At first sight, Sofia might look a bit gray with the Communist-era buildings still dominating the cityscape. During the World War II, heavy bombing destroyed much of the city, and only part of it was reconstructed the way it used to look before. There are, however, beautiful buildings from both before and after the war that create the distinctive image of the capital.
The Parliament was one of the first public buildings erected immediately after Bulgaria regained its liberty in 1878. At that time, this area was on the outskirts of Sofia, while today it’s in the very center of the capital. It’s a curious fact that the spot used to be a graveyard where only executed criminals were buried. Due to the lack of space, some of the Parliament offices are located in the former building of the Bulgarian Communist Party, down the same street.
The Sofia History Museum was a museum without a building for many years, while the Old Mineral Bath was an abandoned building in the center of Sofia for years as well. The two problems paired to produce a solution, and now the impressive Secession edifice houses exhibits from the Bulgarian capital’s past. It’s located right behind the Banya Bashi Mosque and has a fountain with many benches around it.
The Central Mineral Bath was built in 1913 replacing the old Ottoman bath. Sofia is rich in mineral water resources – actually this is one of the reasons why Romans liked the city and built impressive structures (some of them still visible today). To the right side of the entrance (if you face the bath) you can find a drinking fountain with warm mineral water, and it’s free. Nearby, in front of the Cinema House, there are more fountains with hot mineral water where Sofia dwellers come with big empty bottles to take drinking water home.
There are many reasons why this building is impressive. First, this is the structure that gave it name to the city. Back in time, this Basilica was towering on a hill close to the city, probably dominating the landscape, so people started saying they were going to (the town of Saint) Sophia. Second, under the street level, there are catacombs with graves from the East Necropolis of the ancient Serdica (the Roman name of Sofia). Another fun fact about it is that the church doesn’t have a bell tower. So where is its bell? If you look carefully, you will see it hung on a tree in front of the entrance.
In 1981, Bulgaria celebrated 1300 years since the founding of the country, and many prominent monuments and buildings were inaugurated on the occasion. The National Palace of Culture (known as NDK in Bulgarian) was one of them, the biggest congress and exhibition center in the region. It is the place where exhibitions, fairs, festivals, major concerts, and all kinds of mass events take place all year round. Urban rumors say there used to be (and maybe there still are) underground tunnels connecting NDK to other important buildings in Sofia.