A hot spot of summer life, Sozopol, on the southern end of the Burgas Bay, is the descendant of one of the oldest and most significant ancient Greek colonies, Apollonia Pontica. The city's first encounters with the Romans were far from amiable. During his 72 BC campaign in Thrace, General Marcus Lucullus set fire to Apollonia, sacked it and took to Rome its riches, including the 13-metre bronze statue of Apollo Healer, made in the 5th Century BC by Calamis, a famed Greek sculptor.
The famed statue of Apollo was probably standing at the St Kirik Isle
The following decades were tough for Apollonia, but the city eventually recovered and returned to its status as a vital trade and military centre after Constantinople had become the empire's capital. New fortifications were built during the reign of Emperor Anastasius (491-518), a recognition for the increased importance of this city on the Black Sea.
A portion of the heavily reconstructed ancient and medieval fortification wall of Sozopol
The past of Apollonia from the Archaic period to Hellenism has been meticulously researched by Bulgarian and foreign archaeologists, working on the St Kirik Island and the ancient necropolises of the city. Sadly, few remains from the Roman period have been identified in today's Sozopol – most of them are still hidden under later buildings and are by far overshadowed by the richness of its Classical Greek and Hellenistic periods. The Roman heritage of Sozopol is mainly from the 4th to 6th centuries – a fortification wall, a basilica, a necropolis and a wealthy villa.
Ancient ruins abound in and around the Old City of Sozopol
At the end of the 5th Century a large monastery was built on the nearby St Ivan Isle. In its church a fine alabaster reliquarium was found, in 2007, holding sacred bones. The sensationalist claim that the human remains belonged to St John the Baptist took momentum, prompting keen interest by the broader public and even the government. Today the find is on display in the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church in Sozopol.
The ruins of an early-Christian basilica on St Ivan isle where the supposed relics of St John the Baptist were found