The Sozopol Historical Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s storied past, showcasing artifacts from prehistory, antiquity, and the Middle Ages that reveal the region’s involvement in ancient metallurgy, agriculture, shipping, trade, and craftsmanship. With over 100 amphorae on display and the infamous “Vampire of Sozopol” discovered in 2012, the museum explores the city’s historical roots.
In the 5th millennium BC, a prehistoric settlement existed between the harbor and the island of St. Cyric and Iulita, which later submerged due to rising sea levels. The Thracian tribes of Skyrmians, skilled in mining ores, inhabited the surrounding area in the 2nd-1st millennium BC.
The ancient Greek city of Miletus sent settlers to the region in 620-610 BC, founding a settlement named Apollonia in honor of the god Apollo. Initially reliant on fishing, the colonists eventually established trade relations with local Thracian ruler Skyrmians, leading to the city’s remarkable prosperity. Recent discoveries in the Mesarite area unveil the remains of the ancient Greek colony, Apollonia of Pontius, showcasing architectural structures, burial grounds, ritual fireplaces, and a skillfully built road that dates back to the 5th-4th centuries BC.
Apollonia Pontika Times
Apollonia Pontika, or Apollonia Magna, emerged as a significant trade and port center, commissioning a costly statue of Apollo created by the renowned sculptor Calamis. By the 5th century BC, the city faced competition from neighboring polises such as Messambria (Nessebar) and established Anchialo (Pomorie) as a fortress.
In 72 BC, Romans under Marcus Lucullus burned and sacked Apollonia due to its alliance with Mithridates in the battle against Roman invasion. The city began a centuries-long decline, overshadowed by Anchialo and Deultum, which enjoyed Roman favor.
The 4th century AD saw the adoption of Christianity in the city, leading to the construction of churches, chapels, and monasteries in place of pagan temples. Sozopol became an episcopal center, establishing itself as a vital spiritual hub in the region.
Renamed from Apollonia to Sozopolis to erase its association with the pagan god Apollo, the city’s new name, meaning “city of salvation” in Greek, has varying interpretations. Some believe it signifies a city saved by Apollo, while others suggest it refers to the many distressed ships that found refuge along the Sozopol coast.
In 395 AD, Sozopol became part of the Byzantine Empire, benefiting from its proximity to Constantinople, a massive consumer of goods such as food, fuel, metals, and building materials. The city’s trade flourished during this period, and Emperor Anastasius (491-518 AD) surrounded Sozopol with a solid fortress wall, parts of which still stand today.
Captured by Khan Krum’s troops in 812, Sozopol was incorporated into the Bulgarian state, though it changed hands with the Byzantine Empire several times. Despite this, the city maintained its regional and episcopal importance. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire seized Sozopol, and the city suffered from both pirate raids and Turkish oppression. In 1629, the Turks burned down the city’s temples and monasteries.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Sozopol’s iconic wooden houses were built, shaping the city’s unique architecture. Following Bulgaria’s liberation, Sozopol was predominantly inhabited by Greeks, who spoke only Greek in the city.
In 1906, there was an increase in tensions between Bulgarians and Greeks in Bulgaria caused by political propaganda from Greece in Macedonia. This led to many Greeks from Sozopol emigrating to Thessaly, Greece. In the 1930s, another wave of migration was when the emigrants established a new city called Sozopoli in the Halkidiki peninsula.
Sozopol transformed into a large fishing center in the 1920s, establishing a fishing school on the island of “Kirik and Iulita.” However, the school’s operation was short-lived, as it later became a naval school and the island a military base.