Sozopol is one of the most ancient towns on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It is a picturesque fishing town harbouring the biggest Bulgarian fishing fleet and it is a popular seaside resort.
The town was founded in the 7th c. BC by Greek colonisers from Miletus in Asia Minor. Their leader was the philosopher Anaximander - an outstanding representative of the philosophical school of Miletus. The Greeks, fearing attacks from the Thracian tribes occupying the coastal area and the neighbouring mountains, established their first settlement on the island now known as St. Cyril (Sveti Kirik). The town was called Apollonia after its majestic temple dedicated to Apollo - the Greek god of arts, sun and light, the patron-saint of adventurers and colonisers. Apollo became the patron of the island and the object of a special cult. In front of the temple a vast 13-meter high statue of Apollo, cast by the famous Greek sculptor Kalamis, the pride and joy of the town, was erected. That statue could be seen by all passing ships.
The town prospered economically. Apollonia traded with Miletus and the Greek settlements of Asia Minor. But when these settlements were conquered by the Persian armies, Apollonia strengthened its trading links with Athens, which became its major customer. The town imported from Athens fabrics, pottery, olive oil and wine and exported cattle, leather, salt, fish, corn, honey, wax, supplied by the Thracians.
By 520 BC Apollonia was minting its own coins - evidence of town’s economic strength and political independence.
In 72 BC the town was captured by a Roman army under the command of General Marcus Lucullus, who had already captured Uskadema (Edirne) and Kabile (Yambol) during the same campaign. Apollonia was punished by the Roman army for supporting some anti-Roman alliances. The Romans carried off the statue of Apollo and placed it on the Capitol in Rome, where it was later melted.
20 years later the Getae tribe attacked and ravaged the town, forcing the Greek settlers to flee in terror. Apollonia, like other Greek settlements on the Black Sea coast, fell under Roman rule during the 1st c. AD.
Apollonia declined and disappeared from the records of chroniclers. It re-emerged under the name of Sozopolis - ”the town of salvation”. Whether the name refers to Apollo, the god of healing, or is an allusion to Christianity (for at about this time a Christian bishopric is reported as having its seat at Sozopol) is not clear. Quite simply the name ”Sozopol” may refer to the fact that ships would seek refuge in the port during storms.
During the Byzantine period Sozopol seems to have regained something of its former prosperity. Noblemen who had fallen into disgrace at Constantinople would retire to Sozopol. The monastery of St. Cyril was established on the island to which it gave its name.
During the years preceding the period of Turkish domination, Sozopol changed hands several times - now part of the Bulgarian kingdom, now part of the Byzantine Empire. For a short period during the 14th c. the town fell into the hands of the Genoese. Finally, in 1453, Sozopol was captured by the Turks.
Today the town consists of two part. The old part occupies the peninsula. The two-storey houses are built in a characteristic local style: the ground floor built of stone separated by beams; the upper floor built entirely of wood.
The church of the Holy Virgin dates back to the turnover of 18-19th c. The finely carved iconostasis and bishop’s throne were executed by anonymous local masters in the early 1800-s There is a wooden screen behind which female worshippers were required to stand.
The island of St. Cyril is joined to the peninsula by a causeway. It is the site of the original Greek settlement. The name of the island comes from a medieval monastery. Today there is a naval school on it.
The Island of St. Ivan is the largest Bulgarian island in the Black Sea. Its lighthouse marks the entrance to the Bay of Bourgas. The small island next to it is called St. Peter.