'Sofia was founded 3,000 years ago, by an ancient Thracian tribe, the ‘Serdi', and known as Serdica until the beginning of the ninth century. Dramatically ringed by the Balkan Mountains to the north and the Vitosha Mountains to the south, the capital stands on an open plain 550m (1,804ft) above sea level in western Bulgaria.
The town centre is dominated by neo-classical Stalinist architecture and is surrounded by a sprawling periphery of bleak, Socialist-era block housing - a formidable greeting for the first-time visitor. However, a peek through the side streets and century-old commercial quarter reveals the true magic of Sofia - a very European city of tree-lined boulevards and balconied buildings by 19th-century Russian and Viennese architects. Standing among a cluster of ancient and neo-Byzantine Orthodox churches, and one functioning mosque, which is virtually all that remains of 500 years of Ottoman domination.
However, it is in street life that the character of the city is to b…
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