Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sozopol-Bulgaria | Captivating Oldest Town on Thrace´s Black Sea Coastine.


Sozopol is a renowned seaside resort  of Bulgaria and that captivating oldest town on Thrace´s Black Sea coastline situated at just 34,0 kilometres south of  the capital of the province Burgas is since a long time ago one of the most popular summer holidays destinations well known for its striking beach, excellent services, facilities, notorious events and festivals but also highly appreciated for its considerable historic patrimony and a long history to narrate.

That municipality of approximately 5,900 official residents is nowadays a very lively and animated centre on a striking bay called Sozopol Stolez which divides its boundaries from the attractive Chermomorets and it lies along a road leading to the marvellous Nature Reserve of Ropotamo and the famous coastal town of Primorsko.

Located on a scenic peninsula facing the Black Sea and artificially connected to Octpob Svet Cyril the island of St.Cyril by a narrow isthmus which links those two lands forming together the local harbour Sozopol boasts  a stupendous sandy stretch, an magnificent uncontaminated atmosphere and a mild climate during many months a year.

The presence of the charming small islands Sveti Ivan and Sveti Petar located in front of its coast and furthermore its Stari Grad, one of the most charming old towns of the entire Bulgaria are definitely other attractions which increase the scenic appeal of that site always ready to surprise for its beauty and fascination a multitude of visitors in a while.

Many are the chances for a tourist to spend a pleasant and active stay in Sozopol with opportunities to enjoy a wide selection of water sports, radial excursions along all the littoral and in the immediate inland discovering relevant historic centres and beautiful rural villages located in a charming verdant countryside conserving their old traditions and identity in architecture, folklore and costumes and also that is extremely interesting for the visitors who want to know a relevant cultural aspect of a specific land.

Turkey is very close, a country well known for its notable patrimony and an endless list of beautiful places to visit,  many are the options to practise trekking and cycling in the nearest Balkan mountains while for all those who love nature they will find many squares kilometres of protected natural areas extremely rich in flora and fauna.

The mild climate of the Black Sea with its regenerative and therapeutic waters due to its low salinity, solar radiation with a low carcinogen risk  permitting hours under a warm sun without risks and epidermal tumours are other relevant great incentives to chose Sozopol as a great destination.

The absence of chemical industries combined with the great atmosphere created by the Black Sea and the surrounding hills of over 300,0 metres of altitude and including the proximity of the mountain Bakarlaka Gora are of course a superb incentive to attract people to spend holidays in a place with excellent constant temperatures around 26º/27º degrees in summer season and very ventilated evenings.

The local Incoming Tourism Industry has had a very increasing development in  the 90's,   the town offers a wide range of very comfortable Hotels and accommodations covering every request, from the most demanding luxury structures to apartments for families with every kind of facilities and also others very suitable for young people.

Other great features are excellent communications, a delicious gastronomy thanks to that culinary fusion left by different civilisations and the chance to taste wines of notable quality and also those aspects are very attractive for all those who desire to try outstanding and delectable products.

The history of Sozopol is very ancient and according to  historical documentations the local territory was inhabited since the Bronze Age confirmed by archaeological excavations in the municipal boundaries with the finding of several artifacts related to that era.

That place was settled by a Thracian tribe in the 3rd millenium  BC, consisting in the first recorded ethnic group to establish an inhabited camp on that sunny Black Sea coastline. Linked to those settlers in its sunbed were found in a big quantity of pottery items, tools, utensils and other objects related to shipping activities confirming a very active life many centuries BC.
 
An official town was founded in the 7th century BC but largely developed 100 years later by Greek colonists from  Miletus, an ancient town on the Anatolian coast and the first name was Anthea, other name of the Goddess sister of the God Zeus, protector of the marriage and women called Hera by Greeks and later Juno by the Romans.

Despite that some legends and  stories are linked  to the Phoenicians, that clever and active cilivisation who coming from the coasts of the Middle East left the Greeks as legacy a small port already active and prepared to start further maritime operations.

The name Apollonia which gave that settlement fame and prestige was adopted later when the Hellenic inhabitants elevated a temple to pay homage to Apollo the God of sun, light, prophecy, truth and  also venerated protector of the emigrants. 

