Bulgaria’s Sozopol to Restore Ancient Statue of Apollo, ‘Colossus of Apollonia Pontica’, Not Unlike Greece’s Plans to Rebuild Colossus of Rhodes
The Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Sozopol, a successor of the Ancient Greek polis of Apollonia Pontica, is going to rebuild what once was a large ancient statue of god Apollo that was its symbol for several centuries during the Antiquity period.
The initiative for rebuilding the 13-meter statue of Apollo, which stood on the Black Sea coast in ancient Apollonia Pontica, was first undertaken in 2011 by Sozopol Municipality but has not been materialized yet.
Now it has been resurrected by Bozhidar Dimitrov, Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History in Sofia, against the backdrop of the news that Greece plans to erect a five-times-larger-than-the-original replica of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a partial inspiration for the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
In the 2nd-1st millennium BC, the area of today’s Sozopol in Southeast Bulgaria was settled by the Ancient Thracian tribe Scyrmiades who were miners trading with the entire Hellenic world. The Ancient Greek colony was founded there in 620 BC by Greek colonists from Miletus on Anatolia’s Aegean coast.
The colony was first called Anthea but was later renamed to Apollonia in favor of Ancient Greek god Apollo, a patron of the setters who founded the town. It became known as Apollonia Pontica (i.e. of the Black Sea). Since the Late Antiquity, the Black Sea town has also been called Sozopolis.
In Apollonia Pontica, Apollo was worshipped under the name Iatros, i.e. the Healer. The statue of Apollo the Healer was erected by the Ancient Greek polis ca. 480 BC. It was designed by Calamis, the renowned sculptor from Ancient Athens, who was specially hired for the job.
Towering at 13.2 meters, the Apollonia Pontica statue of Apollo was roughly twice smaller than the Colossus of Rhodes, which represented the Ancient Greek titan-god of the sun Helios. However, it was also 200 years older than the Colossus of Rhodes, and existed for much longer.
The Colossus of Apollonia, as it is sometimes referred to, decorated the port of Sozopol for more than 400 years, until in 72 BC, Marcus Lucullus, one of the great generals of the Roman Republic, captured the city, seized the statue as a trophy, and had it transported to Rome, and installed on one of the historic hills of the Roman capital.
In a media statement announcing the restart of the initiative for rebuilding the statue of Apollo the Healer in Bulgaria’s Sozopol, the Director of the National Museum of History in Sofia, Bozhidar Dimitrov (who happens to be a native of Sozopol), compares the Colossus of Apollo to the Colossus of Rhodes.
The Colossus of Rhodes was about 30 meters tall (the recently announced Greek project provides for rebuilding it with a replica that will 135 meters tall), and is estimated to have existed for 54 years – from 280 BC until 226 BC, until it was brought down by a strong earthquake. After its collapse huge pieces of the statue lay along the Rhodes harbor for centuries. In the 7th century A.D., the Arabs conquered Rhodes and broke the remains of the Colossus up into smaller pieces and sold it as scrap metal.
The Colossus of Rhodes was made of bronze plates attached to iron framework, while the Colossus of Apollonia, today’s Sozopol, was fully cast of bronze, and remained at its original place for more than 400 years.
Dimitrov points out that according to Antiquity chroniclers, the erection of the Apollo the Healer statue “cost 400 talents [of gold]”. He adds that “this was roughly the equivalent of the annual budget of the Delian League dominated by Athens and including close to 200 city states”, which was formed in 478 BC, before the Peloponnesian Wars.
“This cost of the Sozopol Colossus shows the enormous financial and economic wealth of the [Sozopol] city state. It was at that time that the Parthenon in Athens was built (in 447-438 AD – editor’s note), and the statue of the patron of the city, goddess Athena, was only 5.6 meters tall,” Dimitrov says.
Roman Republic general Marcus Lucullus, who took Sozopol’s statue of Apollo the Healer to Rome in 72 BC, is known for conquering a number of Ancient Greek cities on the Black Sea coast that were allied with Mithridates IV the Great of Pontus in the so called Mithridatic Wars, including Apollonia (today’s Sozopol in Bulgaria’s), Kallatis (or Callatis) (today’s Mangalia in Romania), Tomis (today’s Constanta in Romania), and Istros (Histria, whose ruins are today in Romania).
