1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sofia

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SOFIA (Bulgarian Sredetz, the middle town, a name now little used), the capital of Bulgaria, situated almost in the centre of an upland plain, about 1700 ft. above sea-level, between the Western Balkans on the N. and Mt Vitosh on the S. Pop. (1907) 82,187. Two small tributaries of the river Isker, the Perlovetz and the Eleshnitza or Boyana, flow respectively on the east and west sides of the town. Since 1880 the city has been almost entirely renovated in the “European” style; the narrow tortuous lanes and mean houses of the Turkish epoch have almost disappeared, and a new town with straight parallel streets has been constructed in the eastern suburb. The oldest building in Sofia is the little round chapel of St George in the Jewish quarter—originally, it is said, a Roman temple; then a church, then a mosque, and now a church once more. Of the principal mosques the large Buyuk Djamía, with nine metal cupolas, has become the National Museum; the Tcherna Djamía or Black Mosque, latterly used as a prison, has been transformed into a handsome church; the Banya-bashi Djamía, with its picturesque minaret, is still used by Moslem worshippers. Close to the last-named in the centre of the town, are the public baths with hot springs (temperature 117° F.). In the cathedral or church of Sveti Krai (the Saint King), a modern building, are preserved the remains of the Servian king Stefan Urosh II. A large new cathedral dedicated to St Alexander Nevski was in course of construction in 1907; the foundation stone was taken from the church of St Sophia. The palace of the prince, occupying the site of the Turkish konak was built by Prince Alexander in 1880–1882; it has been greatly enlarged by King Ferdinand. In front of the palace is the public garden or Alexander Park. The theatre, the largest in south-eastern Europe, was completed in 1906. Other important buildings are the Sobranye, or parliament house, the palace of the synod, the ministries of war and commerce, the university with the national printing press, the national library, the officers' club and several large military structures. A small mausoleum contains the remains of Prince Alexander; there are monuments to the tsar Alexander II., to Russia, to the medical officers who fell in the war of 1877 and to the patriot Levsky. A public park has been laid out in the eastern suburbs. The city is well drained and possesses a good water supply; it is lighted by electricity and has an electric car system. It contains breweries, tanneries, sugar, tobacco, cloth, and silk factories, and exports skins, cloth, cocoons, cereals, attar of roses, dried fruit, &c. Sofia forms the centre of a railway system radiating to Constantinople (300 m.), Belgrade (206 m.) and central Europe, Varna, Rustchuk and the Danube, and Kiustendil near the Macedonian frontier. The climate is healthy; owing to the elevated situation it is somewhat cold, and is liable to sudden diurnal and seasonal changes; the temperature in January sometimes falls to 4° F. below zero and in August rises to 100°. The population, of which more than two-thirds are Bulgarians, and about one-sixth Spanish Jews, was 20,501 in 1881, 30,428 in 1888, 46,593 in 1893 and 82,187 in 1907.

History.—The colony of Serdica, founded here by the emperor Trajan, became a Roman provincial town of considerable importance in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D., and was a favourite residence of Constantine the Great. Serdica was burnt by the Huns in A.D. 447; few traces remain of the Roman city, but more than one hundred types of its coins attest its importance. The town was taken by the Bulgarians under Krum in A.D. 809; the name Serdica was converted into Sredetz by the Slavs, who associated it with sreda (middle), and the Slavonic form subsequently became the Byzantine Triaditza. The name Sofia, which came into use towards the end of the 14th century is derived from the early medieval church of St Sophia, the massive ruins of which stand on an eminence to the east of the town. The church, which was converted into a mosque by the Turks, was partly destroyed by earthquakes in 1818 and 1858. The town successfully resisted the attacks of the emperor Basil II. in 987; between 1018 and 1186, under Byzantine rule, it served as a frontier fortress. During this period a number of prisoners of the Petcheneg tribe were settled in the neighbourhood, in all probability the ancestors of the Shôp tribe which now inhabits the surrounding districts. In 1382 Sofia was captured by the Turks; in 1443 it was for a brief time occupied by the Hungarians under John Hunyady. Under Turkish rule the city was for nearly four centuries the residence of the beylerbey or governor-general of the whole Balkan Peninsula except Bosnia and the Morea. During this period the population increased and became mainly Turkish; in 1553 the town possessed eleven large and one hundred small mosques. In the latter half of the 15th century Sofia, owing to its situation at the junction of several trade routes, became an important centre of Ragusan commerce. During the Turco-Russian campaign of 1829 it was the headquarters of Mustafa Pasha of Skodra, and was occupied by the Russians for a few days. On the 4th of January 1878 a Russian army again entered Sofia after the passage of the Balkans by Gourko; the bulk of the Turkish population had previously taken flight. Though less central than Philippopolis and less renowned in Bulgarian history than Trnovo, Sofia as selected as the capital of the newly-created Bulgarian state in view of its strategical position, which commands the routes to Constantinople, Belgrade, Macedonia and the Danube.  (J. D. B.)