That centre since its foundation was an important cross point of intense activities with notable flows of sailors, merchants and artisans and it also became well known with the name Apollonia Pontica, Apollonia of the Black Sea.

The Greeks organised  a relevant commercial base with the establishment of an important busy harbour permitting active connections towards the Middle East, Corinth,  Athens,Chios, Rhodes and Lesbos.

The importance of that flourishing reality apart its maritime activities also generated a cultural important development with the desire of those settlers to create always something of relevant to leave to the sons and descendants all that has always been a prerogative of the Hellenic civilisation.

Fishing became a highlight but the former Anthea was also an important multi-purpose hub with the cultivation of vineyards in the nearest hills and furthermore thanks to the presence of copper mines probably discovered by the first Thracian people started to be used with a notable extraction of that metal with a consequent notable  production of items and objects developing a more than active metallurgist activity.

The current resort is recorded in ancient times as one of the most important centres about minting of coins and the discovery of ancient coins depicting the God Apollo and the Goddess Cybele confirmed all that, items which were declared among the oldest found  in the entire land.
 
It was since then for all that the site was also called  Apollonia Magna,  a title identified in that specific word "Magna" which was given to places with an outstanding value in which were created artistic and productive activities in terms of art and handcraft, centres of an important cultural relevance elevated in the highest ranking as examples to follow and emulate.

In proximity of the port were also found other metallic objects including some stoned anchors dated the 2nd Millenium BC and other further coins depicting them and that object became the symbol of the the current Sozopol confirming much more the relevant prestige in terms of navigation in those times.

The Greeks left the Romans who occupied that settlement during the Imperial campaign of the Balkans a rich patrimony and the Empire of Rome inherited a wide number of buildings which were restored but never changed for order of the Consul Marcus Terentius Lucullus also proconsul of Macedonia in 72 BC.

That Imperial Governor in addition commissioned to a sculptor a giant statue of the God Apollo over 20,0 metres in high,a masterpiece made by an artist from Athens called Kalamis which was transported to Rome and placed on the Capitolium hill.

During its history that oldest town on Thrace´s Black Sea coastline has never been object of conquest of barbarian invasions from east or from north as other towns. it was well fortified by the new ruler the Roman Empire of Orient with capital the former Byzantium and later Constantinople, the current Istanbul and it  never had as other resorts as Athopol or Nessebar problems to defend its territory by pirates and corsairs who were infesting that coast.

The Byzantines in the 1st century renamed the town in Sozopolis which means city of the salvation. In that period the entire settlement was christianized and worth a mention that eigtht bishops lived there such as Oriens Christianis I, Athanasius, Peter, Euthymius, Ignatius, Theodosius, Philoteus, Joasaph and also Joannicius who became Patriarch of Costantinople in the 16th century.


For a short period that coastal centre was under influence of the Kingdom of Bulgaria led by Todor Svetoslav but returning under Byzantine rule in a short time. After the fall of that powerful Empire Sozopol was for long time a focal point of disputes in the 14th century between two important Italic powers, the Marine Republics of Genoa and Venice before to fall as all Bulgaria under Ottoman influence.

During the long Turkish occupation the name was changed in Sizebolu and that centre had in those times notable mutations with new constructions developed by the Turks and with the disappearance of others left by the older settlers.

Sozopol was during its long history one of the first Christian Orthodox sites on that Thrace´s Black Sea Sea coastline but today it is impossible to see many of those several Churches erected in medieval times because unfortunately the major part of them were destroyed by the Ottomans.

That large devastation occurred in 1629 when the Dey, the local Imperial Governor established that was forbidden to build since then new Religious constructions non Muslim with severe restrictions and some small Orthodox temples were elevated in the  late 19th century after the Independence of the country.

In 1821 a date corresponding to the Greek War a good number of locals were sentenced to death for conspiracy and betrayal by the Ottoman authorities.

The history of the current resort will continue after the Independence of Bulgaria in 1878 with the establishment of a Monarchy and also with the period of replacements of population related the infamous Balkan wars.  

In that period in which many countries of that corner of Europe were in war there was a new re design of the territorial maps and  the Greek descendants living in the former Sozopolis were replaced by Bulgarians mainly coming from Eastern Thrace.

