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Current Name
Ancient Name
Apollonia Pontica
Medieval Name
Sozopolis, Sozopol
History of the name

The Ancient city of Apollonia Pontica was established as an apoikia of Milesian Greeks on the Western Black Sea coast in late 7th c. BC on the site of an existing Thracian settlement of unknown name. It was name Apollonia after Appolo – the Greek god, whose huge statue made of Bronze was erected in 5th c. BC.  The city was renamed to Sozopolis (The Redemption city) by the end of 4th c. when Christianity was adopted for official religion in the Roman empire. The same name was awarded also to other cities: Apollonia in Pisidia (Asia Minor) and Apollonia in Cyrenaica (North Africa). The changed name responded to one of the Apollo functions – the redeeming god.

Place :

Geopolitical Unit
Balkan peninsula, Black sea west coast
Administrative subdivision
Burgas Region, South-Eastern Region
Some 30 km South-East of Burgas, on Skamni peninsula in the South end of Burgas bay.
Foudation Date
The city was founded at the end of 7th century as apoikia of Miletus with the name Apollonia Pontica, and the traditionally accepted date is BC 611. In BC 72, after a strong resistance the city was captured and destroyed to ashes by the troops of the Roman military commander Marcus Lucullus, but soon after was rebuilt.. Since 46 AD the smaller then town was included within the borders of the Roman Empire. On the Tabula Peutingeriana (3rd c.) its location was marked at 28 miles South of Anchialos. Since 4th c. AD, the city was renamed Sozopolis and remained in the East Roman Empire with its new name. In Medieval period at the time when it was incorporated into the Bulgarian Kingdom the name was slightly changed to Sozopol, which the town has until now.
Current condition
Today Sozopol is a municipal center with population of 4 500. Nowadays, tourism is a key for the town economy. Every year, both the town and its surroundings are main destination to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast for tens of thousands of tourists. There operate hundreds of big and small hotels, camping sites, recreation zones dining establishments various and amusement sites. There are many shops and shopping centers which offer food, dresses, decorations, furniture and everything needed for the local people and the tourists. The city has been established since the 70ies of 20th century as one of the main cultural centers on the Black Sea coast, offering many reputable festivals and art shows. It is a center of cultural– in the international music festival Apollonia in August – September attracts many famous musicians from Bulgaria and around the world take part. The city is a National architectural and archaeological reserve and also a key-point of religious tourism dedicated to St John the Baptist.. Manufacturing is represented with food processing industries (mostly fish processing) and production of timber and wood products. In the town there are several Orthodox churches and an well-run museum with rich collection of variety of materials from prehistory (5th millennium BC) to 17th – 18th century. The museum boasts the richest collection in Bulgaria of painted Ancient Greek ceramics and other artifacts of that time (end of 7th – 3rd c. BC), many amphorae of various historic periods, ceramics and glass vessels, decoration and jewellery of Roman period (1st – 3rd c.), stone and lead anchor stocks from 2nd – 1st millennium BC to Roman period, medieval glazed ceramics from 11th – 14th centuries and more. One of the most valuable exhibits is recently found during excavations of the medieval church on island St. John early Christian marble and limestone reliquary with inscription dated 5th – 6th centuries AD containing relics of St. John Baptist. The relics are now on display in the modern church opposite to the museum building. Of great interest for tens of thousands tourists are the outdoor presented remarkably well preserved and partially reconstructed fortification walls of Apollonia from the Classical period to Late Antiquity (6th c. BC – 6th c. AD) which have also some repairs made during the Middle Ages. They, as well as the ruins of a Late Antique bath - thermae (4th – 6th c.), a Medieval church of 12th – 14th centuries, a 5th c. BC pottery kiln and some more sites on open air provide the opportunity for a pleasant walks through the century - long history of the town. In the new residential areas near the beach in the South section of the town, in the courtyards of many new hotels and residence buildings there are preserved and exhibited remnants of the Ancient necropolis of Apollonia: stone graves and tombs discovered during last years. In the north-east of the city some streets preserve the typical for the Black sea region houses with wood siding, yards full with flowers, figs, pomegranates and vines.

