Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria. It is situated near the geographical centre of the Balkans region, in the Sofia Basin, a troughlike valley in the western part of the country. The city is at the foot of Vitosha mountain in the western part of the country. Being in the centre of the Balkans, it is midway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea, and closest to the Aegean Sea.Sofia is the 13th largest city in the European Union. It is surrounded by mountains, such as Vitosha by the southern side, Lyulin by the western side, and the Balkan Mountains by the north, which makes it the second highest European capital after Madrid. The city is built on the Iskar river, and has many mineral springs, such as the Sofia Central Mineral Baths. It has a humid continental climate. Being Bulgaria's primate city, Sofia is home of many of the major local universities, cultural institutions and commercial companies.The city has been described as the 'triangle of religious tolerance'. This is due to the fact that three colossal temples of the three world major religions - Christianity, Islam and Judaism, reside inside the borders of the city, which are the Sveta Nedelya Church, Banya Bashi Mosque and Sofia Synagogue. Sofia has been named one of the top ten best places for start-up businesses in the world, especially in information technologies.
Sofia was Europe's most affordable capital to visit in 2013. In 1979, the Boyana Church in Sofia was included onto the World Heritage List, and it was deconstructed in the Second Bulgarian Empire, holding much patrimonial symbolism to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. With its cultural significance in Eastern Europe, Sofia is home to the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria, the National Palace of Culture, the Vasil Levski National Stadium, the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Serdica Amphitheatre. The Museum of Socialist Art includes many sculptures and posters that educate visitors about the lifestyle in communist Bulgaria.The population of Sofia declined from 70,000 in the late 18th century, through 19,000 in 1870, to 11,649 in 1878, after which it began increasing. Sofia hosts some 1.23 million residents within a territory of 492 km2, a concentration of 17.5% of the country population within the 200th percentile of the country territory. The urban area of Sofia hosts some 1.54 million residents within 5723 km², which comprises Sofia City Province and parts of Sofia Province (Dragoman, Slivnitsa, Kostinbrod, Bozhurishte, Svoge, Elin Pelin, Gorna Malina, Ihtiman, Kostenets) and Pernik Province (Pernik, Radomir), representing 5.16% of the country territory. The metropolitan area of Sofia is based upon one hour of car travel time, stretches internationally and includes Dimitrovgrad in Serbia. Unlike most European metropolitan areas, it is not to be defined as a substantially functional metropolitan area, but is of the type with "limited variety of functions". The metropolitan region of Sofia is inhabited by a population of 1.68 million and is made up of the whole provinces Sofia City, Sofia and Pernik, comprising more than 10,000 km².
Data and Facts
- Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe, established in 681 AD. It is also the only European country that hasn’t changed its name after the establishment
- The first subway station took 30 years to build from 1960 to 1990. Every meter they dug, they found more and more archaeological sites ranging from the era of Thracians to the Romans. They even found thermal water
- The oldest gold treasure in the world has been found on the territory of Bulgaria, at a burial site to the west of Varna city, close to the Black sea shore. During the digging were found more than 3000 golden artifacts being more than 6000 years old
- Sofia Valley boasts more than 30 mineral springs, most hotter than 33°C (91.4°F) and low in mineralization, making the water perfect for consumption (after proper cooling at least)
- At 550 m above sea level, Sofia is one of the highest capitals in Europe - after Andorra la Vella (1,023 m), San Marino (749 m), Madrid (667 m), and Pristina (652 m) - sitting at the base of Vitosha Mountain
Sofia Municipality is identical to Sofia City Province, which is distinct from Sofia Province, which surrounds but does not include the capital itself. Besides the city proper, the 24 districts of Sofia Municipality encompass three other towns and 34 villages. Districts and settlements have their own governor who is elected in a popular election. The assembly members are chosen every four years. The common head of Sofia Municipality and all the 38 settlements is the mayor of Sofia. The current mayor Yordanka Fandakova is serving a third consecutive term, having won the 2015 election at first round with 238,500 votes, or 60.2% of the vote, when Reformist Bloc opponent Vili Lilkov was second with 9.6%; the turnout was 41.25%. A precedent happened, due to the suspicion, as a preventative action between 300 and 5000 people and counters had been locked inside Arena Armeets against their will for two days, following which the director of the Electoral Commission of Sofia resigned at the request of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