That site after the 2nd World War followed the destiny of the Nation until today living a decline after the abdication of the last Monarch Simeon II with the former Kingdom replaced by a Socialist Regime in the Soviet sphere which did not give a notable importance in terms of development and in that period the the incoming tourism was mainly local.

The Communist Party during the times of the Cold War used the resort as a secondary tourism destination, the most important activities during that period were the development of the fishing fleet in the port, the opening of a Fishing School and some activities linked to Military Marine operations as a Navy base.

In the 70's  all the area was organised under a special archaeological protection by the Govern Institutions but the tourism never developed in large scale.

The centre of the resort is mainly concentrated around Zlatna Mesta, the Golden Square in which converge the major part of the most important avenues such as the busy Ulitsa Republikanska, Ulitsa Rotopamo, Ulitsa Chernomorets, Ulitsa Yani Popov, Ulitsa Sati Planina and Ulitsa Parvi May.

Without comparisons that place is a sort of small Place de l'Etoile in Paris consisting in the focal cross point of the town and it is the liveliest place of the entire municipality.

Stari Grad, the captivating old town is situated north of that square next to to another called Plac Han Krum on the peninsula Skammiy between the street Ulitsa Cherno More on one side and Ulitsa Industrialna which connects immediately after that square the area in which is situated the Archaeological Museum to Ulitsa Kraybrezhna, another relevant urban artery.

The old town is highly fascinating and all to discover metre by metre highlighted by charming narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque alleys, small squares and traditional stoned and wooden buildings, landmarks of a typical architecture which makes that urban area one of the most attractive of the entire Sozopol since some centuries ago.

A relevant highlight is the presence of restored constructions arranged on two stories,  generally with the second floor developed in timber with flat roof and a gable main facade with rectangular windows,wooden shutters, scenic balconies and some of them have a small portico on the ground floor hosting artisan shops.

Many of those buildings are the result of  an artistic and architectural movement started in the 18th century and much more in the 19th century which gave Stari Grad a very suggestive image with a strong and unique identity.

Some of the most important houses are Dom Todor Zagarov, Dom Kreamlou,  Dom Marieta Stefanova, Dom Kurdilis and Dom Laskaridis and those names after the word Dom meaning house are all linked to former owners and relevant local figures.

The last two houses consist in a network created to host the Ethnographic Museum dispalying in the rooms a very interesting exhibition,the first with the chronological history, life and handicraft of the local population while the second hosts an Art gallery with works by local artists.

The Archaeological Museum of the town next to Stari Grad is one of the main local attraction, a superb exhibition  and great opportunity to admire the immense historic patrimony of Sozopol in terms of artifacts and finds. 

That museum consists in  large area displaying objects,tools,coins, pottery, all linked to the history of the distinguished civilisations who left important marks on the shore of the Black Sea.

Archaeology is of course one of the local highlights and in the early 20th century thanks to the excellent relationship between Bulgaria and France,the Governments of Paris and Sofia established an intense collaboration in archaeological researches related to the ancient Apollonia Pontica.

 A team of French archaeologists went to that Bulgarian seaside town with the mission to discover the great uncovered heritage of that centre, furthermore were also edited some publications in specialised magazines in French language and promoted abroad in different speaking Francophone countries. Thanks to that activity that seaside town of Bulgaria also became well known in different corners from the world.

In addition to all that was also established a sort of pact between those two Nations to exhibit at the famed Musée du Louvre in Paris one of the most important  museums of the globe, pieces and remains of that former Hellenic town consisting in jars, busts, objects of the ancient Thracian and Greek civilisations.

In the 40's  also Bulgarian archaeologists started to publish documentations about the archaeological patrimony of the former Anthea and all that was generated by further excavations with the discovery of other several artifacts.

In Skamniy Peninsula were discovered the rest of an ancient Roman fortress with an annexed Castrum, a section devoted to host the Imperial legions and it was definitely another very relevant treasure of the oldest settlement on the Bulgarian Black Sea.

In more contemporary times that centre became further famous all around the world about the discovery of the relics of St.John Baptist in 2010 confirmed as original by a pool of expert archaeologists.

