Apollo's city at the Black Sea

Sozopol was among the first in the Balkans to introduce money

Parts of the town's fortified walls are preserved and restored.

Sozopol, the oldest town on the Bulgarian Black Sea coastline, is located 30 kilometres southeast of Burgas, on a rocky peninsula shooting far out into the sea. The earliest settlement here appeared in the third millennium BC and was inhabited by the local Thracian tribe of the Skirimians. The story goes that Phoenician sailors frequented the bay, as they believed it was the best-sheltered harbour along the western Black Sea coast.

Perhaps for this reason, settlers from the Ionian city of Miletus established a colony here, in the late seventh century BC, which was originally named Antheia and then soon after renamed to Apollonia, after the Greek Apollo - the patron god of settlers. The large temple in the polis was dedicated to him. In the middle of the city towered a colossal 13-metre high statue of Apollo by Calamis, which is believed to have been moved to Rome and placed in the Capitol in the first century AD.

As a number of cities were named after Apollo in antiquity, colonists used to add one more name, so this colony was called Apollonia Pontica (Apollonia on the Black Sea). The city grew very fast and was among the first in the Balkans to introduce money. As early as the seventh and sixth centuries BC, Apollonia started minting various forms of bronze non-coin money - the so-called 'arrowhead coins' with an anchor with two arms on their obverse side.

After the Romans conquered the Balkans in the first century, the then thriving Apollonia fell into decay and become a small fishing village while its fortifications were left untended. In the fourth century the settlement saw a revival under the name Sozopolis (Town of Salvation). Archaeological excavations of the ancient town and the necropolis unearth each year new vestiges and a number of ancient artefacts, giving information of the life of Apollonians.

Presently, Sozopol is a favourite holiday destination of Bulgarians and foreigners alike. The Old Town abounds in churches and chapels, and the 200 or so houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth century along the narrow cobbled streets have preserved all the flavour of bygone times. The biggest church in Sozopol is of St George - it is a three-nave single-apse pseudo basilica dating back to the early nineteenth century. The Church of The Holy Mother of God is also a three-nave single-apse pseudo basilica built on the site of a medieval Christian church and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The Church of Sts Cyril and Methodius, designed by renowned Master Builder Gencho, was built in 1888 and was overhauled in recent years. The relics of St John the Baptist were put on display here after being discovered a few years ago on the Island of St John, off the coast opposite Sozopol - a find that aroused strong interest.

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