Sofia is the seat of the executive , legislative and judiciary bodies of Bulgaria, as well as all government agencies, ministries, the National Bank, and the delegation of the European Commission. The President, along with the Council of Ministers, is located on Independence Square, also known as The Largo or The Triangle of Power. One of the three buildings in the architectural ensemble, the former Bulgarian Communist Party headquarters, is due to become the seat of the Parliament. A refurbishment project is due to be completed in mid-2019, while the old National Assembly building will become a museum or will only host ceremonial political events.Under Bulgaria's centralised political system, Sofia concentrates much of the political and financial resources of the country. Nevertheless, in the 21st century, crimes, including Bulgarian mafia killings, caused problems in the city, where authorities had difficulties convicting the actors, which had caused the European Commission to warn the Bulgarian government that the country would not be able to join the EU unless it curbed crime . Many of the most severe crimes are contract killings connected to organised crime, but these had dropped in recent years after several arrests of gang members. Corruption in Bulgaria also affects Sofia's authorities. According to the director of Sofia District Police Directorate, the largest share of the crimes are thefts, making up 62.4% of all crimes in the capital city. Increasing are frauds, drug-related crimes, petty theft and vandalism. According to a survey, almost a third of Sofia's residents say that they never feel safe in the Bulgarian capital, while 20% always feel safe. As of 2015, the consumer-reported perceived crime risk on the Numbeo database was “high” for theft and vandalism and “low” for violent crimes; safety while walking during daylight was rated «very high», and “moderate” during the night.
Sofia is the economic hub of Bulgaria and home to most major Bulgarian and international companies operating in the country, the National Bank and the Bulgarian Stock Exchange. The city's GDP (PPS) per capita stood at €29,600 ($33,760) in 2015, one of the lowest for a capital region in the EU, but well above other cities in the country. Nominal GDP in 2014 was 32.8 billion leva ($19.1 billion) The average per capita annual income was 6,890 leva ($4,019) in 2014, and average monthly wages in June 2018 were $880, the highest nationally. Services dominate the economy, accounting for 85.9% of gross value added. In 2015, Forbes listed Sofia as one of the top 10 places in the world to launch a startup business, because of the low corporate tax (10%), the fast internet connection speeds available – one of the fastest in the world, and the presence of several investment funds, including Eleven Startup Accelerator, LAUNCHub and Neveq.
Historically, after World War II and the era of industrialisation under socialism, the city and its surrounding areas expanded rapidly and became the most heavily industrialised region of the country. The influx of workers from other parts of the country became so intense that a restriction policy was imposed, and residing in the capital was only possible after obtaining Sofianite citizenship. However, after the political changes in 1989, this kind of citizenship was removed. In 2015, Globalization and World Cities Research Institute ranked Sofia as Beta- world city. As of 12 September 2018, Sofia is ranked among the 100 financial top centres worldwide. Up until 2007, Sofia experienced rapid economic growth. In 2008, apartment prices increased dramatically, with a growth rate of 30%. In 2009, prices fell by 26%. In January 2015, Sofia was ranked 30th out of 300 global cities in terms of combined growth in employment and real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2013–2014. This was the highest rank amongst cities in Southeast Europe. The real GDP (PPP) per capita growth was 2.5% to $33,105 (28,456 euro) and the employment went up by 3.4% to 962,400 in 2013–2014.
Sofia is one of the top ten cities in the world to found a company. With as little as a bunch of enthusiasts, €20M that the two early stage investment funds Eleven and Launchub deployed to 200+ projects, the two major co-working spaces that were founded around that time and the first widely known IT exit of Telerik, the environment has started to change its face. It has happened primarily due to private investments and private efforts. With one exception, there are no state-backed startup activities or initiatives that have brought significant results in Bulgaria.
In 2010 Alexander Mihaylov organized a meetup to explore the niche for coworking spaces in Sofia, after he had already been part of the betahaus Berlin creation. Predominantly advertising agencies, creatives and freelancers appeared to the event. Startup was certainly not a well known concept.
The first signs of any entrepreneurial culture in the city were a VC fund called NEVEQ and two organizations called Start It Smart and Startup Foundation. While NEVEQ was an investment fund focused on tech companies that were already in the scaleup stage, the young Start It Smart and Startup Foundation were trying to provide the emerging community with the most basic information and inspiration regarding entrepreneurship. Two major events happened in 2012 – betahaus, the first coworking space in Sofia was launched, and the European Investment Fund chose Eleven and Launchub as fund managers. And so it began.
