Old Town Sozopol - Bulgaria's 'Rescued' Miracle and Its Modern Day Saviors

October 10, 2011, Monday // 05:35 ; Maria Guineva
Sozopol - Bulgaria's 'Saved' Town and Its Modern Day Saviors: Old Town Sozopol - Bulgaria's 'Rescued' Miracle and Its Modern Day Saviors
The ancient Black Sea town of Sozopol and the adjacent islands – St. Ivan and St. Kirik have been ranked first among Bulgaria's top 10 "miracles." Photo by sozopol.freebg.eu

Sozopol

On Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, in the farthest southern part of the Burgas Bay, some 35 km south of the city of Burgas, on a small rocky peninsula lays the top miracle of the Balkan country – the ancient town of Sozopol.

The town, with a population of about 5 000, is one of the oldest settlements on the Bulgarian coast. A one hundred-meter long strip of land connects it to the mainland.

The Black Sea near Sozopol. Personal archive

Old town Sozopol's romantic atmosphere with its narrow cobbled streets, houses with high fences on stone foundations with sun-dried brick walls and external wooden boarding, typical for the Black Sea school of architecture, make it a most enchanting and captivating place. This seaside resort, which has been spared the faith of many other Bulgarian coastal locations – to be buried under concrete and countless of stands selling Chinese-made souvenirs and cheap underwear, combines a breathtaking rocky shoreline, sandy beaches, historical sites, and cultural events. Traditional establishments are the cozy restaurants, offering a mixture of Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish cuisine, the small private places both in the old and new part of the town, fish stalls, coffee shops, snack-bars and camping sites. Time in Sozopol has different dimensions - fishermen are still seen catching what the Sea has to offer on wooden boats; older women sit in front of the picturesque houses, chatting, knitting, selling freshly picked figs, homemade jams and jellies, while almost everyone who decides to dig in the ground or to build something stumbles upon remnants from the past – clay vessels, ancient coins, wooden objects, little statues and much, much more.

View of the Sozopol Bay. Photo by Wikipedia

Just about one kilometer north of Old Town Sozopol lays the island of St. Ivan (St. John) - the biggest and the highest Black Sea isle in Bulgarian territorial waters. The isle houses the remnants of the St. Ivan the Precursor Monastery and a sonar lighthouse, built by French engineers in 1884 which together with the lighthouse on the Emine Cape shows the way to the Burgas Bay. 70 bird species, some rare, nestle here. Every year, at the end of the summer, thousands of storks, pelicans, and about 30 species of birds of prey, gather in the area before they head southwards to spend the winter. The island is a natural and archaeological sanctuary placed under the protection of the State.

St. Ivan Island with the lighthouse. Personal archive

Sozopol's modern section is filled dining establishments and all kinds of accommodation - from luxury hotels to small family hotels, from guest houses to bungalows. The Ropotamo River Nature Reserve is a short distance south of Sozopol, on the river with the same name. There visitors may take riverboat trips to view the region's rich variety of birds and plant life.

Sozopol's New Town. Personal archive

History

The original name of the town was Antheia, but it was soon changed to Apollonia, known also as Apollonia Pontica ("Apollonia on the Black Sea") and Apollonia Magna ("Great Apollonia"). By the first century AD, the name Sozopolis, which in Greek means Saved or Rescued Town began to appear in written records. During the Ottoman rule the town was known as Sizebolu, Sizeboli or Sizebolou.

The first settlement on Bulgarian Thrace's Black Sea coast, in the now-Sozopol area, dates back to the Bronze Age. Underwater archeological explorations have yielded ceramic pottery, stone and bone tools, and anchors from the second and first millennium BC – evidence of the existence of a bustling town with active shipping since ancient times.

The Greek colonizers arrived in 7th century BC and called the town Apollonia, after their God Apollo. In honor of Apollo, the Greek dedicated a temple, containing a famous colossal, 13-meter high statue of the god Apollo by sculptor Calamis. When Sozopol fell under Roman domination in the 1st century BC, the statue was transported to Rome by Marcus Lucullus and placed in the Capitol.

