Sofia, Bankya & Environs

Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. The city is at the foot of Vitosha Mountain in the western part of the country. The city is surrounded by mountains, Vitosha by the southern side, Lyulin by the western side, and the Balkan Mountains by the north, which makes it the 2nd highest European capital after Madrid. The population is 1,679,413 inhabitants (2017, metropolitan area). Sofia's development as a significant settlement owes much to its central position in the Balkans. It is situated in western Bulgaria, at the northern foot of the Vitosha mountain. The Sofia-City Province has an area of 1344 square kilometers (approx. 835 sq. miles), while the surrounding and much bigger Sofia Province is 7,059 square km (approx. 4386 sq. miles). 

The Sofia Valley has an average altitude of 550 meters (1,800 ft). Unlike most European capitals, Sofia does not straddle any large river, but is surrounded by comparatively high mountains on all sides. Three mountain passes lead to the city, which have been key roads since antiquity, Vitosha being the watershed between Black and Aegean Seas. The closest river is the Iskar river, one of the longest rivers in the country and is a tributary to the Danube and forms part of the Black Sea river basin. Also known for its 49 mineral and thermal springs, the valley used to be a home of artificial and dam lakes which were built in the twentieth century. The Sofia Central Mineral Baths still stand today but refunctioned as the Regional Museum of History. 



Sofia has been an area of continuous human habitation since at least the 30th millennium BC. The city itself has a history of nearly 8000 years, with the great attraction of the hot water springs that still flow abundantly in the centre of the city. The neolithic village in Slatina dated to about 6000 BC, i.e. the Early Neolithic, is the oldest uncovered site in Sofia today. Remains from another neolithic settlement around the National Art Gallery are traced to the 3rd–4th millennium BC, which has been the traditional centre of the city ever since. The Celtic tribe Serdi gave their name to the city resulting in the first known name of the city - Serdika. The earliest mention of the city comes from an Athenian inscription from the 1st century BC, attesting Astiu ton Serdon, i.e. city of the Serdi. Remains of the Roman period of the ancient city are located between Tzum (Universal Shop), Sheraton Hotel and the Presidency (Largo of Sofia), all built in 1956, and today are referred to as Serdica square, an outdoor museum establishment that is nested under the Largo and in parallel to Maria Luiza Boulevard. 

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