By Bistra Johnson
The Central Market Hall, in Sofia, Bulgaria. Photo by © Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com, is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. The dome of the Sofia Synagogue may be seen in the background.
In the early twentieth century travelers could take a train, the Orient Express, from the heart of Europe to the very threshold of the Middle East. The train stopped at strategic cities along the way. One of these was Sofia, Bulgaria. It is the history of this city that Bistra Johnson describes in her delightful book, The City the Does Not Age: A History of Sofia.
Since antiquity, Sofia has been at the crossroads of East and West, North and South. Its significance was recognized over the centuries by ambitious leaders, who invaded and conquered the city. Dramatic stories about these leaders fill the pages of The City that Does Not Age. The book takes us on a journey through time.
Sofia was an administrative center during the reign of Trajan (Roman Empire). It was ravaged by Attila the Hun and rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian (Byzantine Empire). The city accommodated Germans in WWII and the Soviet Union after the war. Today, Sofia’s population reflects its variegated past. Three of the largest minorities are Turks, Russians and Roma. Though most of Bulgaria’s Jewish population emigrated after WWII, the city of Sofia is home to the largest synagogue in Southeastern Europe.
Over the centuries, Sofia has suffered floods, plagues and earthquakes. Each of these is described by Ms. Johnson with scrupulous attention to the historic record. The author quotes liberally from sources. These will serve, for any student of history, as a trove for future reference. Ms. Johnson’s presentation of the material is enlivened by asides about personalities that helped to shape the destiny of Sofia. The book is extremely well-organized and this organization enhances its readability.
For me, one welcome addition would have been maps. That’s a personal preference. I find it easier to visualize events when I study a map.
People who are interested in history will love this book. This is especially true for those who want to learn about the history of Eastern Europe.
I highly recommend Bistra Johnson’s The City the Does not Age: A History of Sofia.
A. G. Moore 3/2017