Artifacts of human activity on the territory of modern Sozopol and underwater in its bay have been discovered, starting with the Eneolithic Age (end of 5th millennium BC) and the Bronze Age (4th – late 2nd millennium BC), though no settlement has been localized so far. It has been assumed that most probably they have submerged in the past regression of the water level and have to be now under the sea bottom. During the early Iron age (c. 7th – 6th c. BC) most probably within the area a fortified Thracian settlement was functioning. By the end of 7th c. BC (traditionally accepted year is BC 611-610) colonists from Miletus founded an apoikia, mot probably on the Island named now St. Kirik, and possible on the Island of St. John in the bay. Later on, the Greek city was established also on shore and became as the most important trade center on the Southern Black Sea coast. Local tradesmen imported from the Mediterranean, Aegean and Asia Minor luxurious painted ceramic, various vessels and other objects made of bronze, gold and silver ornaments, wine and olive oil. From the city were exported mainly agricultural products – grain and other cereals, wool, animal skins, raw natural materials and timber. The city relied much for its wealth on the Thracian state of the Odrissian tribe which occupied the Souteastern part of the Balkan peninsula and with whose nobles a large in scale trade was establishedt. A big, 13 m high bronze statue of Apollo was erected in the city, a splendid work of the famous Greek sculptor Kalamis. During the 5th c. BC the settlement on the shore was fortified by strong wallsand some sections of them are preserved until present time. During the Hellenistic period (4th – 1st c. BC) the city continued to be an important trade, cultural- and religious center and accepted immigrants from other regions. Apollonia opposed the Roman troops led by Lucullus during his campaign in BC 72 but was sezed and destroyedand the Apollo bronze statue was taken as booty to Rome. During the 1st – 2nd centuries AD the city walls were reconstructed with funds from a local resident of Thracian origin, but nevertheless the city lost its importance during the Roman period. Howeve,r in the city were functioning several temples dedicated to various Greco-Roman deities and the discovered by excavation ruins of large public and private buildings are indication that during the period the city recovered gradually. The city was renamed to Sozopolis maybe in 4th c. AD and in 5th - 6th c. AD was established as an important Early Christian center. A number of churches (basilicas) were built both on shore and on the islands and in one of them, on the contemporary named island of veti Ivan (St. John), during the 5th c. were accommodated relics of St. John the Baptist, discovered during archaeological excavation of a basilica on the site. Probably during that period the city became a Bishopric See. By the end of 5th c. AD during the reign of Emperor Anastasius I. it was fortified by a new fortification walls, partially preserved until now.
Sozopol was connected with the rebellion of the Byzantine commander and pretender for the imperial throne Vitalian of AD 513. In its port landed a fleet of 200 ships organized by him and prepared for the siege of Constantinople. The city fortress was taken by treachery and in the port of Sozopol was captured a ship with 1 000 pounds of gold (72 000 nomisma) sent by Emperor Anastasius as gift to Huns in an attempt to make them allies against Vitalian. For a long period after, there is no written evidence about Sozopol, except that during the 7th century it was a Bishopric Seeunder Adrianopolis metropolitan see in Haemimontus diocese. Bishops of Sozopol took part in the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (680) and the Seventh Nicaea Council (787).
In 812 the city was seized by the troops of Bulgarian Khan Krum as noted in the triumph column with inscribed captured Byzantines towns erected and discovered in Pliska the then Bulgarian capital: …fortress Sozopol. The Hambarli inscription mentions Sozopol together with Anchialos and Deultum as included in Bulgarian territory under the leadership of kapkhan Iratais. The town was returned to Byzantium probably in 863. At this time the Bishopric See of Sozopol was restored under the rule of Constantinople Patriarchate. In 879 the Bishop of Sozopol took part in a council called by Patriarch Photius. The Bishopric See was mentioned also in the Diocesan list from the reign of Emperor Leo at the end of 9th c.
