Monday, 30 April 2007

Sofia's old buildings

The oldest part of the city (about a century old) is the area enclosed by Konstantin Velichkov blvd. and Skobelev blvd. to the west, Banishora district and Maria Luiza blvd. to the north, Oborishte district to the east and Patriarch Evtimii blvd. to the south. The northern part of the centre is less preserved but is less influenced by the more recent architecural trends (recent here to be understood as the years after the second World War). The old buildings here might not be as lavish as the ones in the south-eastern part of the centre, but yet they still bear the spirit of old times when the capital had no more than 50-100 000 inhabitants and the centre was in fact the whole city.

During World War II Sofia suffered bomb strikes by the US and UK's air forces and many of the architectural masterpieces were completely destroyed. Some of them were rebuilt but lost their glory. Others were replaced by massive grey blocks to house the incoming workforce from all over the country. With the communists coming to power the old way of living was gone, the owners of property had different fate and in 1989 (when comunism fell) it turned out that many of these houses were abandoned and either it was arguable whose property they were, or it wasn't known at all whom they belonged to.
One by one, they were left on their own and to time. Day by day thy've been turning into ruins.

There is a special regulation for protection from dangerous buildings. If they are not within standards, their owners are obliged to apply the necessary repairs. If the owner can't be found, well, then...the building is demolished. There are also cases in which the land under the building is bought by an investor and the building is destroyed, then a new lavish glass-and-concrete monster is erected.

In cases when the threatened building is of cultural importance, the investor is obliged to offer a solution in which it is preserved or the reconstruction plan fits with specific requirements for preserving the outlook of
the old building.

The place on the photos is on Budapest street near the crossing with Dondukov blvd. Considering the area, the ruins might soon be replaced with a new block of flats.

It looks like there has been another house in front of the one painted in brown. I presume that almost all furniture and devices have been taken/stolen beforehand (like it usually happens). The chair was the only thing I noticed to be completely preserved. I guess it's been used by the workers who have demolished the house.

On one of the photos one can see what the shape of the house has been like. It has been very common to attach a structure to the neighbouring one. There secondly built has no separate wall, only some thin coverage over which wallpapers are placed. This makes the second building very unstable, especially in cases when it has suffered major reconstructions and important columns have been removed. A tragic example of what might happen in such cases - here.

The problem comes when there's a combination between cultural importance and danger. Till now the regulations don't prove to be good. Otherwise tragedies wouldn't happen or old buildings wouldn't be demolished and the culturale heritage of our capital - lost. Where's the "exit" ("изход" in Bulgarian, "izhod" with latin letters) of all this?

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Update about the underground of Sofia

Only a few days ago I was walking in the streets of the centre of Sofia and passed by one of the construction sites of the underground. The place is at the University of Sofia, map here.
The more the construction progresses, the wider area of the park is being destroyed. When the excavation work began it was said that all trees in this area would be moved to a safer place and then returned to their original growing spot. Hopefully the promise would be kept.
Now even the statues which are part of the complex of the Monument of the Soviet Army are within the construction site, but I guess they remain untouched.
I think that the group of people impacted the most by the construction (in negative way) are the skaters and bladers who use the space in front of the monument for practising. But I guess they can be patient as long as the project is finished. Soon they'll be able to use the underground to travel to their favourite gathering spot directly from their homes at the other side of the city.
It is said that this station (University of Sofia "St. Kliment Ohridski") would be the busiest one.
We'll see on November. :)

Where peace hides

It's the Embassy of Peace. At first it appeared to be just queer. I thought - well, it's probably some kind of an organization. I have no idea how right I was.

So, I was walking with a friend in the streets when I noticed this building, then - the surprising sign: Embassy of Peace.

Yes, it turned out to be one of those organizations striving for unity through religion. I must point out that I'm not one of the biggest admirers of such initiatives. But yet, individuals have their freedom of most cases.

