Sofia – living in green surroundings
Vitosha is one of twenty-four districts in Sofia. It is at the foot of the mountain of the same name and is known as the “green district”.
Vitosha includes several popular residential neighbourhoods such as Simeonovo, Dragalevzi, Boyana, Pavlovo and Kniashevo, as well as the Vladaya, Marchaevo, Buxton und Manastirski Livadi districts. It also has five dacha estates. It has an area of 123 square kilometres and is home to over 70,000 people.
Many former top functionaries of the Communist Party built villas in this district, eight kilometres south of the city centre at the foot of Vitosha mountain. The long-time party boss Todor Shivkov also lived there in a state residence, which continues to be used today as the official residence of the president of the country.
Manastirski Livadi is one of the most rapidly developing neighbourhoods. It is bordered by Bulgaria Boulevard in the west, Todor Kableshkov Street in the north and the Sofia ring road in the south. These major roads connect the modern residential district with the city centre and give another reason, apart from the air quality, for living or investing there. It has something for all tastes: apartment blocks built in the 1990s, smaller apartment buildings with inner courtyards, terraced houses and two-family houses in self-contained estates. It is surrounded by modern office buildings with glass façades.
Healing water to spare
Sofia is famous for its many mineral springs. For Vitosha the sources are a natural gift that was already appreciated by the Thracians, Romans and Byzantines. There are two types of mineral source in Kniashevo. The water in the northern part is warm and can be used for healing purposes, while the sources in the south are colder. The thermal water is good for chronic gastritis, kidney stones and diabetes and can be obtained at three sites free of charge.
Only five kilometres from the centre of Boyana is the 15-metre waterfall of the same name. On clear days in spring the waterfall can even be seen from the centre of Sofia.
Vitosha also has plenty of cultural monuments. Boyana achieved historical significance thanks to the church of the same name, which has been a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site since 1979. Its oldest components date back to the tenth to thirteenth centuries, while the most recent annex was built in 1882. It was closed for restoration for a long time but has been open again to the public since 2006. The church is famous for the murals dating from 1259. They show 240 people in 89 scenes and represent one of the most complete and best preserved examples of medieval eastern European art. The painter is unknown but was probably a member of the Tarnovo school. The name “Masters of Boyana” is a collective name for all of the painters who made works of this type at the time.
The monastery at Dragalevzi was built in the mid-fourteenth century under the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander. It used to be one of the most important monasteries in Bulgaria and played a major role as a centre of scholarship and rebellion during the Ottoman rule (1396–1878). The monastery was destroyed when Sofia was taken by the Ottomans in 1382 and it was not until the second half of the fifteen century that it was reconstructed. It developed rapidly into a centre of Bulgarian scripture and culture. The Bulgarian freedom fighter Vassil Levski (1837–73) sheltered there, and an revolutionary committee was also established there in 1873.
The largest museum in Bulgaria
The National History Museum in Sofia with an area of 6,000 square metres is the largest museum in Bulgaria. It was founded in 1973 and has a collection of over 650,000 works, of which around 10 per cent are on show. After the end of the Communist era in 1990 the museum was moved to part of Todor Shivkov’s former presidential residence in Boyana, just beyond the ring road. This building with the address House No. 1 became the best guarded museum in Bulgaria. It has a valuable collection of archaeological finds from the Palaeolithic era, starting in 7000 BC, right to the Middle Ages. The highlight of the collection is the Panagyrishte Treasure from the fourth century BC, with drinking vessels made of pure gold weighing 6 kg.
Vitosha has not only natural but also cultural delights to enjoy.
Also read our series on Vienna´s 23 districts