“St. St. Kirik and Julita” island – the cult center of Ancient Apollonia

The island, with area of 82.5 acres, is located in the water area of the port of Sozopol. Its name is related to the existing on this place a medieval monastery, XI – XIV century, mentioned in imperial certificates from the Paleologists time. The Christian complex, probably originated in the second half of the 4th century AD, when a large triapsid basilica was built in the northeastern, highest part of the island, connected to the status of Sozopol as an Episcopal center. The church was opened in 1927 during the construction of the Fisheries School. Dozens of graves, dated to the 5th – 7th century AD, have been explored around it. Numerous ancient artifacts have also been found, which corroborate the information from the first excavations of the French consul Alexander Degrand, in 1904, for the presence of a temple complex from the time of Apollonia, dating from the end of 7th century BC to the III century AD.

The island

In 2009 the archaeological researches of the island were renewed under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Krastina Panayotova – NAIM at BAS. The excavation results justify the theory that initial core of the polis (city-state) could be located at this place. The foundations of three temples, a monumental altar, a cistern, fragments of architectural terracotta, ancient marble cornices, cult pits and a large amount of Eastern Greek and Attic ceramics (7th – 2nd century BC) have been discovered.

|Archaic altar, end of 6th c. BC

The finds, to a large extent, confirm the ancient chroniclers’ accounts of Apollonia’s early history. The ancient geographer Strabo mentions the temple of Apollo Healer and the fact that most of the polis is located on a small island. Information about the temple is confirmed by Apian, Pliny the Elder and other authors, which were impressed by the colossal bronze statue of Apollo, the work of the Athens sculptor Kalamis. It was 13 meters high and cost about 500 talents of gold.

Tetradrachm of Apollonia with the image of the statue of Apollo, 2nd c. BC

There is a debate in historical science about the location of the temple. Epigraphic Sources – an Apollo the Healer’s dedicational inscription, on a stone block, discovered during the construction of the Fishery School, a bowl with a votive inscription and numerous fragments with graffiti IH (abbreviated Jetros – Healer) from the cult pits, give reason to the majority of researchers to accept that the temple of Apollo was erected on todays “St. St. Kirik and Julita” island. The scientific arguments in favor of this thesis are also based on a decree of the end of the 3rd century BC issued by the National Assembly of Apollonia, found in Histria (present-day Romania). The inscription mentions a war between Messambria and Apollonia, which arose over the ownership of Anhialo (nowadays Pomorie) and the exploitation of the famous salterns in antiquity. The decree mentions that the Mesambrians defiled the sanctuary of Apollo, but failed to conquer the city. The interpretation of the epigraphic monument implies that the location of the temple is outside the fortress walls. Given the location of the votive inscription, it is assumed that the temple of Apollo is located in the highest part of the island, where the early Christian basilica is discovered, and there is a thesis for possible continuity between the two places of worship.

The results from recent excavations show that on the island a residential area and the first sacred place (temenos) exited since the 6th century BC.  Here the most important sanctuaries of the polis operated, among which the temple of the god – eponym dominates.

After the conquest and plunder of Apollonia by the Romans, in 72 BC, the symbol of the city – the colossus of Apollo the Healer, as the most valuable military trophy was taken to Rome. Deprived of its former glory and splendor, the cult center was soon restored and continued to function. New cults, characteristic of the Roman pantheon, are also presented. Of particular homage among them is the Thracian Horseman, testifying to the palpable Thracian presence in the city.

Despite the vicissitudes of time, the island retained its role as a sacred place until the end of the 19th century AD, when a small church “Holy Trinity “, continued to exist on the ruins of ancient shrines and Christian temples, which preserves the ancient traditions.