I came across these delightfully retro-looking tiles, embedded at equal intervals into the sidewalk of a tiny street, tucked away in one of Sofia’s oldest, grandest and most aristocratic and charming neighborhoods, which occupies several blocks around the Doctor’s Garden, locked in between the Tsar Osvoboditel, Vassil Levski, Yanko Sakazov and Evlogi and Hristo Georgievi boulevards.
If I had to, I’d guess that these tiles were put in around 50 or 60 years ago, and stepping onto them somehow felt like stepping half a century back in time. The tiles are embossed with the city of Sofia’s coat of arms, which contains (clockwise, from top left): the image of a woman’s head, supposedly taken from an ancient coin and belonging to the Empress Julia Domna, which is meant to symbolize Ulpia Serdica, as Sofia was known in Roman times; the Saint Sofia Church, which is Sofia’s second oldest church (dating back to the sixth century) and which in the fourteenth century gave the city its current name (changing it from Sredets); a baldachin and a statue of Apollo Medicus, which represents all the mineral springs in and around the city; and the Vitosha Mountain, located on Sofia’s outskirts. Written just below the coat of arms is Sofia’s motto, Raste, no ne staree, which translates roughly to “Keeps Growing but Never Aging.”
The coat of arms dates back to 1900 (it was created for the city’s participation in the Paris World Expo), and the motto was added to it in 1911 – this was a great period of modernization for the city and almost all of Sofia’s now iconic buildings date back to it, many of which are actually in or around the Doctor’s Garden neighborhood. The neighborhood itself – as the place where the city’s changing (intellectual and/or political) elite has lived over the last century, captures much of Sofia’s turbulent history in a nutshell, or as the case may be, in a radius of just a few blocks. Like the tiles themselves, the entire neighborhood – although still considered very fashionable, seems to belong to a bygone era and whenever I walk around its cobblestone-covered streets, I feel like I can still smell the old spirit of Sofia in the air.