Bulgaria to Turn Former Black Sea Island near Sozopol into Archaeology Museum with Aid from Louvre, France, OAE

Bulgaria to Turn Former Black Sea Island near Sozopol into Archaeology Museum with Aid from Louvre, France, OAE

The building of the former fishing school, a secret school for the training of Bulgarian naval officers in the wake of World War I, was built in the 1920s, and is the largest building on the St. Cyricus Island in Sozopol: Photo: French Ambassador Florence Robine on Twitter

Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture is planning to use help from the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, OAE, in order to turn the St. Cyricus Island, formerly a small Black Sea island off the coast of the resort of Sozopol, and now a peninsula connected to the mainland, into a archaeology museum and center for the arts.

The St. Cyricus Island, more precisely named Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island, is rich in archaeological finds since the dawn of the settlement of Sozopol, which emerged as the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica on the Western Black Sea coast in the 6th century BC.

The St. Cyricus Island (or the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island) is believed to have been the site of the Colossus of Apollonia Pontica, a large, 13-meter-tall bronze statue of Ancient Greek god Apollo towering in the harbor of the Greek colony for four centuries before it was seized by the Romans and taken to Rome.

The Colossus of Apollonia Pontica has been likened to the taller and far more famous Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, with an initiative in recent years to rebuild the Colossus of Apollonia Pontica and instill him back on the St. Cyricus Island based on images from Apollonia Pontica’s coins.

Among the many archaeological wonders of Bulgaria’s Sozopol is also the 2010 discovery of relics of St. John the Baptist in an Early Christian monastery on the nearby island of St. Ivan (St. John). The presence of the holy relics there has been construed as a counterbalance to the religious significance of the ancient city in the pagan period.

The project in question has not born fruit yet, and has not been mentioned in the plans of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture for the former Black Sea island, and now a peninsula.

The St. Cyricus Island (or the Sts. Quiricus and Julietta Island) has been part of the Sozopol archaeological preserve since 1965. However, access to it was restricted up until 2005 because it used to harbor a base of the Bulgarian Navy since the 1920s, and also during the entire Communist Era.

The St. Cyricus Island was linked to the Bulgarian mainland in 1927. The site was base of the Bulgarian Navy until 2007.

The naval base was erected in the 1920s under the guise of a fishing school for the training of Bulgarian naval officers because under the severe terms of the Treaty of Neuilles-sur-Seine of 1919, part of the Versailles Treaty, that ended World War I for Bulgaria, the country was not allowed to have a military fleet.

A modern-day view of the St. Cyricus Island (a peninsula connected to the mainland since 1927) which is where the 5th century BC 13-meter statue of Apollo the Healer, i.e. the Colossus of Apollonia, was located. Photo: Wikipedia

A photo showing the St. Cyricus Island ca. 1920, before it was linked to the Bulgarian mainland in 1927. The site was a base of the Bulgarian Navy until 2007. The naval base was erected in the 1920s under the guise of a fishing school for the training of Bulgarian naval officers since under the Treaty of Neuilles-sur-Seine of 1919 that ended World War I for Bulgaria, the country was not allowed to have a military fleet. Photo: Lost Bulgaria

A 2011 collage showing what the Colossus of Apollonia might have looked like on the St. Cyricus Island (today a peninsula) in Bulgaria’s Sozopol. Photo: e-vestnik

The St. Cyricus Island has been undergoing archaeological excavations since 2009 led by Assoc. Prof. Krastina Panayotova from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, who has also been excavating other parts of Sozopol together with French archaeologists.

Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Boil Banov has announced that the government is now planning to try to use the entire island, or peninsula, of St. Cyricus (Sveti Kirik in Bulgarian) as an open-air museum of archaeology and an arts space.

The future St. Cyricus museum in Bulgaria’s Sozopol is supposed to be connected with the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, built in 2007 in cooperation with the French government.

“[It is going to become] a museum of archaeology. You know what kind of things have been extracted from the island, it is a unique archaeological site. It should also have a museum of underwater archaeology, where we would put together everything coming out of our Black Sea coast," Banov has commented, as cited by Nova TV.

He has said that the now abandoned buildings on the St. Cyricus Island which used to be part of the former naval school would be repaired and used as part of the future Louvre-sponsored project.

“I am extremely impressed from what I have seen. The buildings are creating an exquisite appearance of the site but they should be restored," France’s Ambassador to Bulgaria, Florence Robine, is quoted as saying.

She accompanied Banov on a visit to Sozopol and the St. Cyricus Island together with a delegation of experts from the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Museum Agency of France (Agence France-Museums) on Thursday, November 12, 2020.

The group of high-profile visitors also included OAE Ambassador to Bulgaria Sultan Rashid Sultan Alkaytub Alnuaymi.

French archaeologist Alexandre Baralis from the Department of Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities in the Louvre Museum in Paris, also a long-time researcher of Sozopol together with Panayotova, was also part of the delegation.