Sozopol returned to Bulgaria after the victory of Tsar Simeon near Aheloy river in 917, when according the peace treaty the border between the two states passed along the ridge of Strandja mountain. The city returned again to Byzantium after the conquest of Bulgaria in 971. The Byzantine chronist Anna Komnenos mentioned that at the end of 11th century in the town were sent to exile church- and military dignitaries who took part in conspiracies against her father – Emperor Alexis I Komnenos.
The town of Sozopol was included back in Bulgarian territory in 1204 during the campaign of Tsar Kaloyan South of Haemus of and remained within its borders until 1261. Then it was handled along with Messembria and Anchialos to Byzantium by the Bulgarian and pretender for the throne Despot Mitzo. Sozopol remained Byzantine until the 1304 campaign of the Bulgarian Tsar Theodor Svetoslav who raided the coastal towns on South Black Sea region. From that year to 1366 the town was the most important Bulgarian fortress and port South of the Balkan Range. Byzantine rule was restored for a short period between 1322 and 1331 when following the death of Bulgarian Tsar George Terter some towns south of the Balkan Mountains seceded and joined Byzantium. After the battle of Rusokastro of 1331 Sozopol was again included in Bulgaria.
In 1352, during the Byzantine civil war the town was attacked and sacked by 10 Venetian galleys sent by Emperor John Kantakuzenos. During the 13th and 14th centuries the town changed often Byzantine and Bulgarian rule.Its Diocese was included into the Tarnovo  (Bulgarian) Patriarchate after the council of Lampsacus in 1234. In a later period it was included again in the Constantinople Patriarchate like the remaining Black Sea coastal Bishoprics, although it remained in the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The bishops of Sozopol were very active in the Constantinople Synod meetings for taking of several decisions, as seen in the minutes in Patriarchate archive.
During the Black Sea campaign of count Amadeus VI of Savoy the city was conquered on October 17, 1366 immediately after Agatopol and burned and sacked. The period the count spent in Sozopol is listed in the accounting books of his treasurer Antonio Berberi: I paid there [Sozopol] the value of six notepads for letter paper to serve Sire, including 5 silver ducats handled to magistrum Giovanni – vassal of Francesco Bonvivard and the value of one notebook bought by him in Varna, when Sire resided there – 2 solids, 6 silver ducats. The town remained under the control of the knights until 1367 when it was the scene for peace negotiations between the Count of Savoy and the Emperor John V Palaiologos. Sozopol passed to Byzantium together with all Bulgarian fortresses and ports South of the Balkan Mountains, which were conquered by Amadeus VI of Savoy.
The town was included in the Imperial domain Zagora and the Despotate of emperor’s fourth son Michael Palaiologos.
In October 1396 Sozopol fell in Ottoman hands together with the entire Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It remained in Ottoman control until 1403, when according his treaty with the Christian League the Emir Süleyman Çelebi returned the Black Sea ports to Byzantium. In the treaty Sozopol was not actually mentioned, but the nearby Paroria (Strandja Mountains) with its fortresses was listed: … and what they gave to my father, I hereby return to them and surrender from Panido to Nessebar, together with Paroria and the fortresses and the saltpans and all belonging to these, which I gave without any tribute to my father – the emperor.
Following Süleyman Çelebi death in 1411 the town fell under control of the emir Mûsa Çelebi, but soon after in 1413was re-conquered by Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos.
Sozopol remained within the imperial domain until 1453, when just before the fall of Constantinople the Ottoman armies seized again the Black Sea towns on the Southern coast. A large part of Sozopol inhabitants was resettled together with people from Messembria and Anchialos in then depopulated Constantinople. As result and combined with its small strategic importance for the Ottoman Empire Sozopol declined steadily to turn into a little fishermen village. It remained important only as a Christian center with its famous monastery of Sveti Ivan (St. John the Baptist), on the homonymous island where the relics of the saint were kept. During the Middle Ages and in the Ottoman period the monastery was an important intellectual center with scriptorium where Christian books were copied. It served as well as a place of exile for dissident servants of Constantinople Patriarchate. During 17th – 18th centuries the island was used as a pirate base of Cossacks from present Ukraine and on that reason the monastery was transferred by the Ottoman authorities to the Aegean Sea and the island was deserted. The churches on the coast and the port continued to operate but to a much smaller scale. From the port were exported for Istanbul mostly timber and charcoal coming from Strandja mountains.


