( dpa ) - Perched on a column and dressed in a flowing robe, Sofia sits high above the traffic, watching her city. She sees its Soviet-style block architecture and the golden cupolas on the churches. She takes in her stone-lined arcades, the gleaming high rises and the streets laid over ruins from ancient Roman times.
The sculpture shares more than a name with the Bulgarian capital where she sits at a traffic intersection. Like the city, the statue's young face tells of youth and the future. But her location keeps visitors grounded in the city's rich history.
Guide Venteslav Nikolov waits around the corner. A towering man, he points to a fountain.
"That's the reason Sofia was founded on this spot," he says, pointing out the streams of hot water.
In ancient times, the city was known for its mineral springs. Those springs attracted many peoples: the Serdi, the Romans, the Bulgarians, the Byzantines and the Ottoman Empire. Every tribe left its mark, destroyed the marks of others, built over them and created their own architecture.
It's much the same today. There's a reason the city's slogan means "Growing without aging."
The comings and goings of the different cultures is most apparent in the town's worship places. The minaret of the Banya Basi mosque, built by the Turks in the 16th century, rises behind the fountain. Not far away, lies a Sephardic synagogue built in 1909.
"You only have to walk a few minutes to visit churches from every religion and age," says Nikolov. "It's like a walk through our history."
With that, he turns a corner and points to a market a few blocks from the mosque and the synagogue.
"People from Sofia shop at this market. Here you run into poor people and gypsies. People scream a lot and haggle about the merchandise here and this is where you get a feel for the Orient."
Some women have been selling here since the Soviet era, trying to make some extra money by selling vegetables and fruit from their gardens. Between stands crammed with fruit and vegetables, cheap clothes, honey, spices, olive oil and sheep's cheese, shoppers can find stalls full of ceramics.
There one can buy bowls, plates and cups decorated with a traditional Bulgarian pattern of fine rings and drops. They come not just in brown, but in an array of colours.
TA very different kind of market can be visited outside the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a domed structure erected around 1900. Traders sell antique jewellery, icons, medals, canteens, camera and busts on a patch of green. There is also merchandise from darker times: Nazi-era pins and medals that once belonged to Soviet-era uniforms.
As the city grows, so do the prices. Those who find Sofia too hectic can head out and be atop a mountain within an hour. Just like the statue of Sofia, Nikolov peers at the silhouette of the nearby Vitosa mountains in the distance. Bulgaria's capital is a good starting point for excursions.