According to its motto, SOFIA "grows but does not age": a tribute to the mushrooming suburbs occupied by an estimated one-fifth of Bulgaria's population, and a cryptic reference to its ancient origins. Roman ruins, Byzantine churches and fine mosques attest to a long and colourful history, although the peeling stucco of its early-twentieth-century buildings lends an air of dilapidation to the capital's wide, tree-shaded boulevards.
Five centuries of struggle against Ottoman rule taught Bulgarians to value life and freedom above all else. Nevertheless, they have succeeded in keeping their natural tolerance of those who are different; even in the very centre of Sofia you can see a church, a mosque, and a synagogue right next to each other. The entire Bulgarian culture is governed by these principles of freedom and tolerance. Bulgaria is considered a poor country and although Sofia might not have the riches of the Western capitals, it has its own natural charm and ancient culture worth exploring.
The Central downtown district is where you will find the major sights of Sofia's long history, ranging from Roman, Byzantine, 20th century and neo-classical Stalinist architecture. This is also the cities business and commercial heart, where the major shopping avenues and entertainment areas are located. Near to the Alexander Nevski Church is the Oborishte district, a charming residential and commercial area, with a fine array of small boutique style shops, galleries and restaurants. Studentski Grad, as the name suggests is home to the majority of Sofia's 16 Universities and as can be expected of such a heavily populated student area, the arts and social scene is particularly bohemian and vibrant. If you want to escape the bright lights of the city and are looking for something more serene, then head out to the Boyana district which is located at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, where you can wander amongst the forested lower slopes and suck in the fresh mountain air.
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