What I liked the most was in fact the photo I took of the sign. It turned out to be a good combination between nature and peace. :)

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Sheep in Sofia

Yes, there are sheep in Sofia. Any doubts I had before are now completely gone.
There's something quite interesting about sheep and Sofia in general. Some people from Sofia, especially young ones, are proud to be citizens of the capital and regard everyone else as "peasants". Just the opposite: people from the country think that Sofians are very stuck-up and the high opinion they have for themselves is not supported by the facts at all. So, we've got a nice rivalry here.
But where's the sheep in the whole picture?
This poor little creature is said not to inhabit the capital of Bulgaria. It is said to live only somewhere in the country. If seen by a citizen of Sofia, the reaction might be: "OK, it's not a big deal, such sights can be seen sometimes. But the fact that we are superior remains."
The reaction of someone from the country: "There are sheep in Sofia too so don't offend us anymore and think you're superior."
These reactions are probably the worst-case scenarios. I believe in normal situations things are much more calmer. I have the feeling that most of the people involved (from both sides) argue just for the sport.

Oh, by the way, the I took this photo at the complex the Academy of Science. I hope there's no correlation between sheep and science here. :)

Monday, 23 April 2007

The new escalators at the Main Train Station

The Main Train Station has been a typical reminder of the architecture from the communist era: massive and grey.

When I was a child I used to pass through the station with my parents and I remember the old brown escalators still working. I also remember that I really enjoyed standing on the steps and reaching the top without any efforts.

At that time the escalators stopped working one by one. The early 90's were tough years when state property was devastated, and the state didn't have the capacity to take care of its equity. So the Main Train Station slowly turned into an ugly reminder of the past times with its dark, stinky corners, greasy benches and homeless dogs. The escalators' colour became darker and darker, dust and rubbish irreversably damaged the mechanisms and they turned just into dangerous alternative of the stairs.

The reconstruction of the front part of the train station began in the early autumn of 1999. It's been in progress since then. The front square is owned and managed by the Municipality of Sofia which probably is the main factor for it's reconstruction. The building of the train station itself is owned by the state. For a long time there have been huge arguments between municipality and state concerning the status of the whole complex (building and square), but almost no progress.

I was happy to notice that some progress has been made in the modernization of the building itself. Apart from other minor improvements, probably the biggest one has been the replacement of the old escalators. Since 2006 half of them have been replaced and the first few are already running!

Quality of living city rankings 2007

An annual survey conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting shows that Sofia is on 116th place for overall quality of living. In the the sub-ranking for health and sanitation services our capital has reached the 105th place. On EU-scale the positions are respectively 26th and 23th (out of 26, Malta's capital is not included).
According to the survey, there's been some improvement since 2006: from 118th to 116th place for overall quality of living.

According to many Sofians though, there is no improvement at all or if there is, it is only in areas which are not that problematic. My feeling is that the most problematic areas which prevent Sofia from progressing are the poor condition of street covering, homeless dogs, the building boom, etc.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Wanna cup of tea???

Waiters or waitresses breaking something is quite an often sight. But when the cup is not broken but sunk, things get even worse.

Hm, it's not unusual to see plastic cups thrown on the grownd or in the water. But a porcelain one?!?!? I was startled to see this one in the small pond at the back of the National Library.

During summer there is an open-air cafe around the pond.
I guess it's not a big deal if they lose a cup or two in the water. Next year they'll be fully able to get them back. :)

Sunday, 15 April 2007

The underground under construction

This is a part of the soon-to-be-opened line of the underground from Serdika station to Mladost district. It's in front of the International Trade Center of Interpred, on the crossroad of Dragan Tzankov blvd. and F.J. Curie blvd. At this very place the trains would emegre above the ground. A special coverage is made over the tracks so that the inside would be protected from severe weather conditions, and the near blocks and houses would be protected from the noise from the trains passing by.

The underground construction has started in the 1970's and since then not a single complete line has been opened. Most of the construction was made in the 1990's. Currently the line in construction is the one which is aimed to connect the two biggest districts of Sofia: Luilin and Mladost. Named "cities within the city", they provide shelter to probably 1/3 of the inhabitants of Sofia. Currently the underground is opened only from Obelya (a district close to Liulin) to the city centre at St. Nedelya square (Serdika station). Since last year the other part of the line has been in construction: from Serdica station to Mladost district. Luckily, a huge part of it is already built in the 1970's and 1980's. The toughest and most delicate part of the construction is the part between Serdika station and the University of Sofia. It's exactly underneath the core of the city centre, the so-called "Largo". Under the ground there are the remains of the old Roman city of Serdica, so the tunnel should be much deeper than the part from Liulin to the centre. Even now a part of the old city walls are integrated within one station: Serdika (named after the old city).

