Location and history
The capital of Bulgaria – Sofia, has always been considered as a place with unique and strategic location. Sofia's development as a significant settlement owes much to its central position in the Balkans. Sofia lies on 550 m above sea-level and is situated in the Western part of Bulgaria in the Sofia Valley at the northern foot of the Vitosha Mountain. Surrounded by mountains on all sides but with mild climate, with many mineral springs issuing nearby and in close proximity to the capitals of neighboring countries, Sofia is one of the few cities with similar beneficial features. Sofia is sharing a parallel with Northern Italy and Southern France (towns like Marseille) and at the same time it is on a crossroad connecting two worlds – Europe and Asia. The roads from Istanbul to Western Europe and those from the Mediterranean countries to the North Eastern part of Europe and Russia pass through Sofia.Investments and development of the real estate market
Sofia is known to be one of the oldest cities in Europe. Founded thousands of years ago, today it tells stories of ancient times whose remnants can still be seen today.
Sofia was originally a Thracian settlement called Serdica, named after the Thracian tribe Serdi. Around 500 BC another tribe settled in the region, the Odrysi, known as an ethnos with their own kingdom. For a short period during the 4th century BC, the city was possessed by Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.
Around AD 29, Sofia was conquered by the Romans and renamed Ulpia Serdica. Serdica was of moderate size, but magnificent as urban concept of planning and architecture, with abundant amusements and active social life. It flourished during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, when it was surrounded with great fortress walls whose remains are still visible today.
The city was destroyed by the Huns in 447 but was rebuilt by Justinian and renamed Triaditsa. Sofia first became part of the First Bulgarian Kingdom during the reign of Khan Krum in 809. Afterwards, it was known by the Slavic name Sredets and grew into an important fortress and administrative centre. Bulgaria fell to the Byzantine Empire in 1018, but once again was incorporated in 1186 into the restored Bulgarian Kingdom at the time of Tsar Ivan Asen I.
From the 12th to the 14th century, Sofia was a thriving centre of trade and crafts. It was renamed Sofia (meaning "wisdom" in Greek) in 1376 after the Church of St. Sofia. Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Murad I in 1382, becoming the capital of the Ottoman province (beylerbeylik) of Rumelia for almost 5 centuries.
Sofia was liberated by Russian forces in 1878, during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), and became the capital of the autonomous Principality of Bulgaria in 1879, which became Kingdom of Bulgaria in 1908. During World War II, Sofia was bombed by Allied aircraft in late 1943 and early 1944, as well as later occupied by the Soviet Union.
Since 1989 Bulgaria has been developing into a direction which finally led the country to become on January 01, 2007, an equal EU member. During the last years, Sofia undergoes a phenomenal economic growth and the portrait of unattractive post-communist city fades away, being replaced by the image of a modern most contemporary place for living and business.
European companies actually struck Bulgaria long before its joining to EU. Now foreign investors yet more tangibly report the so important strategic position of Bulgaria and seriously consider its potential as an up-and-coming market. The business is booming and foreign investments are flooding in. Tourism
2.845 milliard Euro amount the direct investments in Bulgaria for the first nine months of 2006, show some preliminary researches. 3.9 milliard Euro were the property investments in Central and Eastern Europe for the first six months of 2006 according to expert real estate consulting companies. Bulgaria and Romania get 9,4 % of that sum (in comparison with 7 % for Russia). The main money stream (around 71 % from the capital invested in real estates) comes from countries like Great Britain, Germany, and Austria. All the energies had been thrown into making the Bulgarian market a competitive part of the global financial market and as a result leading investment companies find considerable potential in the property market for the next 5 to 10 years to come. What contributes so essentially for heightening the credit in Bulgaria is its political stability and constantly improving business environment.
In the previous few years Sofia has become a very attractive place for investors and a significant share of the foreign finances turning to Bulgaria are directed to the capital. Today Sofia is a cosmopolitan city and the country` s economic center. In Sofia are located the administrations of the President, the Bulgarian Government, the Bulgarian Parliament. Here are concentrated the headquarters of all public administrative authorities, the Supreme courts, Bulgarian and international financial and bank institutions and also the head offices of a great number of foreign and local companies and organizations.
Solid revenues expected from the European funds will be used for the modernization of the transport sector and the infrastructure. Some of the projects have already been started, among them is the ring-road of Sofia which is being expanded and eventually will hasten the overloaded car traffic in the city. The Metropolitan is also being developed; in particular the section passing through the city center which is expected to be completed by November 2007. The general scheme of the metropolitan railway lines consists of three diameters with general length 52 km and 46 metro stations. The rough estimations show that a general funds for over 300 million USD will be built on the object.
Though Sofia dropped out of the competition for a host city of the 2014 Olympic Games, the construction of new winter sports facilities and the retrofit of the existing ones are taken up the run. The next Winter Olympics nomination of Sofia will include the ‘Super Borovets’ project, a grand undertaking for enlargement of the ski facilities in Borovets ski resort, situated only 40 minutes by car Southeast from the capital.