Companies like Telerik, Chaos Group (the maker of the V-Ray software), and more recently, Tickey, have boosted the reputation of Bulgarian engineers and developers around the world. Sofia was even listed among the 10 top cities to launch a startup in an infographic curated by the The Brighton School of Business and Management and published by Seedstars World. Bulgaria's low 10% income tax rate makes it particularly attractive for business owners, although they do still have to contend with widespread corruption. But it's a vibrant ecosystem, albeit not a very well-known one.
With its developing infrastructure and strategic location, Sofia is a major hub for international railway and automobile transport. Three of the ten Pan-European Transport Corridors cross the city: IV, VIII and X. All major types of transport are represented in the city. The Central Railway Station is the primary hub for domestic and international rail transport, carried out by Bulgarian State Railways , the national rail company headquartered in the city. It is one of the main stations along BDZ Line 1, and a hub of Lines 2, 5 and 13. Line 1 provides a connection to Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, while Line 2 is the longest national railway and connects Sofia and Varna, the largest coastal city. Lines 5 and 13 are shorter and provide connections to Kulata and Bankya, respectively. Overall, Sofia has 186 km of railway lines.Sofia Airport handled 6,962,040 passengers in 2018.Public transport is well-developed with bus 2,380 km , tram 308 km and trolleybus 193 km lines running in all areas of the city. In 2015 new 7 stations were opened and the underground extends to Sofia Airport on its Northern branch and to Business Park Sofia on its Southern branch. In July 2016 the Vitosha Metro Station was opened on the M2 main line. A third line is currently under construction and is expected to be finished in the second half of 2019. This line will complete the proposed underground system of three lines with about 65 km of lines. The master plan for the Sofia Metro includes three lines with a total of 63 stations. Marshrutkas provide an efficient and popular means of transport by being faster than public transport, but cheaper than taxis. There are around 13,000 taxi cabs operating in the city. Additionally, all-electric vehicles are available through carsharing company Spark, which is set to increase its fleet to 300 cars by mid-2019.
The municipality was known for minor and cosmetic repairs and many streets are in a poor condition. This is noticeably changing in the past years. There are different boulevards and streets in the city with a higher amount of traffic than others. These include Tsarigradsko shose, Cherni Vrah, Bulgaria, Slivnitsa and Todor Aleksandrov boulevards, as well as the city's ring road, where long chains of cars are formed at peak hours and traffic jams occur regularly. Consequently, traffic and air pollution problems have become more severe and receive regular criticism in local media. The extension of the underground system is hoped to alleviate the city's immense traffic problems. Sofia has an extensive district heating system based around four combined heat and power plants and boiler stations.
The first science and technology park was built by the government and operated in a pretty institutional style for some years. The Sofia Tech Park, in which so far nearly €50M have been invested, was officially launched in 2015, and consists of three modules – a complex of 11 high tech labs, an incubator for startup companies and an event center. The concept, as in every government backed technology park, is to facilitate the collaboration between startups, academia and established business and provide them with crucial infrastructure to work together. So far this hasn’t happened. In the first three years the conference center was the only fully functional component of the technology park, where a lot of smaller and bigger international events have happened.
Since the beginning of this year finally a member of the startup community has the mandate to make decisions regarding the further development of the park. There are another 20 companies in the incubator, at least on paper, but they use it rather as an office space than as a typical coworking. The new management has the ambition to finally get the technology park function as the facility it was meant to be from the very beginning. «Our long-term goal is to become the hotspot of science-based entrepreneurship and tech transfer in South-East Europe and attract global, regional and national researchers, scientists and innovative companies», Natanail Stefanov, Vice Chairman of The Executive Board of Sofia Tech Park, told Trending Topics. The most mature and strategic effort so far, however, comes again from the private sector.
Bulgaria's IT industry is booming and women are playing a key role: Around half of the people working in the country's technology sector are women. It is becoming an incubator for startups. Over 80 percent of the startups in Bulgaria are developing products and services that will go on the international market.If statistics are anything to go by, their chances are excellent: «Companies with women in charge achieve results that are 63 percent more positive compared to companies led by men,» Bulgarian EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel told DW. Nearly 26.6 percent of employees in the industry are women. Germany — at 16.6 percent — lags far behind.