At the time I'm writing this post the construction is still in progress. Most of the coverage of the track is placed; the part above the ground is almost finished and now the place where the trains would again go underground is in construction: the crossing of Dragan Tzankov blvd. and G.M. Dimitrov blvd. It's also the most recent traffic jam spot in Sofia.

The next stations to be opened are University of Sofia "Kilment Ohridski", "Dragan Tzankov" and "Interpred". Expectedly and hopefully till the end of 2007.

More info: the official website of "Metropolitan Sofia"


The transport to and in the city is quite an experience. Buses, trolley buses, trams, route taxis (marshrutka) are the most common means of public transport here. The underground is also popular, although it still covers only a small part of the city - from Liulin to the centre.

Trams are the most distinctive means of transport of Sofia - the capital is the only place in Bulgaria where trams are used. They vary in models, colours and...age. My favourites are the ones which are used only for lines 1 and 7 because of the modern outlook and fast and smooth movement. Unfortunately they are among the dirtiest trams.

One of the busiest bus lines is line 280: from the University of Sofia to Student's town (Studentski grad). During most of the day it's very difficult to close the doors because of the huge crowd inside. At Pliska station everyone wants to go inside, and some people even risk falling out of the bus as the doors can't be closed because of them standing on the steps.

The most dangerous means of transport is undoubtedly the marshrutka. They first appeared about 10 years ago when the public transport was in a very poor condition, while people needed to reach the other part of the city quickly. With the improvement of living standards the pace of living also increased and citizens of the capital have been the ones mostly in a hurry in Bulgaria. So the marshrutka was born. Nowadays there are more than 30 lines: some of them cover almost 100% of existing bus, tram or trolley bus lines but their existance is certain because of one single fact: quickness. This inevitably means risky driving. Marshrutka drivers are among the most dangerous drives in Sofia. Most often the passengers would almost fall from their seats or feel dizzy after sitting in the minibus. But sometimes, as I felt it myself, passengers even get overdoses of adrenaline because of the crazy driving. One day I was sitting in marshrutka number 20. The driver saw a huge traffic jam ahead and instead of getting stuck into it and being behind the schedule, he decided to turn left and pass through...the meadows between the opposite lines!

There are also means of transport that have never moved but have had passengers though. One year ago I saw this small train in a small park near Evlogi Georgiev blvd. Probably it's been an amusement place for children once. Now it's a gathering place for all kinds of creeping creatures, plants and also a rain drops collector. Or another practicing area for graffitti artists.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

The history in brief

Founded seven thousand years ago, Sofia is the second oldest city in Europe. It has been given several names in the course of history and the remnants of the old cities can still be seen today.

Serdika was the name of the central dwelling of the ancient Thracian tribe known as “Serdi”. It bore that name when it became part of the Bulgarian state at the beginning of the ninth century and was soon recognised as one of the most important feudal towns, acquiring the Slavic name Sredets.

Near Sofia lies Boyana church, which is one of the most valuable memorials of Bulgarian and European culture. The church boasts frescoes, acclaimed by specialists as “the best examples of eastern mediaeval art during its twelve century history”.

The decline of Sofia during the Ottoman Empire was followed by the rejuvenation after the liberation in 1879, when Sofia was chosen as the capital of Bulgaria at the First National Constituent Assembly. The plans of 1881-1882 were followed by a brisk and straight-forward period of construction.

In 1900 the City Council approved the emblem of Sofia and the motto “It Grows but Does not Age”.


Municiplity of Sofia

Sofia, Bulgaria.

This is one of my spontaneous ideas. I really don't know whether my interest of this topic would last long or not. I also don't know whether there will be interest from visitors to my postings.
So what?

The topic is clear: the hidden beauty of Sofia - the capital of Bulgaria.

Why hidden: because through all the noise, dirtiness and rush there are places and moments that deserve poining out. It's not about the tourist spots, their appearance here would be more related to the hidden stories behind them rather than on their most well-known views. There are also less known places or events, or even citiezens' behaviour which in fact are one of the most distinctive points of the city.

Why me: because I live in Sofia, I know almost all its neighbourhoods and I love exploring it more and more. I've been taking photos in Sofia for almost two years and I really want to show what I've seen to the whole world.

Why visit the blog: this is not a commercial. It's neither an attempt to define a target group. My target group is simply everyone who wants to see and know the real city.