Some decorated vases from Apollonia are part of the exhibitions of the Louvre, the Hermitage Museum and the Museum of Pergamon.

In the 6th century BC, Apollonia minted coins of its own. The town established itself as a trade, naval and cultural center in the following centuries. It kept strong political and trade relations with the cities of Ancient Greece – Miletus, Athens, Corinth, Heraclea Pontica and the islands Rhodes, Chios, Lesbos, etc.

Sozopol was Christianized early. Bishops are recorded as resident there from at least 431. Art flourished in the Christian era. The ancient icons and magnificent woodcarving in the iconostases are an extraordinary accomplishment of the craftsmanship of these times.

Roman domination secured three centuries of peace before the next invasion of Barbarian tribes. It was only in the 5th century that the town was included in the territory of Byzantium. The town was first incorporated into Bulgaria when the army of Han Krum occupied it in 812. Sozopol became an important diocese, with more than 20 Orthodox churches and 5 monasteries. During the reign of Khan Krum it was within the borders of Bulgaria and like all other sea towns it frequently changed hands between Bulgaria and Byzantium.

It was severely devastated in the middle of the 14th century during an attack of the Genoa fleet. Later it was conquered and sold to the Romans by the knights of Amadeus of Savoy. After a long siege the town fell under Turkish rule in 1453 - Sozopol residents voluntarily surrendered to the Ottoman army which enabled them to preserve their lives houses, and monasteries. The Sultan turned the town in its own property in order to be able to collect taxes from the thriving port, which he could not do with Muslims. The move, however, saved Sozopol from the raids of Cossack pirates. In 1623 they robbed the St. John the Baptist monastery, bringing an end to its existence. The legend tells that the pirates were hiding their booty and treasures in underwater caves of the rocky shores, particularly the one of the St. Toma Island, called by locals The Snake Island.

Sozopol was assigned to the newly independent Bulgaria in the 19th century. Almost all of its Greek population was exchanged with Bulgarians from Eastern Thrace in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars.

What to See

By Decree No 320 of the Council of Ministers of September 7, 1974, Old Town Sozopol was declared an architectural and archaeological sanctuary under the name "Antique Sozopol". It includes over 180 Sozopol houses from the Bulgarian Revival, built between the middle of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, some of which were declared monuments of culture. Most popular among them are The Marieta Stefanova House, The Kurdilis House, The Kreanoolu House, The Todor Zagorov House, The Kurtidi House, and The Dimitri Laskaridis House, among others.

Sozopol houses from the Bulgarian Revival. Photo by Foundation Sozopol

Other must-see places include the Archeological Museum, the Art Gallery (in The Dimitri Laskaridis House), the Ethnographic collection (inside The Kurdilis House), and the churches of St. Zosim, St. George, and The Holly Virgin, the Medieval basilica in the city center and part of the Holy Apostles Monastery on Skamniy (Rocky) Point in the northeastern part of the Old Town.

Today Old Town Sozopol also boasts a complex, consisting of the renovated remains of the southern fortress wall with a rectangular tower, a beautiful museum and a magnificent panoramic alley.

The South Tower. Personal archive

At the beginning of September each year, the town hosts the big Apollonia International Art Festival, which attracts artists and art lovers from all over the country and abroad. The festival was first held in 1984. It lasts for 10 days, a time when visitors enjoy over 70 events – plays, open-air concerts, master classes, films, art exhibits and literary evenings. Performers and artists are both Bulgarian and international, and include world-famous individuals and groups.

The monastery complex on the St. Ivan Island is also a unique monument of the Christian architecture that one must visit. It is situated in an ecologically preserved environment. At some of parts of the complex the architectural remains are preserved up to 5 meters in height.