The ancient fortification wall of Apollonia is preserved only in two sections. It was built probably in 6th c. BC of well smoothed large rectangular stones.It was totally destroyed in BC 72 after the city was seized by Marcus be reconstructed during Roman period.(ca 2nd c. AD). The foundations of the medieval fortifications were laid during the strengthening of the city by Emperor Anastasius at the end of 5th c. AD. The material used to build the wall was crushed stone bonded with pink mortar. It was approximately two km long. The gate is on West wall protected by two towers. This wall has been repaired and changed several times and has been kept in Ottoman times too. It is visible on several places within today Sozopol. At present, thanks to extensive archaeological excavations, the fortress was revealed on large scale and preserved at some locations up to heights of 6 to 8 m. The gate revealed has three levels of upgrading the street running inside the town. The wall has several circular and rectangular towers located at various distances from each other. On the isthmus side, the ancient wall constructed with large quadrant stones has been partially revealed. Three Early Christian and Medieval churches have been discovered and restored, as well as a monastery, Late Antique baths (thermae) of 5th – 6th c. AD. The city walls exposed on the North-East coast of the bay provide very picturesque look to the old town.


Today: Sozopol harbor is located North of the Old town within the bay and has only local importance. It is used mostly for passenger transport for short tourist trips on recreation boats and fishing, and less for cargo transport. The port has seven berths. There is also a marina and special piers for fishing boats and yachts.
Past: The bay of Sozopol peninsula is the most convenient for constructing a harbor in the entire Western coast of Black Sea. It was not accidental that Apollonia Pontica was both the biggest and richest polis in Antiquity in the region the Western Black Sea coast, but the ancient-most one as well. It is possible that the beginning of the city has been laid on some of the present day islands – Sveti. Kirik or Sveti Ivan (St.  John), which has been evidenced by some pottery and other ancient artifacts of late 6th c. BC discovered by recent excavation there. It is most likely that at that time (during the peak of the Black Sea Fanagoria regression) one or both islands were connected with the mainland by means of narrow isthmuses. Along the centuries the port location changed frequently. The reason were probably the constant changes of coast line, as a result of raising sea levels, collapsing shore (abrasion, earthquakes) and other natural causes.
Upon that submerged isthmus today lay the foundations of an water-breaker wall connecting the island of Sveti Kirik with the Old town of Sozopol. The then much larger peninsula closed a vast bay perfectly protected from North, North-East, East and South winds.
The archaeological findings indicate that the sea area around Sozopol peninsula was used as port area a long time before the foundation of the Greek apoikia Apolloni Pontica. Although not numerous, the earliest artifacts supported the statement of ancient geographer called Pseudo Scymnos for the city foundation at the end of 7th c. BC. During that period of the Archaic Age, the beginning of a functional antique Apollonia harbor has been proved by some finds discovered underwater.
Within the bay of Sozopol at about 6 to 29 meters deep there have been found by archaeological research 15 stone anchor stocks and 41 lead ones of various types and historical periods. Near Palikarni reef there were discovered 5 lead stocks as well as 14 complete and one broken stone stocks and 6 lead ones West of the reefs Gata, Milos and Palikarni. Ten stone-made and twenty four lead anchor stocks, from the sea area between island of Sveti. Kirik and the peninsula – 3 lead stocks: one with groove and 10 with bolt hole.
In any case during Antiquity. Apollonia has had more than one operative port.  In two ancient Periploi it has been mentioned that Apollonia had two harbors. Underwater surveys have discovered an 890 m long water-breaker in South – West direction from island St. Kirik. This construction served to protect from Western winds the artificially created port in the bay. Parallel to it, within the same basin, a second water-breaker (or quay) was constructed, which is about 610 m long. The construction height from the bottom surface to the top is different: between 1.5 and 6.5 m, while the installations are located at depths between 1.5 and 3.5 m. In the construction of the outer quay were used stone anchors dated 14th – 12th c. BC. These installations were built during Apollonia most notable heyday: between 5th and 3rd c. BC. The civil engineering techniques and the materials used to build the water-breaker have many similarities with those discovered in other ports located in the Mediterranean.