A curiosity related to archaeology and founds for who knows Bulgaria and also the city of Sofia,in the National Historical Museum of the Bulgarian Capital is displayed a skeleton of an alleged vampire found in Sozopol. It believed they were the rest of an aristocratic character called Krivich, considered according some legends a cruel figure who was also the owner and ruler of Castrofilax, the former local fortress.

It said that the locals to avoid his return to the town after his death pierced him with an iron bar in the chest and according to suggestive stories there were over 100 other cases similar to that celebrated in arcane medieval funerals.
 
The Church of  Sveti Cyril and Methodius erected in the 19th century is one of the local Religious historical highlights.The architectural design of that Sacred seat is loyal to the traditional Orthodox canons of that time consisting in a white temple arranged on a rectangular plan covered by a red brick roof with high mullioned windows inserted on its walls.

The entrance to the Church is directly by a door in a space with fine columns forming a portico next to a high high tower. In its upper section you will notice an additional cylindrical turret with open windows and a dome which is surmounted by an iron Christian Cross.

That Religious building is also linked to archaeology because the relics of St. John Baptist are preserved inside it.The history of that unique discovery is very captivating, result and fruit of a series of researches based on chronological information starting from Instanbul in an operation led by a group of archaeologists following a piste with some historical dates with a final epilogue on July 2010.

All that had as protagonist and epicentre the nearest small island of Sveti Ivan,  the island of St John on which there is a Monastery in ruins devastated during the Ottoman occupation by the Turkish soldiers and originally called St. John the Prophet and also that denomination was a further relevant detail.

Those researchers found there in a space corresponding to the former apse of that Sacred site beneath the altarpiece  a sort  of alabaster box with a sarcophagus shape with engravings in greeks letters with the names of the Saint and the person carried that object containing a skull and bones of a hand.  

Those relics after a carefully analysis came from the former Constantinople and was detected that kind of stoned box is dated the 4th century checking the Greek-Byzantine calligraphic style. That place was chosen to hide the rests of that Holy figure to avoid in a possible invasion the theft of that important treasure linked to the Christian Religion.

That discovery was immediately considered unique and great and a further scientific confirmation was identified and determined the name of  Saint ,St.John Baptist certifying that those rests were of that venerated holy man.

That great found was attested in all its authenticity by the expert historian of the Vatican State Dr. Michael Heseman a prominent author and journalist from Düsseldorf,  famous character who among other things published books closely related to religious histories, paranormal phenomenas,anthropology and extraterrestrial visitors. 

Today that place and the Church due to all that are very considerable destinations for pilgrims ,lovers of history and discoveries and definitely all that has developed furthermore other incoming flows to Sozopol which today is not visited only for its sunny and sandy beaches.

In the town there are other Churches and  one is situated in the street Ulitsa Apollonia situated in a green area with trees along a cobbled path .It is a small stoned  building dedicated to Jesus Christ, it is more a Chapel than a Church consisting in a tiny construction developed on a square plan with a wooden door surmounted by a cross beneath a gable roof covering the entire nave and apse.

Crkva Sveti Nikolaj is another Christinan Temple dedicated to St.Nicholas .Its construction is pretty modern because it was erected in 2004 but reflecting a splendid architectural revival extremely loyal to the pure style of the traditional Orthodox Religious structures and developed since centuries ago in the Balkans.

Elevated on an ample rectangular base, very charming are the lines of its pentagonal facade with arched windows, columns on the sides, an ample doorway and a stained glass window inserted in the upper section.Over an arcade beneath a fine gable roof you can see an icona depicting the Saint Patron of the sailors and travellers St.Nicholas.

Very particular and peculiar is the construction and history of another Religious construction called  Crkva Theotokos, a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary erected by the former Greek community.

That Greek Church of small dimensions is flanked by a stoned wall with a low gable roof was erected below the street level ordered by the Turkish Dey during the occupation of Bulgaria.

All that because during the Ottoman rule before the final decree which did not permit the construction of non Islamic seats existed a sort of permission but with a very severe restrictive regime to build structures linked to other worships non Muslims.

Crkva Sveti Georgi is another Sacred construction dedicated to St. George erected in the 19th century and part of the local patrimony. Elevated on a rectangular plan despite refined lines in its exterior layout the most important highlights of that Church are in the interior containing some relevant wooden icononastis dating back the 19th century.