According to different ancient authors, the Apollo statue was installed either on the Palatine Hill or on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, and stood there for another 400 years, until the Late Antiquity, giving the “Colossus of Apollonia” a combined lifespan of some 800 years. It is said to have been destroyed by Christians outraged by its nudity after Christianity became the official religion in the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD.
Dimitrov says the Bulgarian archaeologists and historians are aware of what the Colossus of Apollonia looked like: the statue depicted “a standing athletic nude young man leaning against an olive sapling”.
As was noted in 2011 when the original plan of Sozopol Municipality for the statue’s restoration was developed, what the statue looked like has been known from coins minted by the city state of Apollonia Pontica.
Dimitrov reminds that in 2011, Bulgarian sculptor Boris Borisov created two human-sized bronze replicas of the ancient statue (each of which is 1.6 meters tall). One of them is kept in the office of Sozopol Mayor Panayot Reyzi, and the other – in the private museum called “South Tower” which is owned by Sozopol businessman Kiril Arnautski.
Back in 2011, the local authorities in Bulgaria’s Sozopol decided to erect the Apollo statue near the Lighthouse (also known as “Migalkata”, i.e. “The Twinkler”) situated at the entrance of the Port of Sozopol.
Since 2011, however, during her excavations, archaeologist Krastina Panayotova has found the huge foundation of the original location of the Colossus of Apollonia Pontica on the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island, also known as the St. Cyricus Island (today a peninsula linked to the town of Sozopol on the Bulgarian mainland), which has also been found to have had a temple of Apollo.
Yet, in spite of the discovery of the statue’s original location, it was decided that it should not be rebuilt on the St. Cyricus Island because the view of it would be blocked by the huge modern-day buildings of the Sea Fishing School, and the headquarters of the local base of the Bulgarian Navy.
Dimitrov says that while the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Sozopol would have “no problem” funding the rebuilding of Apollo’s statue, the initiative has been criticized by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, with the Metropolitan of Sliven, Yoanikiy, arguing that “the restoration of the statue will resurrect paganism in Sozopol and different types of God’s punishments will be laid upon the town and its residents.”
“I doubt that the archbishop of Rhodes has denounced [in a similar fashion] the intentions of the Greeks in Rhodes [to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes]. It is clear that the restoration of the statue of a pagan god would not lead to the resurrection of paganism in Bulgaria, and especially in Sozopol, whose residents have built with their own money dozens of chapels and a church in the recent years, and have restored another 27 churches and chapels,” states the Director of Bulgaria’s National Museum of History.
As the Sliven Metropolitan Yoanikiy has argued that instead of rebuilding the Apollo statue, the town of Sozopol should erect a statue of St. John the Baptist because of the 2010 discovery of his relics on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island right off the town’s coast, Dimitrov believes this, too, is a good idea but that it should not cancel out the initiative for the restoration of the Colossus of Apollonia Pontica.
As Dimitrov has recently become increasingly active in the restoration of some of Bulgaria’s most important archaeological sites such as the ongoing restoration of the 9th century AD Great Basilica in Pliska (capital of the First Bulgarian Empire in 680-893 AD) despite often facing criticism from different sources, with his support the project for the restoration of the ancient 13.2-meter statue of Apollo in the Black Sea resort of Sozopol is very likely to be realized in the near to medium run.
The history of the resort town of Sozopol (Apollonia Pontica, Sozopolis) on Bulgaria’s Southern Black Sea coast started during the Early Bronze Age, in the 5th millennium BC, as testified by the discoveries of artifacts found in underwater archaeological research, such as dwellings, tools, pottery, and anchors. In the 2nd-1st millennium BC, the area was settled by the Ancient Thracian tribe Scyrmiades who were experienced miners trading with the entire Hellenic world. An Ancient Greek colony was founded there in 620 BC by Greek colonists from Miletus on Anatolia’s Aegean coast. The colony was first called Anthea but was later renamed to Apollonia in favor of Ancient Greek god Apollo, a patron of the setters who founded the town. It became known as Apollonia Pontica (i.e. of the Black Sea). Since the Late Antiquity, the Black Sea town has also been called Sozopolis.
The Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica emerged as a major commercial and shipping center, especially after the 5th century AD when it became allied with the Odrysian Kingdom, the most powerful state of the Ancient Thracians. As of the end of the 6th century BC, Apollonia Pontica started minting its own coins, with the anchor appearing on them as the symbol of the polis. Apollonia became engaged in a legendary rivalry with another Ancient Greek colony, Mesembria, today’s Bulgarian resort town of Nessebar, which was founded north of the Bay of Burgas in the 6th century BC by settlers from Megara, a Greek polis located in West Attica. According to some historical accounts, in order to counter Mesembria’s growth, Apollonia Pontica founded its own colony, Anchialos, today’s Pomorie (though other historical sources do not support this sequence of events), which is located right to the south of Mesembria. Apollonia managed to preserve its independence during the military campaigns of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon under Philip II (r. 359-336 BC), and his son Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BC). Apollonia, today’s Sozopol, is known to have had a large temple of Greek god Apollo (possibly located on the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island, also known as the St. Cyricus Island), with a 13.2-meter statue of Apollo created by Calamis, a 5th century BC sculptor from Ancient Athens. In 72 BC, Apollonia Pontica was conquered by Roman general Lucullus who took the Apollo statue to Rome and placed it on the Capitoline Hill. After the adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire, the statue was destroyed.
In the Late Antiquity, Apollonia, also called Sozopolis lost some of its regional center positions to Anchialos, and the nearby Roman colony Deultum (Colonia Flavia Pacis Deultensium). After the division of the Roman Empire into a Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire (today known as Byzantium) in 395 AD, Apollonia / Sozopolis became part of the latter. Its Late Antiquity fortress walls were built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anasthasius (r. 491-518 AD), and the city became a major fortress on the Via Pontica road along the Black Sea coast protecting the European hinterland of Constantinople.
In 812 AD, Sozopol was first conquered for Bulgaria by Khan (or Kanas) Krum, ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire (632/680-1018 AD) in 803-814 AD. In the following centuries of medieval wars between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire, Sozopol changed hands numerous times. The last time it was conquered by the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD) was during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Todor (Teodor) Svetoslav Terter (r. 1300-1322 AD). However, in 1366 AD, during the reign of Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371 AD), Sozopol was conquered by Amadeus IV, Count of Savoy from 1343 to 1383 AD, who sold it to Byzantium. During the period of the invasion of the Ottoman Turks at the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century AD, Sozopol was one of the last free cities in Southeast Europe. It was conquered by the Ottomans in the spring of 1453 AD, two months before the conquest of Constantinople despite the help of naval forces from Venice and Genoa.
In the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Sozopol was a major center of (Early) Christianity with a number of large monasteries such as the St. John the Baptist Monastery on St. Ivan Island off the Sozopol coast where in 2010 Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov made a major discovery by finding relics of St. John the Baptist; the St. Apostles Monastery; the St. Nikolay (St. Nikolaos or St. Nicholas) the Wonderworker Monastery; the Sts. Quriaqos and Julietta Monastery on the St. Cyricus (St. Kirik) Island, the Holy Mother of God Monastery, the St. Anastasia Monastery.
During the Ottoman period Sozopol was often raided by Cossack pirates. In 1629, all Christian monasteries and churches in the city were burned down by the Ottoman Turks leading it to lose its regional role. In the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Sozopol was conquered by the navy of the Russian Empire, and was turned into a temporary military base. After Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, Sozopol remained a major fishing center. As a result of intergovernmental agreements for exchange of population in the 1920s between the Tsardom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Greece, most of the ethnic Greeks still remaining in Sozopol moved to Greece, and were replaced by ethnic Bulgarians from the Bulgarian-populated regions of Northern Greece.
The modern era archaeological excavations of Sozopol were started in 1904 by French archaeologists who later took their finds to The Louvre Museum in Paris, including ancient vases from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, the golden laurel wreath of an Ancient Thracian ruler, and a woman’s statue from the 3rd century BC. Important archaeological excavations of Sozopol were carried out between 1946 and 1949 by Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Venedikov. The most recent excavations of Sozopol’s Old Town started in 2010. In 2011-2012, Bulgarian archaeologists Tsonya Drazheva and Dimitar Nedev discovered a one-apse church, a basilica, and an Early Christian necropolis. Since 2012, the excavations of Sozopol have been carried out together with French archaeologists. In 2010, during excavations of the ancient monastery on the St. Ivan (St. John) Island in the Black Sea, off the coast of Bulgaria’s Sozopol, Bulgarian archaeologist Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov discovered a reliquary containing relics of St. John the Baptist. In 1974, the Bulgarian government set up the Old Sozopol Archaeological and Architectural Preserve.