The monastery complex on the St. Ivan Island. Personal archive

In the 7th century BC, the island used to be a sacred place for the ancient Thracians. This is also the place where the famous statue of Apollo was located after the Greek colonization of Sozopol. The temple was destroyed and at its place the Christian church Holy Virgin Kaleos (Mother of God) was raised. In the 5th-6th century a monastery was built around the church. In the early Middle Age, a large monastery, named the St Ivan Precursor, was also  built there. In the middle of the 15th century, when Sozopol was conquered by the Ottomans, the monastery was demolished, only to be rebuilt a few years later. In 1629 the Ottoman Turks demolished it again, to make sure it wouldn't serve as a shelter for the Cossack pirates, hunting in the Black Sea waters.

The French-built sonar lighthouse. Personal archive

The Relics of St. John the Baptist

The island of St. Ivan is subject to ongoing archaeological research, which was the reason for Sozopol to truly make local and international headlines in the summer of 2010. Remains, believed to be John the Baptist, including a skull fragment, part of an arm bone, and a tooth, were uncovered on July 28, 2010, during excavations of the floor of the medieval monastery on the island. They were placed in a sealed reliquary buried next to a tiny urn inscribed with St. John's name and his birth date.

The relics were found by a team of archaeologists, led by Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov.

The Bulgarian government decided to benefit from the discovery to boost tourism, going as far as to say that Sozopol will help deal with the economic crisis by becoming the new Jerusalem on the Balkans, attracting believers from all over the world. The cabinet allocated additional funds for the renovation of the St. George Church in the town of Sozopol which initially hosted relics.

In mid-August, 2010, they were transferred to a silver and gold reliquary - a personal present from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. The reliquary was handed to the priests in the St. George Church.

At the end June, 2011, the relics were moved to the renovated St. St. Cyril and Methodius church in Sozopol.

Excavations at the monastery complex on the St. Ivan Island. Personal archive

When Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery drew huge interest, much skepticism within the public and some from the archeological community, and even scam allegations.

According to Popkonstantinov, the Greek inscription on the tiny sandstone box, reading "God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24," the date, celebrated by Christians as John the Baptist's nativity, is a very strong proof that the relics of John the Baptist are genuine, but he does admit his case for the relics mixes fact with hypothesis.

The sensational character of the discovery led to a conflict between then Minister without Portfolio for Bulgarians Abroad and now Director of the National History Museum, Sozopol-native, Bozhidar Dimitrov, and leading Bulgarian archaeologists, after Dimitrov slammed "certain archaeologists" for being envious of Prof. Popkonstantinov and for criticizing Popkonstantinov and Dimitrov himself for celebrating the discovery before carrying out the proper tests.

The remains, believed to be John the Baptist's, were uncovered in July last year during the excavation of a fourth-century monastery on St. Ivan Island, off Bulgaria's Black Sea coast. Photo courtesy by K. Popkonstaninov

Old Town Sozopol was declared the winner in the rating initiated by the Bulgarian Standart (Standard) daily, entitled "Top 10 Bulgarian Wonders", conducted in 2011.

The Modern Saviors of Sozopol

The Relics of St. John the Baptist

On the backdrop of heated arguments and bickering about St. John the Baptist's relics and important statesman flocking to the southern Black Sea Coast for opening ceremonies, in Sozopol, a handful of enthusiasts and miracle-workers, quietly and behind the scenes are doing next to the impossible to preserve and showcase the treasures of this enchanting place.

They are Foundation Sozopol and their story is one of the most uplifting and inspiring ones in contemporary Bulgaria.

Very few know that Foundation Sozopol is the main moving force behind several large-scale projects and, particularly, the unearthing of the relics or that the son of Kiril Arnaoutski, Chair of the Foundation, is the "mastermind" behind the successful bid which secured the financing and led to the historic discovery.

Boris Arnaoutski, 30, who lives in Montreal, Canada, wrote the project and won funding in the amount of EUR 584 028 (or 90%) from the European economic area financial mechanism/Norwegian financial mechanism. From 11 Bulgarian projects funded under this mechanism, the one of Foundation Sozopol is the leader. The team of archeologists, who led to the historic discovery, was selected by the National Archeology Institute at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

Norway's Ambassador to Bulgaria Tove Skarstein says in an interview for the Bulgarian 24 Chassa (24 Hours) daily that the financing has not in any way been her personal decision, but a result of a long process where her country followed the EU rules and used expert assessment on many levels.