Between the peninsula of Sozopol and the Island of Sveti Ivan there are three underwater reefs where ancient harbors have been detected: Palikari, Gata and Milos. Their uppermost parts are located at depths of 7–8 m, which supposes that in Antiquity these were very near or over water surface. They are separated by straights wide of 10–15 m. Archaeological findings testify that the reef Palikari was used as a port during 5th – 3rd c. BC, when as port was used the pier on island Sveti. Ivan South coast as well, which has underwater extension in South-West direction. On the other hand it has been suggested that, the reefs of Gata and Milos were used between 9th and 6th c.BC. In late19th - early 20th c. Gata and Milos were still little rocky islands, which has been documented by various people at the time.
The first evidence for the great Medieval port of Sozopol were provided by Late Antique historians who described the campaign of the Byzantine rebellion and commande Vitalian against Constantinople. In AD 515 he collected in the harbors of Odessos, Anchialos and Sozopol a fleet of 200 ships, which he prepared for the siege of Constantnopol.
The port of Sozopol was listed in 1119 Geography written by Guido surprisingly stillwith its ancient name: ... 9. Anchialos (Pomorie); 10. Apollonia (Sozopol); 11. Terrae (Primorsko)…
In 1154 the port was mentioned by the Arab geographer al-Idrisi: The road from Constantinia (Constanta in Romania) to the city Mitraha (?) on the Black sea North coast ... from Basiliku (Vasiliko/ Tsarevo) to the city of Suzubuli (Sozopol) – 25 miles; from Suzubuli to Achylo(Anchialos/ Pomorie) – 25 miles. Between them there is a bay wide 13 miles and length on shore 20 miles.
With the arrival of Italian merchants in the Black Sea the port Sozopol was constantly presented on their sea-fare charts. For the first time it was mentioned in the so-called Compass in sailing dated 1296 as a good port for boats located between Agathopol (Akhtopol) and Anchialos: From Gatopoli to Soiopoli there are 20 miles NorthWest. The mentioned Sizopoli is a good port for boats. From Sizopoli to Azilo (Anchialos) there are 20 miles between West and North-West. Azilo is port for boats.
The harbor is better described in 14th several century Italian portolani: Sizopoli is a big city with good harbor and two islands. The one is called the Saffron island (Sveti Kirik) and has one church in the middle of the island, when you raise anchor and direct toward the island, and rotate at four or five degrees, the other island stands North-West at the harbor entrance and called Songioaer (Sveti Ivan). From Sozopoli to Miscuria there are 18 miles.
Almost the same port data have been supplied in another anonymous Venetian portolan preserved in a 16th century copy. It indicates exactly the ship pier: When you throw your anchor to the city and direct the bows to the island (St. Kirik) and throw on the bottom four or five orgies (8-9 m long rope).
The port of Sozopol was one of the Bulgarian ports from which have been loaded large quantities of wheat sent by the Bulgarian Tsar Theodor Svetosladispatched as assistance to starving Constantinople in 1306 v.
An interdict for landing in the Bulgarian port (of the emperor of Zagora – i.e. Tsar Theodor Svetoslav) Sozopol was imposed by the Genoese Council in 1316: Also, any person with any galley, ship, ligna or boat shall not dare to visit or land in the port of Sozopol under the fear of fine of fifty lire of Genoa exchange rate... Whoever public notary shall not be allowed to compile a deed requiring visit to the lands of the Emperor of Zagora.
