Get to know seven #soSofia symbols that we recommend you see and experience, even if you are visiting only for a day. Some of the most welcoming Free Sofia Tour guides tell the stories behind them in the videos below. If you'd like to take a souvenir with these memories home, you can find our small fridge-magnet-guide-book with the seven #soSofia symbols here.
The Women's Market
The Women's Market is the largest open market in Sofia, and the only one of the old "tcharshii", dating back from the times of Ottoman rule, that preserved its multifaceted appearance despite a series of historical transformations. In the past, the Women's Market has had a number of names, most notably, the one of prominent socialist "Georgi Kirkov". Living evidence of the dynamics and cultural diversity ever since its founding days, the market finds itself at one of the most interesting parts of the city in which all kinds of cultures and people live peacefully in understanding. At the market, you can find everything you can possibly imagine: from humus, olives, nuts and tahan from the Arab stalls, through fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, cheese and sausages from local producers, to traditional ceramics, carpets and textiles, clothes and souvenirs and all types of Chinese goods. You can also have a good deal at the second hand bazar in the close vicinity of the market.
To date, the klekshops are probably the most distinguishable soSofia symbol. Despite being almost extinct, the remainder of them still keeps a fresh memory of the beginning of the democratic transition, when during one of the greatest shifts in its history - from communism to capitalism, a new perspective of entrepreneurship blossoms throughout the country. Despite the fact that in the period between 2012 and 2017 klekshops have been closing down at a average rate of five per year, in the southern part of the city centre there still is a total of twenty-seven shops where you can squat to buy coffee, wafer, cigarettes, beer and even freshly squeezed juice.
The Yellow Pavement
8 x 21 x 10 cm - these are the exact measurements of each and every of the small golden yellow blocks - the most recognizable and characteristic symbol of Sofia in our time. For more than a century, the yellow pavement has been an emblematic point in the capital's landscape. It is a symbol of the administrative, historical and cultural heart of the city and a witness of civil protests, military parades, aerial bombardment and sieges. Its history is surrounded by many urban myths and legends, which reinforce its status as an informal cultural monument with a multitude of symbolism. "Born on the yellow pavement" is an epitome for a person from the elite, an aristocrat, someone with power, or at least, having access to class, luxury and riches.
The Lions of Sofia
Being the symbol of Bulgaria, the lion is depicted on the national coat of arms and gives the name of our currency. Since ancient times, it has been a symbol of supreme and divine power, nobility, tranquility, prudence, and justice. During the Renaissance, the lion is the most popular Bulgarian symbol. Even the most beloved national hero, the Apostle of the liberation movement, was nicknamed Levski (of the lion). The lion is also a symbol of the authority of the state and the courage and invincibility of Bulgarian warriors, who fought "like lions" during the wars of the last two centuries. Despite the fact that lions are not typical for the fauna of the region, one can notice many statues of lions peeping from every corner of the city. You can find them guarding the Palace of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, giving water to the thirsty behind the National Bank, reminding of the boldness of enlighteners, hanged by the Ottomans, or of the courage of the unknown warriors, who gave their lives for the country.
Sofia's Mineral Water
Ancient Serdica (nowadays – Sofia) was born at this specific place because of the many of mineral springs. To this day, water springs are the city's greatest treasure, as Sofia is one of the world's richest capital cities in terms of volume of mineral water. On a relatively small territory there are eight of the world's nine known types of mineral water, which run from thirty-one separate basins, with a total of seventy-five springs found in the area of Sofia. You can visit the most popular springs at the Centralna Banya, Knyazhevo and Gorna Banya and taste the water, which has low mineralization level, tolerable taste and possess healing properties for various diseases. Unfortunately, due to a variety of economic reasons, less than twenty per cent of Sofia's mineral springs are being used, so we not only invite you, but urge you to taste and indulge yourself in Sofia’s mineral water. You can do that at the very heart of the city, at the former Central Bathhouse, which presently hosts the Museum of Sofia’s History. Cheers!
The "Largo" of Sofia or the space officially known as "Independence Square" is the place in the very heart of Sofia, where you will easily find yourself in the cross roads of the city's several thousand-year history. Within about two-hundred square meters, you can see the entire layout of cultural, historical, religious and ethnic strata, the combination of which makes Sofia #soEurope. Look around and see a church, a synagogue, and a mosque; the central department store with its monumental socialist architecture, right next to the excavations of the ancient Roman fortress Serdica; the Council of Ministers and the building of the National Assembly, which used to be the Communist Party House; The Presidency and the majestic building of the Ministry of Education and Science; the new statue of Hagia Sophia and the historic St. Nedelya church on the other side, near the crypt with the ancient Roman tomb, on top of which the 14th century church of St. Petka was erected. The place is a crossing point on so many levels – it combines religions and historical storytelling; it is a major transport junction, linking the main boulevards of the city; and a symbol of democracy, serving as the place were civil protests take place and where the vox populi is proclaimed.
The best way to start your day in Sofia is with a piece of banitsa. This is the most traditional street food and you can find it at any of the many snack shops on the streets. They have all kept the recipe for Sofia's Banitsa for decades - like the ones on Graf Ignatiev, Gladstone or this one over here, on Shishman street. Everyone here calls it Sofiiska banitsa, but if you ask any of our neighbors on the Balkans, an argument would erupt of who should claim its name. So, if to you the banitsa is just a gastronomic experience, to us it is an oily and tasty symbol of continuity and tolerance that characterizes the history of the Balkans over the centuries. Delicious, isn’t it?