Another infrastructural object of great importance is the Sofia Airport, where a new terminal was open in December 2006. The capacity of the terminal will be 2 600 000 people per annum and 26 000 tons of cargo goods and it could provide services even for the biggest aircrafts – Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 and Airbus 350. The project with overall cost of 110 million Euro will decrease the charges for customers’ services and will probably attract more investors in the aviation sector.
Golf came to Bulgaria six years ago. The first long flight of the small golf ball in Bulgaria was on the 10th of June 2000, when Ihtiman golf course was opened. Ihtiman is located 48 km South from Sofia and 90 km West from Plovdiv. The course has 18 holes and has been certified by the American Golf Association. Its rating is 71.3 and the slope index is 131. The easy reach to the capital makes it one of the Sofia’s attractions. The success of this investment led to the creation of other golf courses, this time mainly along the Black Sea coast.
Why is Sofia your place for investments?
• The capital has the largest potential of most qualified human resources and low level of unemployment of just 3 %.
• The geographic location of Sofia also favors high investment returns.
• The rental market is all year round and guarantees reasonable annual return.
• Sofia is the only European capital which has ski runs only 20 minutes away from the city center.
• The interest of second-home seekers and buy-to-let investors is constantly increasing.
• The prices of immovable property in Sofia are now comparable to those in the famous Bulgarian ski resorts, being within the range 1000 – 1200 Euro per square meter for new apartments in the city and in the suburbs, while the prices for top location residential properties in highly preferred areas could reach up to 3300 Euro / m2.
• Sofia`s economy is booming and the city seems to be one of the fastest developing property markets in Europe.
The EU membership
The regional significance of Bulgaria and Sofia in particular increased even before the membership of Bulgaria in the EU became a fact. An inflow of diplomatic staff and international companies to Sofia has recently been observed. Companies such as Coca Cola, Shell, Nokia, Nestle, Microsoft, Google, Hewlett Packard, Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young and many others have lately confidently opened offices in Sofia. The Bulgarian capital is following the same path as of other Eastern European capitals such as Warsaw and Budapest. The property market in countries like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary was quite the same before they joined EU and experts believe that Bulgaria will share the same fate.
Speaking with figures
The average price for a sq. m. in Sofia is 1100-1200 Euro, but of course, the price range is much wider (from 600 Euro up to more than 2000 Euro). Expert analysis indicates that there will be about 40 % increase of prices within 6 to 12 months after Bulgaria` s joining to the EU. The economic importance of the capital’s location has become even greater for the last five years thanks to the significant privatization of businesses and accordingly the increased number of foreign investments. Currently, many real estate investing companies are targeting properties in Bulgaria and mainly apartments and plots of land within a short radius from the capital Sofia.
The excellent potential of investing in a city apartment is obvious to private individuals as much as it is to large companies. Only a quick glance at some statistics would be enough to notice that. The monthly rentals for apartments have doubled for only 3-4 years time and that it was before Bulgaria joined the EU. It is practically possible to make money from real estates with no money down, having in mind that you can easily rent out an apartment for 200-300 Euro a month (rentals vary from 150-1500 Euro per month). That could be quite enough to settle your mortgage payments.
A city apartment on the other hand has its own special features in comparison to resort apartments. While resort apartments are seasonal, a city apartment could be rented out all year round and although the daily rental income would be much lower it would have the same return in the end of the year. This grants a minimum investment risk and 7-9 % annual return. On the other hand, buying a property not only in Sofia but anywhere in Bulgaria is a good investment itself with the constant increase of real estate prices on the Bulgarian property market.
The construction of new residential buildings is continuously on the increase. Prices are in all stable, yet more intensely growing in the upper class of residential properties and in the most prestigious areas of Sofia. The top location off-plan double-room apartments register the biggest price growth - nearly 30 % for 2006. In the next few years the residential properties market will become more differentiated as it comes to prices and districts. Analyses predict that another determinant moment for the development of the property market will be the acceptance of the Euro in 2010.
Main part of all the property deals falls to trading centers and offices. The first buildings with compound purpose came into the market - offices and residential units over the commercial ground floor. There is a great competition between the investors for the acquisition of quality investment properties. This leads to persuasive and continuous rise in the sale prices, particularly for office areas in the top city locations, while the rents stay stable. Sofia is still the basic property market – for residential properties as well as for office areas - and this will not change soon, keeping in mind the fact that most of the companies prefer to open their head offices in the capital as this is the city bearing the biggest business potential.
There is an increasing number of new companies which discovered the possibilities of the dynamic property market in Sofia and a lot of companies which are on the market for some time now and are currently expanding. One of the reasons for such interest is the improving opportunities for companies to occupy quality estates at a reasonable price. For many companies, even not leaders in their branch, Bulgaria is a good solution if they seek lowering their business expenses. Bringing together the favorable tax standards and the level of production costs which is a few times lower than in many European countries, it is a fact that the business property market shows a positive economic trend. Nevertheless, this field of business property market is not yet completely ready to meet the requirements of big foreign investors. The request for high class offices determined the start of a couple vast projects near the Sofia Airport and two of the main boulevards Tsarigradsko Shose and Bulgaria. The property market for logistic and industrial estates is still not so well exploited but is expected to meet an upward trend.