"Foundation Sozopol was the most prepared. Their proposal was extremely well done; they demonstrated reliable options for the realization of the project. In addition, we felt their deep commitment for the preservation of cultural heritage," the Ambassador points out, adding it is only natural when such serious discovery is made to have people who believe in its authenticity and others who don't.

Norwegian Ambassadfor Tove Skarstein. Photo by BGNES

"Debate is part of democracy. We hope that Foundation Sozopol will present other proposals. They are evaluated by a committee and the fact the Foundation received funding from us once, does not mean an automatic financing of other projects. But of course, it they managed to it well and on time, they will receive a good mark for their reliability for a next project," according to the Norwegian diplomat.

The Black Sea – Strandzha Association is also a partner in the project.

The Road to UNESCO

UNESCO Director General, Bulgarian, Irina Bokova. Photo by BGNES

If one is to start this tale backwards, the greatest recent news is that while residents of another historical Black Sea town and Sozopol's rival – Nessebar, started last year a petition to be removed from UNESCO's cultural heritage list in order to preserve illegal construction, since the beginning of September, 2011, Foundation Sozopol joined the family of the very few NGOs across the globe (348 international NGOs and 20 foundations) that have been admitted into operational relations with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, making it the first and only NGO in Bulgaria to be recognized and associated with the organization.

At the very same time, almost to the day, Foundation Sozopol received an invitation to take part in the official opening ceremony of the exhibition "In the Realm of Alexander the Great, Antique Macedonia" at the Louvre. The invitation is signed by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, Karolos Papoulias, President of the Hellenic Republic, Frederic Mitterrand, French Minister of Culture and Communication, and Henri Loyrette, President and Director of the Louvre.

This high-recognition, however, is simply the culmination of years of effort and hard work.

The Southern Fortress Wall, Tower and Museum Complex

The Chair of Foundation Sozopol, Kiril Arnaoutski, was born in the village of Vladimirovo, in the Montana Region in northwestern Bulgaria. A builder by education and trade, who has taken part in the creation of the National Palace of Culture, the Russian Embassy, Park-hotel Moscow and a large number of apartments in the capital Sofia, he is still in the construction business. But Arnaoutski is also one of the very few people in the world and certainly the only one in Bulgaria, who can brag about having a museum inside his own home. His house with a magnificent view of the sea, boasts in its basement a real, beautiful and very tasteful exhibit center with priceless archeological finds.

Kiril Arnaoutski shows the museum inside his house. The ancient water-main is seen behind. Personal archive

The tale begins in the now-distant 1994 when Arnaoutski fulfilled his promise to his family, took a loan, and purchased an old, crumbling house on a 300 square-meter plot on the Sozopol rocky shore, in the southeastern part of the Skamniy peninsula in the Old Town

Two years later, he decided to build a modern home on the same spot, but as soon as the construction begun, workers stumbled on an early-Byzantine hall. The builder did not hesitate and called archeologists right away, giving the start of years-long studies and digs. Initially, Arnaoutski paid from his own pocket for the excavations and for the conservation of the finds. He also changed the design of the house. Everyone involved agreed on building the hall into the house, which little by little made Arnaoutski the owner of an underground museum, where all other precious finds from the property are kept.

Exhibit hall inside the museum. The mosaic on the floor depicts the sun. Personal archive

Arnaoutski, who strikes as a man of action and few words, enjoys talking about the private museum and taking guests around. It has generated very strong interest with an average of 10 to 15 thousand visitors each year. A fortress wall and a tower have been discovered in close proximity of the house, bordering the plot, but they were a public-private property. The inclusion of the State and the municipality was needed in order to realize Arnaoutski's idea, supported by group of enthusiasts around him, to incorporate the museum and the tower in an architectural complex, now known as the "Southern Fortress Wall and Tower and the Ancient Sozopol" sanctuary. At the time, financing could be secured only through international projects. With help of the Sozopol municipality and the Regional Administration in Burgas, the group began working on such projects, Arnaoutski says. This is how Foundation Sozopol was born. The year was 2002.

