archaic, greek, pottery, Hellenistic, apollonia, sozopol, bulgaria, restoration, conservation

Project type/s: Conservation of artifacts.

Project duration: 2013-2015.

Location: Sozopol, Bulgaria, Ancient Greek colony Apollonia Pontica

The artifacts: Archaic period Greek pottery from cult pits of a sanctuary on St. Kirik island, Sozopol, ancient Apollonia Pontica (first half of 6th century BC).

Periods: Archaic Greek (6th century BC).

Project team: Dr. Krastina Panayotova, Associate Professor at the Department of Classical Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences – principal excavator and director of the excavations of the necropolis of Apollonia Pontica; Dr. Teodora Bogdanova, Archaeologist and curator, Museum of Archaeology, Sozopol, Bulgaria; Dr. Daniela Cherneva – conservator, Balkan Heritage Foundation;

BHF contribution: Conserved and restored 20 vessels.

BHF project partners: Museum of Archaeology – Sozopol, Apollonia Pontica Excavation Team.

Project description: In 2013 and 2014 during the archaeological excavations at the temenos (sacred precinct) of the Ancient Greek colony Apollonia Pontica on St. Kirik island two Archaic period ritual pits were discovered and excavated. Various sacrificed artifacts have been deposited there – elaborated aribaloi (small pottery containers for perfumes and makeup) shaped as a bullhead, a ram, warrior heads, goddess Artemis; several alabastroi (pottery and alabaster containers for perfumes); bronze phiala; an iron sword; numerous pottery vessels; bone artifacts, etc. The excavation project was funded by BHF, which also supported financially and logistically the conservation of 20 pottery vessels. The conservation was done by Dr. Daniela Cherneva, conservator at the Bulgarian National Museum of History. Some of the items have been exhibited in the Museum of Archaeology in Sozopol (2015-present), National Archaeological Museum in Sofia (2015) and in the Louvre (2015), France, as part of a visiting exhibition representing the Bulgarian archaeological heritage.

More about the site: Apollonia Pontica (present-day Sozopol) was one of the earliest urban centers on the western Black Sea Coast. Founded by Milesian colonists at the end of 7th century BCE, the city was named Apollonia Pontica in honor of the patron deity of Miletus, Apollo. Apollonia became an autonomous, strong democratic polis. It was an important trade center between ancient Greece and Thrace. Thanks to its strong navy and naturally protected harbor, Apollonia kept control of the major merchant route along the western Black Sea Coast, called Via Pontica, for several centuries. The city preserved its independence during the campaigns of Phillip II of Macedon (342-339 BCE) and Alexander the Great (335 BCE). In 72 BCE, Apollonia was conquered, pillaged, and burned by the Roman legions of Marcus Lucullus. At the beginning of the Late Antiquity (5th century AD) the town was restored to a measure of its former strategic important, economic and political power. It was known in the Roman world as Apollonia Magna (Great Apollonia). Following the Christian mainstream tradition, its name was changed to Sozopol (town of salvation) in the 4th century CE. The city survived the period of the Great Migration of People (4-7 century CE) and entered the Middle Ages as a focal point of long-lasting Byzantine-Bulgarian conflicts.

Known as the largest and richest Ancient Greek colony in the Black Sea region, Apollonia Pontica was famous for the colossal statue of Apollo made by the celebrated Greek sculptor Calamis. According to Pliny the Elder (Pliny 34.29) and Strabo (Strabo, 7.319), the 13-meter high bronze sculpture cost 500 talents. It was raised in the 5th century BCE in front of the temple dedicated to Apollo Ietros (the Healer), the patron deity of Apollonia Pontica. In 72 BCE, when the Romans sacked the city, the sculpture was taken to Rome as a trophy. It was exhibited for several centuries on the Capitoline Hill. During the Early Christian period it was lost, probably destroyed as many other pagan artifacts were.

Epigraphic sources mentioned the temple of Apollo as situated on an island, identified by most scholars with St. Kirik Island, the closest one to the ancient city. In 1927, the island was connected with the Old Town Quarter of Sozopol by a short and narrow breakwater way. Its name originates from the medieval monastery dedicated to St. Cyricus and his mother St. Julitta that once stood there.

The first archaeological survey on the island was conducted in 1904 by the French consul and scholar L. Degrand. The results from his excavations were never published, and many artifacts from the Archaic and Classical Greek period found there were transported to France and exhibited in the Louvre. For approximately 80 years St. Kirik Island was used as a military zone by the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence. In 2005, the island was demilitarized, and in 2009, the Apollonia Pontica Excavation Team lead by Dr. Krastina Panayotova restarted excavations. After several seasons of intensive research, the team exposed the following:

  • A habitation area from the late 7th – 6th century BCE;
  • A Late Archaic temple complex including a temple and an altar (late 6th – early 5th century BCE)
  • An oval altar and a temple from the Hellenistic period (4th century BCE);
  • An Ancient Greek tholos;
  • Several Ancient Greek bothroi (pit altars);
  • An Ancient Greek Copper Foundry;
  • Early Byzantine basilica and necropolis (5th – 7th century CE).

These discoveries suggested that the earliest settlement of Apollonia was likely built on St. Kirik Island. The island later became the sacred precinct (temenos) of the town, and most probably the temple of Apollo Iatros was built there. During excavations in 2013 (funded by BHF), a fragment of East Greek pottery with an inscription – dedication to Apollo was found, an important piece of evidence confirming this theory. In 2015, this fragment was exhibited at the Louvre along with other artifacts representing Bulgarian archaeological heritage.

Research at St. Kirik Island convinced the Bulgarian Government to declare the area a cultural heritage site. Some of the abandoned military buildings have been designated to be converted into the Museum of the Maritime Contacts & Civilizations, and other buildings into archaeological, conservation, and restoration labs.

Balkan Heritage Foundation began the archaeological field school projects at the site in 2011. It is held in cooperation with the Museum of Archaeology – Sozopol, New Bulgarian University and the Institute for Field Research, USA