In the years before national independence, Sofia was a home to less than 12,000 inhabitants and had two schools, seven churches, 30 mosques, and 3,300 houses.
The city had played a secondary role in the Bulgarian Revival, and never had the Bulgarian Revival architectural masterpieces that are typical for the rest of the country.
Western travelers arriving to Sofia in the 18th and 19th centuries left less than favorable descriptions of mud-covered, dark, narrow streets and ruined city walls.
In 1879, it was all about to change.
After Sofia was chosen for the capital of the newly independent Bulgaria, architects from far and near were commissioned to work on the new capital. In the course of a few decades Sofia turned into a distinctively European city that its ever-increasing inhabitants lovingly called “the little Vienna.”
A CAPITAL FROM SCRATCH
Lacking any local traditions and eager to assert the country’s European identity, Sofia's administrators turned to foreign architectural styles for the country’s first public buildings.
Though erected on a short schedule, many of the buildings still stand today.
One of the architectural priorities after Bulgaria’s independence was the building of a residence for the king. Finished in 1896 when a new section was added to the northeast, the palace set the course for future architectural development of Sofia for the following decades.
The building now hosts the National Art Gallery.
The Neo-Renaissance building exhibits the typical symmetry and rectangular decorative elements.
This neoclassical building became an architectural symbol of Sofia soon after its inauguration in 1907.
Built in 1884, the building hosts the Foreign Art Gallery. It represented the neoclassical preferences for public buildings at the time.
When first built in 1912, the cathedral was a subject of much criticism for the supposed lack of harmony between the main dome and the bell tower. At times there was even a serious discussion about removing the tower. Regardless, it quickly became the undisputed symbol of the city and one of the prime examples of Neo-Byzantine architecture in the world.
The so called Vienna Secession influenced the residential architecture of Sofia in the beginning of the 20th Century. Floral motifs, dynamic roofs, and the typical eel (whiplash) style decorations can still be seen around old Sofia residential neighborhoods.
Fragment of the Central Mineral Bath building
A local interpretation of secession architecture, this tacit architectural movement started using traditional decorative motifs as seen in medieval churches and old Bulgarian capitals.
CITIES MADE OF SUPERBUILDINGS
Bearing the marks of the personality cult and the Communist doctrine of internationalism, the Stalinist architecture was foreign to the urban fabric of Sofia. Regardless, as more and more buildings went up, the city now boasts prime examples of this architectural style.
The colossal architectural ensemble went up in the 1950s. It draws direct and intentional parallels with the architecture of the USSR. The large central tower, equipped with a very long spire – an element fancied by Stalin himself – was a typical focal point of many of the buildings of the period. In the past, the spire was topped off with a large ruby-red star.
THINGS FUNCTIONAL LINEAR AND MODERN
The National Palace of Culture, commonly known as NDK
The period between the 1960s and the late 1980s marked a turn toward modern architecture, with the tacit approval of the Communist government that expressed a distinctive love for all things functional, linear, and modern.
During the period, many of the buildings started showing signs of revived interest towards the architecture of the Bulgarian National Revival.
Unfortunately, many of the public buildings of the period were built from a catalogue and have duplicates all over the Eastern Bloc.
A FLAT FOR EVERY CITIZEN
Serial Mass Housing Projects
Partly to solve Sofia’s consistent housing shortage, and partly to build up cities and emphasize collectivism, at the beginning of the 1970’s the government started building large pre-manufactured housing complexes.
Despite their current grim state, when new they were much preferred, featuring amenities like central heating and hot water.