The Foundation's stated objectives are: Development and fostering of spiritual values; provision of support to the social integration and personal realization of people with disabilities and others, requiring special care; protection of human rights; preservation of the environment; conservation of the cultural heritage of Bulgaria.

The museum's hallway. Personal archive

The complex became reality in 2004. It opened doors with the idea to promote Sozopol as a historical and cultural destination. It is one of the very few projects realized through a grant from the EU Cultural Tourism section of the PHARE operational program.

The complex includes the museum, a restored house with architecture from the Bulgarian National Revival, a restored chapel "Sts. Quiricus and Julietta," from the 13th-14th century, and the restored fortress wall and tower with secret entrances that guarded Sozopol from the 4th until the 14th century.

The restored chapel "Sts. Quiricus and Julietta." Personal archive

The museum has an antique well from the 4th-3rd centuries BC, a grain storage facility dated from the 5th-6th century, used as an exhibit hall where parts of the ancient Sozopol water-main can be seen, a nympheum from the 3rd-4th century dedicated to the three nymphs, patrons of thermal springs, and a number of displays of antique amphorae, and other vessels, halls for exhibits of paintings, sculptures, philately, and other art objects, the ethnographic collection "Sailor's Nook" displaying tools related to the past of maritime navigation, and a statue of Apollo The Healer in the reception hall.

The grain storage. Personal archive

The antique well. Personal archive

The entire place is tastefully decorated, taking pictures is allowed; there is also a souvenir stand and a "The Magic of Wine" stand, featuring Bulgarian wine. The admission is a small token. The museum is open from 8 am to 9 pm.

Apollo The Healer in the reception hall. Personal archive

The panoramic alley. Personal archive

The place is also unique with something else, still not very common in Bulgaria, but fully aligned with Foundation Sozopol's objectives and mission – the care for the handicap and the elderly – there is a panoramic alley alongside the fortress wall, not only with magnificent green landscaping, but with full access for people with disabilities. There are also a wheelchair accessible bathroom and a lift, which connects two of the three levels of the complex. It allows handicap people, elderly, and families with small children to move easily from one level to the other and to the top of the tower. The lift has glass doors, which offer a splendid view of the sea. It was financed by the Foundation by BGN 80 000 and by the Culture Ministry with BGN 20 000 and it is truly unique - the first and only one such equipment in Bulgaria.

The elevator. Personal archive

The bathroom. Personal archive

The panoramic alley at night. Personal archive

Future of St. Ivan Island

The Foundation continues excavations on the St. Ivan Island within the monastery complex and is now actively working on acquiring international financing to secure electric power and water supply to the isle – the electric power will be supplied through a cable, running on the bottom of the sea. A biological sanitary facility with drinking water will also be built.

Map of the St. Ivan complex. Personal archive

The entire island will be lit up at night in order to be seen from the Sozopol shore. Plans for further public works include the enlargement of the two new peers so that larger ships, on their way to Istanbul can accost at St. Ivan. The two peers – north and south, with panoramic stairs, shelters and an information center have also been rebuilt and renovated by the Foundation. In the future, there will be performances on the island, part of the Apollonia festival.

The renovated peer and shelter. Personal archive

The Relics New Home – The St. St Cyril and Methodius Cathedral

When the relics of St. John the Baptist arrived from the St. George Church in the renovated St. St. Cyril and Methodius cathedral in Sozopol on June 25, they were welcomed solemnly by the clergy, citizens and politicians, including Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, and his Deputy, Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov. The Bishop of Sliven, Yoanikiy served the mass. The church opened doors for the first time since 1944 – access of worshippers to it has been banned for over 70 years.

Sliven Bishop Yoanikiy led the procession with the relics of St. John the Baptist in Sozopol. Finance Minister Simeon Djankov is in the middle, while Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov is on the far left. Photo by Finance Ministry

The cabinet slated BGN 520 000 for repairs and restoration of the "St. St. Cyril and Methodius" cathedral temple. The State interfered when St. George church, where the relics were initially displayed, was deemed unsuitable – located in the town's pedestrian area, it turned out to not be easily accessible, especially for the elderly while St. St. Cyril and Methodius is in the very heart of Sozopol and there is a large parking nearby.

