Discover Bulgaria’s History & Culture with Footura’s Sofia Walking Tour
Sofia has been enjoying some time in the limelight as Europe’s cheapeast capital city and as a growing hub for digital nomads. As a traveler working remotely from the road, these two factors were enough to justify spending a few days in the Bulgarian city. The sprawling parks, wide walking boulevards and friendly locals made the second oldest capital city in Europe feel almost immediately like a place I could call home. Architecturally, Sofia is sprinkled in both ancient monuments and massive communist era buildings. Tourism is fully embraced here with perks like free entrance to all churches, incredibly affordable eateries and Footura’s Sofia Walking Tour. When I arrive to a new city I love to immediately head out and get lost but this time I decided to let Dessi from Footura’s Sofia Walking Tour do the guiding off we went to discover Sofia’s charms.
It’s hard not to miss the towering bronze statue of Saint Sophia that soars above the city. She was once considered too erotic and pagan to hold the honor of Saint but now she dons symbols of power with her crown, fame with her wreath and wisdom with her owl. She represents love, faith and hope to those who worship her. However, this glimmering beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the name of Bulgaria’s capital city. Her statue was simply placed here to replace one of Lenin. In reality, Sofia was named after Hagia Sophia which means Holy Wisdom. I quite agree that this is a very wise city indeed.
Nearby are five houses of worship from three different religions. This reflects Bulgaria’s prolific past of preservation and acceptance perfectly. During WWII Bulgarians managed to save their jewish population from certain death by convincing the Nazi party that they were need for work on local infrastructure. The building projects would be extended over and over again with any excuse to keep the Bulgarian jews from holocaust camps. Of course, it is unfair that these people were forced into any sort of labor work against their will, yet ultimately the 48,000 jewish Bulgarian citizens were saved. Not a single jewish Bulgarian was sent abroad or killed. There is still a synagogue in Sofia today, but the current jewish population is only 3,000.
After the synagogue is the Banya Bashi Mosque built in front of the mineral baths which it was named after when it was erected in 1576. The natural warm waters here were the place to clean and be seen. Everyone in the city would bath here from politicians to beggars as homes were not equipped with bathrooms yet. Sadly, the turkish bathhouse is no longer operating for healing thermal baths. Nonetheless it is very aesthetic with its primary colors and detailed domes. Be sure to take a drink of the mineral water directly from the fountains next to the bath house while locals stand beside you filling up bottles by the gallon. If you’re expecting a refreshing fresh drink, you’re in for quite a shock! The water is 37 degrees celsius and tastes like straight sulfur. Delightful!
Fortunately there are many better tasting things to try in Sofia. From the cheese and filo dough pastry, Banitsa, which locals lovingly refer to as Her Majesty, to the incredible array of fresh soup options your tastebuds will quickly recover from the thermal healing you made them suffer through. The current foodie culture is shifting back towards traditions of farm fresh meals prepared slowly with local ingredients and a lot of love. Tomatoes are Bulgaria’s pride and joy; they were even one of the only things that was allowed to be traded outside of the Iron Curtain of communism when the Bulgarian government agreed to trade their prized tomatoes with Sweden for ABBA records! Now that ABBA is getting back together maybe they’ll head to Sofia for a concert to commemorate this peaceful exchange in an otherwise dark time of history. Needless to say this city left my heart, soul and stomach feeling full and happy.