You will notice that its bell tower is in part similar to the Church of the Saints Cyril and Methodius in colours and some architectural details, developed on a square plan subdivided in two blocks with a towered cylindrical element added on the main section surmounted by arched windows an irregular flat roof topped by a cross.

Worth a visit Jesus Crkva Sveta Djevica, a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.It is sober and austere building erected in the 18th century on a rectangular base with three nave and as main attraction it conserves inside beautiful iconoastis depicting St. Mary  and  relevant wooden decorations. 

The old fortress is still visible in part of its former structure pretty well restored offering the view of a majestic and strong crenellated square tower dominating the sea, an arched doorway and a passage flanked by a section of the former fortified walls, the rests of the construction was well refurbished and it is another local landmark for historic events which saw it as protagonist.

For a period during the war between the Ottoman Empire troops  against the Imperial Russian Army in the 19th century the Tsar soldiers  occupied the fortress left  in 1829 after the famous treaty of Adrianopolis in which Sozopol returned under Turkish rule.

Sveti Ivan island the island of St. John  it is located at 1,2 kilometres from the mainland and today on that island there are the rests of the ancient Monastery famous for the founds of the relics.Naturally for that great discovery that site was declared protect historical site by the Bulgarian Government but it is not a relevant place only linked to that great event.

Historically that tiny island has always had a tumultuous past for what was established on its surface.The Thracian elevated there a temple for their rites ,it was according to historic documentations one of the first sites developed by that civilisations on Thrace´s Black Sea coastline in a safe place and not along the coast.

The Greeks also built another one with a staue depicting the God Apollo over 13,0 metres high which was destroyed and the same happened to a former Christian Church burned and ravaged by pirates while the famous Monastery was built,destroyed ,rebuilt and destroyed once again.

The island has a small beach and a lighthouse dating back the late 19th century built by a French company of engineers some years later of the Bulgarian Independence to drive the maritime traffic towards the port of Burgas and the other harbours along the coast.

Thanks to the favourable micro climate that island which is is the biggest in the Black Sea it is also a natural reserve for many migratory birds among them some rare species of pelicans and storks.

Next to St.John island there is the small island of St. Peter which is often protagonist in panoramic pictures of promotion of the resort and as the previous is a destination of many species of volatiles for that it is also nicknamed Birds Island. It is very small with a surface of approximately 0,025 square kilometres just a few hundred metres from St. John Island.

It was recorded for the first time in the 19th century  but a pool of archeologists found on it the rests of a former Chapel and some traces as pottery fragments detecting there was life on that tiny islet and it was mentioned in that century with the names of Gata and Milos described by some Russian Officers in 1820 during the war against the Ottomans.

Drevna Porta is the harbour of Sozopol located in the eastern extreme point of the headland and  it is a pleasant place to enjoy a walk admiring the captivating natural bay forming a wide arch with a splendid view over a further southern promontory.

The local beaches are pretty different from area to area due to the coastal formation,you can find beaches of different sizes,small coves,narrow and not very long,others with a medium length or long.

Another feature is the presence of sandy dunes which is another special  highlight and there are many along the local coast. In some points you can find cliffs and rocks but not very high.The sand is of excellent quality, the water in perfect condition does not suffer from pollution,the most famous is called Harmani and in its immediate proximity there are other two such as Kavatsi and Golden Fish.


In the proximity of the town there are many opportunities to enjoy brilliant excursions to the Ropotamo Nature Reserve which is is a small natural paradise.It was declared in 1940 a protected territory and in 1992 elevated as official nature reserve. 

That area is very suggested for its biodiversity with sections covered by Mediterranean vegetations, others by sandy dunes next to humid areas with including forest with a typical central European aspect.

In its boundaries the fauna lovers can see different species of animals such as deer, doe, wild boar, marten, fox, jackall, otter, over 10 kinds of bats and more than 260 species of birds.

Its denomination derives from a river with the same name with its source in the Strandzha Mountains. It is 48,5 kilometres long and approximately 30,0 metres wide. Its lower section is characterised by the scenic presence of water lilies, shaped rocks and about fauna as a favourite place for white-tailed eagles and that specific area is very suggested for trekkers and mountain bikers who will have the chance to enjoy several wonderful trails.


