Mon, 04/02/2012 - 14:07
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BOYANA CHURCH

Shivering in the biting cold of the Boyana Church, you look at the 13th Century portrait of Desislava and you wonder if this image, painted 100 years before Giotto revolutionised medieval art, is truly the earliest Renaissance portrait in the world, or has Desislava (and the tourists around you) fallen victim of hype?

Mon, 01/30/2012 - 10:52
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Bulgarian Army Theatre at 98 G Rakovski Street

SOFIA'S THEATRE DISTRICT

In the early evening the streets of central Sofia are alive with crowds. People wait for their dates, groups of friends meet and part, and the buzz of conversations from restaurants and bars fills the air. When it is warm enough you can see beerdrinking teenagers in the parks and on the benches of the pedestrian zone of Vitosha Boulevard.

Wed, 09/07/2011 - 11:59
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CULTURED MINISTER

Despite some failed, and not very persistent, attempts by intellectuals, Bulgaria remains the only former Warsaw Pact country not to have a museum dedicated to its recent past. In fact, it would be safe to say that Bulgaria remains the only former East bloc country where Communism is still debated and any outspoken criticism of it, especially if it involves the Russians, may be looked down upon and discouraged.

Sat, 08/27/2011 - 07:52
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Communist Party House

STALINIST SOFIA

More than 20 years after the fall of Communism, Sofia still bears the signs of the regime in its architecture and monuments. The very centre of the city is constructed in the ostentatious style and design popular in the time of Joseph Stalin. The larger parks have monuments of Soviet soldiers, commemorating their feats in the Second World War and the supposed "eternal friendship" between the Bulgarian people and the Russians. Although the old buildings and monuments are despised by many, they bear witness to the country's past, which cannot easily be erased.

Sun, 08/07/2011 - 11:59
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WALKING ON DARVIN, KARNEGI AND VASHINGTON

When walking around Sofia you might have noticed that some of the streets, boulevards and neighbourhoods are named after foreigners. Every so often, you come across American and British names. In fact, there are 21 individuals of American, British and Irish origin commemorated in this way in Sofia. Almost all of these played a part in Bulgarian history in one way or another during the period between the April Uprising of 1876 and the end of the Second World War, supporting the country and its people.

Sun, 03/20/2011 - 16:44
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THE RED STAR REVISITED

At the end of the summer of 1990, less than a year after the collapse of Communism in Bulgaria, parliament passed an act providing for all Communist symbols in the country to be removed. The Supreme Council of the Bulgarian Socialist Party agreed to take down the big red star from the roof of the Party House.

Tue, 03/15/2011 - 15:19
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Sofia water tower

A GHOST OF SOFIA'S PAST

The capital gets its steady share of visitors all year round, drawn to the cluster of attractions in the centre with the shiny domes of Alexandr Nevskiy cathedral, the ancient rotunda of St George and the surrounding shopping streets. Those of a more curious disposition venture to Boyana Church and the National History Museum, and maybe wrap up the tour with a cable car ride to Cherni vrah peak.

But if you are prepared to explore off the beaten track, you may discover hidden gems that even the locals know little about – such as the Lozenets Water Tower.

Fri, 12/17/2010 - 15:28
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CITY CLOCKS OF SOFIA

They measure the passage of time and the heartbeat of the city. They are an institution and a mark of civilisation. The city clocks still tick away in their public places around the city, reminding people that the duration of the second is the same as a hundred years ago – it's only what they do with it that has changed.

Fri, 10/29/2010 - 00:00
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PAST IMPERFECT

When you arrived in Sofia, what was the first place your Bulgarian friends took you to? They probably showed you St Aleksandr Nevskiy Cathedral, took you for a stroll along the yellow brick road from the National Assembly to the Stalinist "Largo," or did you go shopping in one of the new "malls," the hit of the Bulgarian economy? Maybe you already tasted rakiya and shopska salad, or been to the chalga, your first experience with Bulgar pop culture?

But no one took you to Zaharna Fabrika, or Sugar Factory.

Wed, 10/27/2010 - 12:47
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SOFIA'S TEMPLES PART 4

Religion is part of everyday life in the capital city of Bulgaria – and part of the city landscape. Sometimes it stands apart in the impressive bodies of cathedrals or tall minarets. Other times it blends in with the surroundings in an inconspicuous gray building, with small notices inviting passers-by to come in and listen to an Evangelist sermon or get some White Brotherhood literature. Diversity is just below the surface in a complex mix of cultural and ethnic influences. To get to know Sofia's temples is to dip into the millennia-old history of Bulgarian lands.

Tue, 09/28/2010 - 10:19
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Sofia Central Synagogue

SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 3

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

Tue, 07/20/2010 - 14:20
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SOFIA'S TEMPLES PART 2

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 12:34
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St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral.jpg

SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 1

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

Wed, 03/10/2010 - 14:32
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THE GARDEN OF THE PAST AND FUTURE

It is a small park, with old trees and a playground. The monument in its centre looks simple, with chipped stones and solid geometrical forms. Only when you get closer and really look at it can you see that there are names on the stones – hundreds of names.

The Doctors' Monument is dedicated to the Russian medical workers who died in the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish war, which liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule. As early as 1878 the fund-raising campaign started, and the monument itself was designed by the architects Antoniy Tomishko and Luigi Farabosco and built in 1882-1884.

Wed, 02/17/2010 - 14:18
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Georgi Dimitrov's mausoleum

DUST TO DUST IN CENTRAL SOFIA

It is August 1999 and Lilyana Ilieva from Varna stumbles through the dark that envelopes the centre of Sofia at night. She reaches a huge ruin and, like several other people, crouches down by the pile of rubble that has spilled out of the mesh fencing surrounding the wreckage. Lilyana chooses a bigger fragment and puts it in her bag. "My father was in the army construction corps in 1949 and took part in the building of the mausoleum. When he learnt I was coming to Sofia, he asked me to bring him a piece of it. It was one of his dreams – to see the building demolished," Lilyana says.

Wed, 11/11/2009 - 14:07
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