|The first modern urban plan of Sofia is featured by a radial-circled structure. The urban lay-out follows the Vienna and Paris examples of rectangular street-planning oriented by the two main, еast-west and north-south axes designed yet by the Romans and having their cross-point at Saboren Square (once being the Forum of Serdica; now: St. Nedlya Square).
In 1881 in Sofia the first model of European-style building appeared, the Prince’s Palace of Sofia, constructed upon the foundations of the old Turkish Konak in the neo-Baroque style with interiors in the neo-Rococo. The architectural appearance of Sofia was then most sensibly characterized by the influence of the Viennese Historicism and Secession.
A little later than 1900, the first generation of Bulgarian architects came to the scene; these were the alumni of a number of European architectural academies, Perko Momchilov, Yurdan Milanov, Pencho Koychev, Naum Torbov, Anton Tornyov, Georgi Fingov, Kiro Marichkov, Nikola Lazarov, and the decorative artists Prof. Stefan Badzhov and Haralampi Tachev. Most of their creations pertain to the sphere of the Secession. The legacy of those architects and interior designers can be still identified as utterly essential for the architectural specificity of Sofia. Among their most significant achievements stands the synthesis of the Sofia’s neo-Byzantine style, also popular locally as a ‘national – romantic Bulgarian variant of the Secession’. Through this style a highly representative and outstanding look was endowed to key public buildings of the then new European capital city: the Palace of the Holy Synod, the Theological Academy (now: Theological Department at Sofia University), the Orthodox Ecclesiastical Higher School with a church of St John of Rila, the splendid churches of St Nicholas The New of Sofia, of St Paraskevi The New, and of St Sedmochislenitsi [St St Cyril and Methodius and their five disciples], the earlier Cathedral of Sofia – St Nedelya (or, St King), the Public Mineral Baths, and Halite [the covered market-place]. With the fineness inherent to the Secession, the patterns of the novel national-romantic trend recollect the brightest decorative and constructive elements of the classical Byzantine architecture that that has been an important element of the medieval Bulgarian art of construction.
Such brilliant architects as Georgi Fingov, Dimo Nichev, Georgi Apostolov, Anton Tornyov, Kiro Marichkov continued to design distinctive Secession buildings with original façades prolific in diverse decoration. At the same time architects Ivan Vasilyov, Dimitar Tsolov, Stancho Belkovski, Pencho Koychev and some others initiated a new trend in both monumental and residential architecture of Sofia – through their bright patterns of Modernism marked by the influence mainly of the German Functionalism and Bauhaus.
Ivan Vasilyov and Dimitar Tsolov introduced elements also of the German ‘renovated classics’ from the end of 1930’s into the designs of a couple of central public buildings such as the Bulgarian National Bank and the National Library of St St. Cyril and Methodius. In their large-scale designs from the late 1930’s Ivan Vasilyov and Pencho Koychev, each in their own specific way, skillfully insert constructive and decorative elements borrowed from the old-Bulgarian art of construction. In Sofia we can’t help but admire the generous legacy of Arch. Nikola Lazarov, the single graduate of the Paris architectural school among Sofia’s great architects who left to us a row of sumptuous buildings designed in the spirit of French neo- Baroque. The most impressive among them are the Ministry of Agriculture, the Military Club (exterior plastic decoration and interior design), and Sofia University (designed jointly with the French Henri Breacon).
Distinctive of the residential architecture of the socialist period are the complexes of prefab-panel blocks – a typical example of industrialized housing-construction. In the urban space then a lot of monuments also appeared, most of which are kept until the present day. In the most recent period of its development – in the years following the democratic changes in Bulgaria, Sofia’s architecture is marked by variety and experimental flair corresponding to the ambition and the particular personal manner of the contemporary architects of Sofia. The outlook of the public and residential buildings was modernized to a considerable extent, and a number of beautiful old buildings in the historic center of the city were restored or renovated. Gradually a new designing trend of a more sensible attitude towards the old architecture through a ‘post-modern’ accommodation of inherited style buildings or fragments of them in new structures built of glass, stone and metal gathers strength.