All the coastline from north to south offers several chances to discover other beaches and the history and  the patrimony of other towns such as Burgas, Primorsko, Pomorie and also very suggested is to reach the wonderful Nessebar one of the historical jewels of the entire Bulgaria.

The calendar about events in Sozopol is very interesting,the town hosts concerts,cultural meetings and important conferences. Apollonia Art Festival is one of the most famous in Bulgaria with a wide participation of several famed artists from many different countries and that relevant event takes place in September every year since 1984.

In addition the presence of fine restaurants offering excellent national and international cuisine is undoubtedly another very interesting aspect.

Bulgarian gastronomy offers excellent plates with strong  influences in that territory linked to the former rulers as Greeks and Turks combined with the Slavic and all that has generated a culinary art with a presence of different kinds of spices and rich contrasts of flavours.

The famed Moussaka is a clear example of what the Hellenic civilisation has left,the famous yogurt is another relevant product a national pride for its excellent quality and  not only used as dessert but also presents as ingredient for several recipes.One of them is the Taramor, a famed soup prepared with that product,dill,oil, cucumbers and nuts.

Often appearing in the Bulgarian tables is also the traditional Sopska, a salad composed by tomatoes,onion,peppers,parsley adding olive oil and completed by grated cheese and slices of hard eggs.In Sozopol you can taste several plates offering the best in terms of grilled and baked fish, mussels,clams,prawns and seafood always fresh.

Apart sea cuisine,there are many other specialities you can enjoy as the Gyuvetch which is a veal stew very common in all the country adding to the meat , rice, tomatoes, onion, olives,r mushrooms,some spices which could be black pepper,cumin,thyme,laurel and coriander and as final result it is very similar to the Serbian Duvec.

There are also variants in which the veal meat can be replaced by lamb, pork or chicken,it is a speciality which is also presents in several styles in some corner of the country  with an addition of potatoes,carrots and peas.

Another popular soup is the Shkembe Chorba of Turkish influence and it consists in a stew of lamb or also beef  despite someone also use pork meat as variant.The main additional  ingredients are paprika and milk other spices,vinegar and garlic.

Also chicken is a plate very common, the Kjudenstil chicken is very popular cooked with butter, black pepper ,mushrooms,oil,lemon ,flour adding cream.

Notable is also the tradition of grilled meat, you can try the Kebacheta a mix of grilled beef and pork seasoned with pepper,salt, cumin and very similar is the Kjuftenza using the same meat with an addition of oregano, black pepper and garlic and there is also an use of excellent lamb meat grilled or baked.

The Dolma is very similar to the traditional Slavic Sarma which is also a local plate known with the name Sarmi but using in the place of the cabbage,vitis leaves  filled with rice,  tomatoes,peppers, minced meat,onion,including someone adds a bit of yogurt in a combination with some spices.

The Banitsa is part of the traditional Bulgarian bakery and it is a pastry speciality prepared with eggs and cheese. It can be filled also with vegetables in particular pumpkin, spinach,  but also onion, minced meat, leek or feta cheese and there are also the "sweet" versions adding to that pancake jam,walnuts ,apple or other kinds of fruit.

The fine wines of Bulgaria are very appreciated apart the famed Melnik,there are many others such as local Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon of notable quality, smooth, palatable and  extremely versatile. 

If you want to complete a tasting wine of great level I suggest you others such as Pamid,   Mavrud, Ugni, Misket, Dimyat and Ruby.An excellent local fine Riesling will be a great choice and it is also produced as a sweet Muskat a Moscatel of high quality.

Sozopol as destination is a great choice and the proximity of Burgas Airport is an incentive more to plan holidays in that captivating oldest town o Thrace´s Black Sea coastline with its legendary past enjoying sunny days also highlighted by a great historical patrimony you will enjoy very much during a very special and pleasant stay.


Francesco Mari



Recommended Accommodations in Sozopol

Duni Royal Resort- Marina Royal Palace
Aparthotel Martinez
Hotel Saint Thomas Residence
Hotel Selena


Recommended Restaurants in Sozopol

Restaurant Windmill
Restaurant Zoe
Restaurant Beuna Vista

Useful links

www.sozopol.com
duni.bg
martinez.bg
www.saintthomasresidences.com
www.hotelselena
bulgariatravel.org/en/object/259/sozopol