Nature has really been large-handed in these latitudes and an expert eye is actually not needed to find out that Bulgaria has it all! We have beautiful mountains spread across the country, the azure Black Sea in the East, numerous mineral springs, invigorating forests, and small genuine villages still successfully slowing down the rush of modern life in the big cities. With its mild moderate-continental climate, suitable for year-round recreation, numerous healing thermal springs, the diversity of flora and fauna, Bulgaria offers wonderful conditions for balneo and spa tourism, wine tourism, rural and cultural tourism, hunting, mountainous and sea tourism. Places of interest
It is explicably why one of the most winning sectors in the Bulgarian economy is actually the tourism. Recent data show that tourism generates between 12 – 15 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. Following the world-wide tendencies, the number of foreign tourists who have visited Bulgaria in 2006 has also increased. More than 4.2 million foreign tourists have visited Bulgaria by September 2006, a Council of Ministers press release said. This figure represents an increase of 5.39 per cent, compared to the foreign tourist visits for the same period in 2005. The number of tourists from Great Britain, Ireland, other Southeastern and Scandinavian countries retained the same levels as the previous years. The Russian tourists discovered Bulgaria as a preferred winter sports destination and their number has been on the increase – for the first eight months of 2006 there is a growth with nearly 22 %, state the records.
Income from international tourism also indicates a growth. The increase is 5 % and the total sum reached 1.557,2 milliard euro. The general expectations are that nearly 37 million Euro per year will be received from European funds for the development of tourism in Bulgaria. This will naturally benefit for turning the country into one of the most sought after destinations, offering exclusive summer and winter tourist services. As Bulgaria has undoubtedly all the resources to become a world top tourism destinations.
Bulgaria has lately strengthened its positions of a winter tourist destination and as a result we witness the incredible development of the Bulgarian winter resorts Bansko, Pamporovo, Borovets. For example, the expected number of tourists to visit Bansko will be 25 % higher this season than the previous year, predict some tour operator companies. The popularity of Sofia also grows because of the nearness of the city to the famous ski resorts which repeatedly play hosts to important winter sports events.
Having fun and sightseeing in Sofia
Despite the population of the capital is growing up in result of the inner migration, with its 1,2 million people Sofia is still a city of modest size. The eclectic architecture characterized with Ottoman buildings, churches in Russian style, remains of ancient Bulgarian structures and the biggest on the Balkans synagogue, turn Sofia into a fascinating and exotic place which will not let its guests have a dull minute. The variety of cultural sights and the attractive night life guarantees the visitors to have a roaring time spent in the capital.
Being one of the oldest capital cities in Europe, Sofia is a charming blend of its past and present, which can first be seen in the remarkable architectural style. Today there are many archaeological sites in Sofia, that display the city's diverse history - the castle gates and towers of Serdica, public buildings and streets thousands of years old.
One of the many historic landmarks of Sofia is the 10th-century Boyana Church, one of the UNESCO World Heritage protected sites. The Alexander Nevski Cathedral is one of the world's largest Orthodox churches with neo-Byzantine architecture. In the crypt is situated the icon museum, where are exposed over 300 icons and mural frescoes dated from the late 9th century up to the end of the 19th century.
Another monument is the early Byzantine Church of St Sophia which dates to the 5th century and after which in the 14th century the city was named.
Tourists could also visit the National History Museum and the recently reopened after extensive renovation works National Archaeological Museum. The exhibition consists of precious exponents of Thracian, Greek and Roman origin. Exceptional attraction in the museum is the Vulchitrun Treasure which is collection of 13 gold vessels, probably used in Thracian religious rituals.
The oldest preserved building in the city, built as a Roman temple in the 4th century, is the Rotonda Sveti Georgi (Rotunda of St George). The memorial has been during the ages destroyed by the Huns; later, in the 6th century, rebuilt by emperor Justinian as a church. The Turks converted the rotunda into a mosque, until it was finally reinstated as a church. Тhree archaeological layers, some dating from the early 10th century, has been revealed after the restoration.
The only mosque still functioning today is the Banya Bashi Dzhamiya. It has been designed in 1576 by the Ottoman architect who also built the the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is named after the neighboring Tsentralnata Banya (Central Baths) – Banya Bashi means ‘a lot of baths’. The first thermal baths were built here by the Romans. Today Public tabs have been installed so anyone can taste the steaming mineral water with temperature 46°C/115°F.
Built by Russian workmen in 1912 and dedicated to St Nicholas, ‘the miracle maker’, Church Sveta Nikolai is possibly the prettiest church in Sofia with its roof covered with green majolica tiles and crowned with five gold-plated onion domes.
Sofia does not sleep. Sleeping would not occur to you either, if you embark on the exciting nightlife which could be compared to that in some Western European capitals. Plenty of bars, discos, casinos and many restaurants are concentrated in the city centre, able to meet each visitor` s requirements.
Guests who love arts will be enchanted by the ballet, opera and theatre performances. National Palace of Culture is the scene for many cultural events with its concert halls and exhibition spaces. A number of annual summer festivals also take place in Sofia, such as the Folklore Festival, the Sofia Music Week, the Sofia Film Fest.