Located 34 kilometres south of Bourgas on a scenic rocky peninsula, this fishing village/tourist resort/art colony is arguably the most charming place on the Black Sea coast and one of Bulgaria s crown jewels.
Founded in 610 B.C. by Ionian Greeks from Miletus and named Apollonia in honor of their most adored god, this was the first coastal Greek colony to be established. It was a thriving and important place, trading with parent Miletus, Athens, and the Isle of Rhodes. The Apollonians acted as middlemen between the Greek world and the indigenous Thracians from whom they acquired copper, honey, grain, and wood in exchange for wine, salt, and textiles.
The colony reached its zenith during the 5th century B.C., which coincided with the height of power of the Thracian Odrisae tribe, many of whom gradually came to achieve rank and status in the Greek state. Apollonia in turn founded its own colony of Anchialo (present-day Pomorie) in order to prevent the powerful rival Dorian colony of Messembria (Nessebur) from penetrating into Bourgas bay. Apollonia was also an active arts and cultural centre. A temple was built to Apollo, the sun god and healer, and a ten-metre-high bronze statue of the god, made by the Greek sculptor Calamis during the 5th century B.C., guarded the harbour. When Roman legions sacked the town in the first century, the 13 ton statue was carted off to Rome and displayed on the Capitoline hill from where it later disappeared into oblivion.
Under the Romans, Apollonia declined in significance. Its colony Anchialo, however, became the most important town on the Black Sea. The name Sozopol first appears as an inscription on a 4th-century Roman column, probably in connection with the patron Apollo as many ancient Greek towns called Apollonia later changed their names to Sozopolis (City of Salvation) when they accepted Christianity.
When Sozopol was incorporated into the First Bulgarian Kingdom in 812 under Khan Krum it developed into a large and wealthy town. The 12th-century relief icon St George and St Dimitur on Horseback, one of the coun try s oldest and most significant, was originally displayed in Sozopol s St. Bogoroditsa (Holy Virgin) church. Sozopol was one of the last holdouts to Ottoman domination, falling in 1453.
Under the Ottomans, who renamed the town to Suseboly, numerous churches and monasteries were razed; only their names remain, gracing the area's capes and isles (St. Ivan and St. Thomas). The National Revival period saw the building of typical Black Sea houses; ground floors of stone generally used for storage supported overhanging upper stories of wood, with protruding bay windows and sheltered eaves. Clustered along the narrow peninsula's cobblestone streets and alleys, some 45 houses are classified as cultural monuments.
The Church of the Holy Virgin dates back to the 18th C., while its altar section - to the 16th C. It is partially dug into the ground, three-nave, with impressive interior; an iconostasis (1781) with luxuriant woodcarved decoration. Two of the icons (18th C.) in the church would prove of greatest interest: "Jesus Christ" and "Holy Virgin". St. George Church, with a woodcarved iconostasis and valuable icons, dates back to the 19th C. Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church, built by famous master Gencho Kunev, also dates back to 19th C. A museum exposition entitled "Sea Culture on the Bulgarian Lands" has been arranged here. St. Zosim chapel dates back to the 19th C.
Sozopol's housing architecture from the National Revival period closely resembles that of Nessebur. It falls into the category of the so-called "Black Sea house" featuring stone-walled basements, wooden staircases leading up to the living quarters, a wooden scaffolding, jutting eaves, and exterior wood paneling to protect the building from the salty sea air. The Ana Trendafilova House with its wooden facings modeled on the classical forms of Dorian pilasters, with its triangular gable and stylized sun is certainly worth seeing. The ceiling in one of the rooms is composed of multi-figural timber pieces, painted in different colours. The Duka Dukov house is remarkable for its exterior. It is situated in the central part of the old quarter. It is two-floor house, rising in the silhouette of the old houses in a little square.
Everything in Sozopol today is sunny, bright and attractive - starting with the cobblestone lanes and old houses with strings of fish handing from the roof, and ending the southern drawl of the fishermen who fondly call their white boats "ships". The Apollonia Festival of the Arts, staged here every September gathers painters and actors, singers and musicians, poets and dancers to a ten day world of art come alive amidst the old houses of this southern small town.
Remains of the fortress wall and a necropolis have been preserved. One of the most interesting archaeological finds is Anaxander's tombstone kept at the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. Annexed to the territory of the Bulgarian state in 812. In the 14th C. it is one of the biggest trading ports. Its economic growth is reflected in the construction of numerous churches and monasteries. One of the oldest icons of Bulgaria - "St. George and St. Demetrius on Horseback", is dated to this period (12th C.).