Foundation Sozopol once again took charge of the works and finished the restoration in less than a year.

The church was built in 1889, after Bulgarians in Sozopol collected through charity funds to have their own independent place of worship instead of the Greek ones, already existing in the town. The impressive by its size temple, with a 23-meter-high bell tower was built by a talented master – Usta Gencho from Tryavna. The St. St. Cyril and Methodius church became his final work – after the consecration of the church, he left on a ship to nearby Pomorie to work on another temple project, but the boat overturned and the master perished in the stormy sea.

The church has been most actively used until 1913 – the year when all Sozopol churches became Bulgarian. Since then, only masses for the biggest religious holidays were served at St. St. Cyril and Methodius, because it was at the time outside the town limits. In 1944, the Communist regime turned the temple into the Sozopol's Archeology Museum and later to a concert hall for the Apollonia festival. It was given back to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 1989, but it remained in poor condition over lack of funds.

During the opening ceremony, an impressed Djankov vowed more financing for archeological excavations in Sozopol, saying the town is a priority for the cabinet over the numerous precious finds and the fast development of tourism in the last years.

The renovated St. St. Cyril and Methodius cathedral. Photo by Foundation Sozopol

The Skamniy Cape

After the archeological breakthrough with the relics of St. John the Baptist in the summer of 2010, Old Town Sozopol and Foundation Sozopol continue to astound history buffs. At the beginning of 2011, during the ongoing works and construction of the fortress wall, the Foundation Sozopol team came across the latest archeological discovery. While cleaning the land plot near the Arts Gallery, used as a dumpsite by Sozopol residents until the mid-60s of the 20th century, the team stumbled upon a complex of an ancient stonewall, the base of a large, solid tower, and an ancient well, deemed by historians to be the remnants of a fortress wall and the house of a former feudal lord and ruler of Sozopol. The government slated funds for the excavations immediately after the discovery – BGN 250 000 while another BGN 150 000 came from donations.

According to Bozhidar Dimitrov, the Castrum Domini (The Fortress of the Master) fortress has been built around the 6th century and belonged to the ruler of the town. This has been a period of grand construction on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, undertaken by emperors Anastasius and Justinian.

Excavations on Cape Skamniy. Personal archive

Each large medieval settlement at the time had an internal fortress wall at its most strategic location in order to protect the feudal lord from both external enemies and riots of the local population; it was larger and stronger than the regular stonewalls. In coastal towns it was usually built on the cape, as is Sozopol's Skamniy - a strategic location with a view of the entire bay and of all approaches to Sozopol, then main supplier of grain to the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople. The fortress, according to Dimitrov, had been functioning for over 1 000 years. The tower is twice larger than the other towers on the Sozopol fortress wall. It has adjacent facilities – housing, chapel, church, grain and water storage which were later destroyed. The fortress had been, most likely, demolished after Sozopol fell under Turkish rule in 1453.

The digs of Castrum Domini began at the end of March, 2011, giving the official start of the archeological summer season.

Excavations on Cape Skamniy. Personal archive

After the initial cleaning of land plot, the experts unearthed a new treasure - the foundations of St. Apostles - the main church of a 14th century Byzantine monastery with the same name, (St. Apostles and 20 000 Martyrs), dated from the last dynasty of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The newly-uncovered church was built around 1335 AD by Anasthasius Palaiologos, uncle of the Byzantine Emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391), and a relative of the Bulgarian Tsar Mihail Shishman (r. 1323-1330).

Again, according to Dimitrov, the church was the largest and most beautiful church along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It is 24-meter-long and 16-meter-wide. Because of its location on the Cape of Sozopol it could be seen from all towns in the entire Burgas Bay – from Cape Emine to Cape Maslen Nos.

A total of 120 dignitaries were buried near the church; most of them were military officers because they were found to have been wearing boots with iron attachments. The archaeologists found that one of them was buried with a sophisticated medallion, depicting the Birth of Christ.

