Meet Ilias Iatropoulos, Open Sofia’s photographer

Why Sofia is a "rough diamond" full of beautiful contrasts

Written and photos by Ilias Iatropoulos, edited by Tamar Weisert.

I was born and raised in Greece by a Greek father and a Bulgarian mother. My curiosity about Bulgaria grew over the years, and in combination with my love of foreign languages ​​and cultures, I chose Balkan studies as my subject of study, focusing on Bulgaria.

While I was a student, I visited Sofia a few times, mainly for university conferences. After a year of Erasmus at Sofia University during the 2015-2016 academic year, I was determined to return. And so I did, after graduating from my school in Greece. Things upon my return to Bulgaria were quite different but no less exciting.

Sofia is a city of contradictions. New vs. old. Big and small at the same time. Quiet yet LOUD. Conservative, though sometimes extravagant. Grey as well as green. This set of contrasts appealed to me, and it only continued to grow on me over time.

Another positive about Sofia is the sense of freedom you get, like in any big city. Due to the fact the city is - as a dear friend of mine once said, a "rough diamond"- it's almost like it gives you a higher degree of independence to redefine yourself. A redefinition that happened to me was discovering my passion for photography and technology back in 2016's Sofia, thus altering my point of view for the future by 180 degrees.

Also parks, green space, and once again PARKS! As the son of a forest guard, I have a thing for nature and mountains. In Sofia, not only do you have Vitosha practically within walking distance, there are quite a few places in the city that make you feel surrounded by nature.

It would be a total miss if I didn't mention that one of the main reasons for my moving here was the better economic conditions in Sofia. There were many job opportunities here for expats, combined with affordable pricing, at a time when Greece was in a deep recession. It is pretty ironic how things can change over a few decades, keeping in mind that my mother had come to Greece from Bulgaria in search of a better life.

It is no coincidence that many foreigners come here to live. The mix of old and new seems to attract people from different ethnicities and with different tastes. Combined with the affordable lifestyle, Sofia is an appealing life choice to people who are seeking a more laid-back routine without losing out on the perks of living in a capital city. And yet Bulgarians seem surprised by this. Some of them even take these things for granted.

Living in Sofia is a continuous work in progress. I find that somehow I am growing together with the constant changes happening to the city in recent years. It is bizarrely rewarding to live in another country in your early 20's and to feel like both a foreigner and a local at the same time.

Sofia also allowed me to become more active in a field I was always interested in - personal development - by being a volunteer at NGO Synergy Bulgaria for over a year now. Moreover, the fact that the city is located in the center of the Balkan peninsula sparked the idea behind several Balkan trips, which I captured in a series of photos for my personal photography project/Facebook page, called BalkanFaces.

Although I love Greece, I wouldn't consider moving back for numerous reasons, mostly because I enjoy the sense of independence here. I cannot say the same, though, about transferring to another country in the future. I feel like my goal of getting to know my second homeland is halfway complete, so from there onwards, who knows what new desires will prevail?

My piece of advice to a newcomer in Bulgaria? Be open. Be bold. And don't forget to spend some time with random babas - they are wiser than the wisest of monks.

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