Rivers of Sofia
Rivers of Sofia is an initiative of The Collective Foundation to revitalise the artificial river beds of the channelled rivers Perlovska and Vladayska that cross the centre of Bulgaria’s capital city. By means of pop-up architectural interventions and cultural and educational programming, Rivers of Sofia made these spaces accessible to the public for the first time in 80 years and increased their visibility as urban heritage. With Rivers of Sofia, a broad alliance of citizens, public institutions, private businesses and civil society organisations encouraged the Municipality of Sofia to commit itself to permanently restoring and revitalising the rivers as green public spaces. The initiative was funded by sponsorships from socially responsible businesses in Sofia and by the Municipality of Sofia.
Historically, the rivers Perlovska and Vladayska have defined Sofia’s urban planning since the late 19th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, the rivers were channelled and artificial river beds were created of hand-cut masonry. These were listed as national cultural heritage in 1988. Despite their status, the river beds, which are inaccessible from the street level, were largely neglected. Originally, the artificial river beds were meant as urban infrastructure as well as threads of nature running through the city, but due to overbuilding and poor accessibility, their intended function is only now starting to be implemented by the Rivers of Sofia initiative.
After creating access points to the river beds and stages and pavilions with a light ecological footprint, Rivers of Sofia organised two festivals there in two years, with a varied cultural, educational and sports programme. During a workshop, architects, urbanists and students, in dialogue with Sofia’s chief architect, developed proposals for the river beds’ long-term integration into the urban fabric as green public spaces. The initiative changed the attitudes of Sofia’s citizens and local governance towards the artificial river beds, from an area in disuse to a place with cultural, natural and social value.
Rivers of Sofia was shortlisted for the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2022, which recognise existing beautiful, sustainable and inclusive achievements. Similar projects are in development in other Bulgarian cities.
“Rivers of Sofia is an excellent example of community involvement and social participation. With a relatively small budget and funded by both the Municipality and socially responsible businesses, it managed to transform the urban environment. The initiative has good sustainability features, and the return on investment is very high. Its high transferability makes it a promising example for other urban environments in Europe,” said the Awards’ Jury.