The French side is expected to include the future museum on the St. Cyricus Island in Bulgaria’s Sozopol – mentioned by French Ambassador Robine in a tweet as the “World Center of Arts" in Bulgaria – in the network of the Louvre in Paris and the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

French Ambassador Florence Robine (third from the left) and Bulgaria’s Minister of Culture Boil Banov (fourth from the right) during the delegation’s visit on the St. Cyricus Island in Sozopol. Photo: French Ambassador Florence Robine on Twitter

The Bulgarian – French – OAE delegation is seen inspecting the St. Cyricus Island in Sozopol. Photo: French Ambassador Florence Robine on Twitter

The Bulgarian – French – OAE delegation is seen inspecting the St. Cyricus Island in Sozopol. Photo: French Ambassador Florence Robine on Twitter

“The place [the St. Cyricus Island] might look squalid now but here beneath those sacks, beneath the soil lie conserved exceptional archaeological sites," says Assist. Prof. Nayden Prahov, Director of the Center for Underwater Archaeology in Sozopol, a body of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia, which is part of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“The earliest Ancient Greek temple in Bulgaria from the Archaic period, the 6th century BC, is located here, several other ancient temples, ritual pits," Prahov says, as cited by bTV.

He adds that the existing buildings on the St. Cyricus Island are in a horrible condition due to the weather effects as well as human actions and inaction.

The most famous and largest building on the St. Cyricus Island is the fishing school from the 1920s, the secret training place for the Bulgarian Navy in the wake of World War I. The building itself is a monument of culture of national importance, and has been the property of the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture since 2005 but is only partly preserved.

“Nothing will be torn down! By the way, the building is made of steel-reinforced concrete so its construction is very sturdy. Funding will be provided by the three countries participating in the project (i.e. Bulgaria, France, and the UAE – editor’s note), and also probably from EU funds," Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture Boil Banov is quoted as saying.

The final project for the development of the museum island on the St. Cyricus Island peninsula in Bulgaria’s Sozopol is expected to be ready within six months.

The location of the St. Cyricus Island, now a peninsula connected with the mainland, to the west of Sozopol’s Old Town. Map: Google Maps

The location of the St. Cyricus Island, now a peninsula connected with the mainland, to the west of Sozopol’s Old Town. Map: Google Maps

The location of the St. Cyricus Island, now a peninsula connected with the mainland, to the west of Sozopol’s Old Town. Map: Google Maps

According to Banov, in addition to archaeology and underwater archaeology finds, the future museum island is going to feature modern arts in all possible genres.

“[In addition to the archeological remains] our goal is to realize and combine the eclectics within the unique architecture of the former Naval School [from the 1920s], the old Communist Era architecture of the barracks, to achieve a combination of worlds, of different dreams by different generations, which I think is going to make this a unique place. Everything will be restored, exhibited, revealed in such a way that tourists will have direct access," the Minister of Culture says, as cited by the Sega daily.

“We are prepared to collaborate using the expertise of the Louvre Museum, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, and the French Museum Agency for the realization of this project, which is going to add archaeological and cultural value to this region, and which I would like to see happen within the said terms," French Ambassador in Sofia Robine has said in turn.

The St. Cyricus (Sveti Kirik) Island has a territory of 8 hectares, and is about 250 meters away from the coast of the Bulgarian mainland in the town of Sozopol.

It is the only of Bulgaria’s several small islands in the Black Sea which is connected with the mainland through a breakwater. Together with the Stolets Peninsula (Scamnium) it is the oldest inhabited part of Sozopol, the successor of the Ancient Greek colony of Apollonia Pontica.

Comments in Bulgarian media with respect to the initiative for turning the St. Cyricus Island into an arts center of global significance with aid from the Louvre have been skeptical, reminding that grandiose promises for the place have been put forth by various Bulgarian government offices since at least 2006.

Learn more about the ancient and medieval history of Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Sozopol in the Background Infonotes below!

Also check out these stories about Sozopol’s rich archaeological heritage:

Bulgaria’s Sozopol to Restore Ancient Statue of Apollo, ‘Colossus of Apollonia Pontica’, Not Unlike Greece’s Plans to Rebuild Colossus of Rhodes

Archaeologists Find Ceramic Sarcophagus in Necropolis of Ancient Greek Polis Apollonia Pontica in Bulgaria’s Sozopol

Skeletons Found in Early Christian Tomb on St. Ivan Island off Bulgaria’s Sozopol Belonged to Syrian Monks Who Brought St. John the Baptist’s Relics

 

Archaeologists Find 2,600-Year-Old ‘Arrow Coins’ near Apollo Temple in Ancient Apollonia Pontica in Bulgaria’s Sozopol

Bulgarian, French Archaeologists Find Unique Apollo Roof Tiles, Ancient Greek Funerals near Sozopol

2,500-Year-Old ‘Metallurgical Plant’ at Ancient Copper Mine Discovered near Bulgaria’s Black Sea Town Sozopol

Archaeologists Find 6th Century BC Home, Red-Figure Pottery Krater Depicting Oedipus and the Sphinx from Apollonia Pontica in Bulgaria’s Sozopol

5th Century BC Ancient Greek Shrine Discovered in First Ever Excavations on Tiny St. Peter Island off Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast near Sozopol

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Background Infonotes:

The history of the resort town 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 12-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 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.

A 2012 National Geographic documentary featuring the discovery of the St. John the Baptist relics in Bulgaria’s Sozopol can be seen here (in English and here in Bulgarian).

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