In his Trade Guide of 1340 Francesco Pegolotti noted especially the commerce with wheat and cereals through the port of Sozopol. The wheat of the region was with lower quality but nevertheless with geographical name as compared to many other with unknown names: The wheat from Sozopol is worse that the wheat from other locations ... and this wheat costs always less than the Rodosto wheat – from 12 to 14 carats per modium, and from that of Kaffa and of Black sea Hazaria from 6 to 8 carats per modium. And the wheat from such places as Varna and entire Zagora and Vicina and Sozopol are priced with equal price, while other wheat in Romania have no name.
An endowment charter by the emperor Andronicus II Palaiologos to the population of Messemvassia in Peloponnesus made it clear that from the Sozopol port livestock was exported too.
Some Genoese payrolls contain evidence that sailors from Sozopol were hired on various Genoese ships: On the galleys owned by Carlo di Gramaldi and Ugolino Doria are hired as sailors – Constantine from Varna, Theohar of Varna, Yanitsa from Lykostomion, Nicetas from Achtopol, Kinachy from Sozopol.
The port of Sozopol has been marked on dozens of 14th – 16th sea-fare charts. Its importance is evidenced by the fact that the name was always written with red letters as those of Messembria and Varna. The name Cisopoli is noted for the first time of the map of 1311 made by Petrus Visconti. It was presented since in all his maps issued until 1320. Under the name Sisopoli the city was present on a map by Soleri of 1385. Generally speaking the city is marked under one of these two names on all maps of 15th century: Gabriel de Valseca (1447), but on some it appears as Grixopoli (Nicollo Fiorini map of 15th c., and Alvese Cesano map of 1490), or even Siropoli (Graziozo Beneincasa map of 1474).


The foundations of the preserved Medieval fortification walls date from the end of 4th – beginning 5th c. AD. They have been repaired and reconstructed at numerous occasions until 1453, when the town was finally incorporated in the Ottoman Empire. Today they are restored to heights up to 7-8 m. Significant sections of the West all with two circular towers and a gate, as well as parts of the South wall are exhibited at different points in the city or embedded in contemporary buildings of 19th-early 20th c.. 

Medieval Sites

The fortification walls of Late Antique- and Medieval Sozopol are relatively well preserved and date from 6th – 14th centuries The nowadays available sections of walls are restored and attractively presented to the visitors. Several Ancient and Medieval structures have been recovered and restored: a Late Antique bath (thermae), a basilica reconstructed in a Medieval church and more. In 2010 during excavations in the ruins of Medieval monastery Sveti Ivan Krastitel (St. John the Baptist) located on the island Sveti Ivan were discovered two reliquaries: a marble one containing relics of St. John the Baptist and a limestone one with inscription mentioning that inside it were previously kept and transferred the same relics. The reliquaries are on show in the Town museum, while the relics are now kept and available to be seen by visitors in the church of St. St. Cyril and Methodius located in the town center. The church St. George the Victorius houses other relics: pieces of the True Cross and relics of St. Apostle Andrew, the first person to preach Christianity in the Black Sea region.
The Town museum was founded at the end of 60s of 20th century and was transferred in 1978 in a new, specially built for the purpose building. It houses many unique artifacts. Some of them are well known to the public and scholarly world at home and abroad. The museum is divided in two sections: archaeology (5th millenium BC – 17th c. and Christian art (18th – 19th century). In 2003 the exposition spaces and artifacts were updated. Now it exhibits one of the most important collections of Ancient Greek painted ceramics, terracotta figurines, sculpturesmade of stone, and and important collection of coins of various periods. Various findings from the important Ancient Greek and Hellenistic necropolises of Apollonia, amphorae, ancient anchors, stone reliefs dated 7th – 1st centuries BC, as well as some artifacts of Roman and Late Antique periods (1st – 7th centuries) are displayed in vast spaces: pottery, glassvessels, jewellery, etc.. The exposition contains the marble and limestone reliquary where the relics of St. John the Baptist were kept when founded. The Middle Ages are also well represented by beautiful glazed ceramics, amphorae and household items, female decorations and dress ornaments from 8th to 18th centuries. The museum exhitbits also a collection of icons from Sozopol region dated 16th – 19th centuries and many more.

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Writer / Date
Alexander Minchev, March – July 2013
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