In the past several years the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bulgaria has matured significantly. The development of collaborative and coworking spaces is one visible indicator for those processes. There are already different verticals on this market – hubs dedicated to specific sectors and activities such as social entrepreneurship , IT , creative etc. And there are a lot of organizations working towards the further development of this ecosystem.
The next step for Sofia is to mix the established business with the startup spirit. And obviously everyone is heading in this direction.«The coworking culture is a proven concept for companies that realize the importance of happier teams. The team satisfaction, which also directly influences productivity, is a key factor for the companies of the future. We see a shift in the way corps think about having some of their teams in shared offices and that’s a trend that will last», Metodi Terziev of betahaus said.
Social Wellness and Human Resources
According to 2018 data, the city has a population of 1,269,384 and the whole Sofia Capital Municipality of 1,328,120. The first census carried out in February 1878 by the Russian Army recorded a population of 11,694 inhabitants including 6,560 Bulgarians, 3,538 Jews, 839 Turks and 737 Romani. The ratio of women per 1,000 men was 1,102. The birth rate per 1000 people was 12.3 per mille and steadily increasing in the last 5 years, the death rate reaching 12.1 per mille and decreasing. The natural growth rate during 2009 was 0.2 per mille, the first positive growth rate in nearly 20 years. The considerable immigration to the capital from poorer regions of the country, as well as urbanisation, are among the other reasons for the increase in Sofia's population. The infant mortality rate was 5.6 per 1,000, down from 18.9 in 1980. According to the 2011 census, people aged 20–24 years are the most numerous group, numbering 133,170 individuals and accounting for 11% of the total 1,202,761 people. The median age is 38 though. According to the census, 1,056,738 citizens are recorded as ethnic Bulgarians, 17,550 as Romani, 6,149 as Turks, 9,569 belonged to other ethnic groups, 6,993 do not self-identify and 105,762 remained with undeclared affiliation.
This statistic should not necessarily be taken at face value due to conflicting data – such as for the predominantly Roma neighbourhood of Fakulteta, which alone may have a population of 45,000.According to the 2011 census, throughout the whole municipality some 892,511 people are recorded as Eastern Orthodox Christians, 10,256 as Protestant, 6,767 as Muslim, 5,572 as Roman Catholic, 4,010 belonged to other faith and 372,475 declared themselves irreligious or did not mention any faith. The largest group are occupied in trading, followed by those in manufacturing industry. Within the municipality, three-quarters, or 965,328 people are recorded as having access to television at home and 836,435 as having internet. Out of 464,865 homes – 432,847 have connection to the communal sanitary sewer, while 2,732 do not have any. Of these 864 do not have any water supply and 688 have other than communal. Over 99.6% of males and females aged over 9 are recorded as literate. The largest group of the population aged over 20 are recorded to live within marriage , another 43.8% are recorded as single and another 9.9% as having other type of coexistence/partnership, whereas not married in total are a majority and among people aged up to 40 and over 70. The people with juridical status divorced or widowed are either part of the factual singles or those having another type of partnership, each of the two constitutes by around 10% of the population aged over 20. Only over 1% of the juridically married do not de facto live within marriage. The families that consist of two people are 46.8%, another 34.2% of the families are made up by three people, whereas most of the households consist of only one person.Sofia was declared the national capital in 1879. One year later, in 1880, it was the fifth-largest city in the country after Plovdiv, Varna, Ruse and Shumen. Sofia concentrates the majority of Bulgaria's leading performing arts troupes. Theatre is by far the most popular form of performing art, and theatrical venues are among the most visited, second only to cinemas. There were 3,162 theatric performances with 570,568 people attending in 2014.
The Ivan Vazov National Theatre, which performs mainly classical plays and is situated in the very centre of the city, is the most prominent theatre. The National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria is a combined opera and ballet collective established in 1891. Regular performances began in 1909. Some of Bulgaria's most famous operatic singers, such as Nicolai Ghiaurov and Ghena Dimitrova, made their first appearances on the stage of the National Opera and Ballet. Cinema is the most popular form of entertainment: there were more than 141,000 film shows with a total attendance exceeding 2,700,000 in 2014. Over the past two decades, numerous independent cinemas have closed and most shows are in shopping centre multiplexes. Odeon shows exclusively European and independent American films, as well as 20th century classics.