During excavations at the St. Apostles Monastery complex and the "Castrum Domini" fortress, archeologists found over 55 Medieval coins – two silver ones, and the remaining from bronze. They were located in the tomb of a young woman and are dated as being part of the Latin coinage from the 13th century, after the Fourth Crusade. The find was surprising for the experts since it is unusual to place gifts in Christian tombs. There were no coins in the other 3 tombs of the necropolis.

In May, 2011, a temple of Ancient Greek goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone were discovered during excavations on the Skamniy Cape.

Bulgarian Expats Giving Back to Homeland

If everything said until now is not enough, it is worth mentioning that Foundation Sozopol is a stark proof and a great example how good deeds and great goals can attract not only foreign partners, but Bulgarian expats to come back, let it be symbolically, to their homeland with precious and vital contributions.

The list of the Friends of Foundation Sozopol, supporters, promoters and participants in the development of accomplished and current projects includes: Prof. Jacques Boucher from the University in Gatineau, Quebec – Honorary Chair of Foundation Sozopol; Boris Kirilov Arnaoutski and Kristina Dobromirova Ganeva in Montreal, Canada; Oli Grueva, – Director of the Bulgarian Culture Center in Berlin, Germany; Prof. Pencho Kyuchukov,– historian in Paris, France; Luybov Nikolaevna – expert in Economy of Tourism in Rostov on Don, Russia; Stefan Manchev in Las Vegas, the US. Boris' sister Nevena Arnaoutska is also actively involved in the Foundation – both in the development of the projects and by working as a tour guide at the museum.

Accolades and gratitude in the book of impressions of the museum and Southern Fortress Wall and Tower complex include, but are not limited, to a number of UNESCO representatives; Henri Loyrette, President and Director of the Louvre Museum; Philippe Autie, Ambassador of France; Tove Skarstein, Ambassador of Norway; Sherry Kenneson-Hall, Head of the Cultural Affairs Office with the US Embassy in Sofia on behalf of US Ambassador, James Warlick; Rein Oidekivi, Ambassador of Estonia; Thys Maarleveld, President of International Scientific Committee for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, ICUCH, at the International Committee for Underwater Cultural Heritage at the International Council for on Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS; Nur Akin, ICOMOS, Turkey; Prof. Valeryia Fol of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Prof. Jacques Pereault, University of Montreal; Archon, Atanasios Dimitrios; Commodore, Georgi Motev, Commander of the Burgas Naval Station; Bjorn Arne Ncen, Director of Nature Management Directorate, Norway, and many Bulgarian and foreign visitors.

Meanwhile dreams have expended beyond the house, perched on the rocky Black Sea shore, Old Town Sozopol and St. Ivan Island to Melnik, to the long-neglected Baba Vida fortress and tower on the Danube, and to the Boyana Church in Sofia's suburbs.

Kiril Arnaoutski, whom the Canadian Indians have nicknamed Ra Ti Ka Ra Nooh Na (The Guardian of History), really does not like to talk about himself, and shies away from the media spotlight. He gives all the credit to the people he works with – experts, local enthusiasts and those abroad, friends, his children, other NGOs, museums and foreign partners.

Governments in Bulgaria change, political scandals come and go, but the strive of these people remains so contagious, their zeal so unwavering that they have managed to even enlist the support of the State represented by a number ministries and agencies, regional and municipal administrations.

From Sozopol, they keeps realizing the dreams, relentlessly, and one step at the time.

 

* St. John the Baptist - called also the Forerunner - is an imposing figure in the Christian New Testament. He was the last to prophesize the coming of Jesus Christ - and the one to baptize the young Jesus in the river Jordan. The great prophet died a martyr's death beheaded by King Herod at the request of his daughter Salome.

According to the Bible, St. John the Forerunner prophesized about Christ thus: "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and fire" (Matthew 3:11).

St. John the Baptist is especially venerated by the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. Over the centuries, there have been controversies about where his relics are located.

St. John the Baptist. Detail from an icon at Gra?anica monastery in Kosovo. Image by Pravoslavieto.com


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