Anchored in a rich history, the Bulgarian town of Sozopol unearths…

Archaeology, Marinas, Maritime History and Museums, Maritime Tourism, News, Ports & Terminals, Religion, Reports, Tourism — By on July 2, 2014 at 9:04 AM
 Sozopol harbour.

Sozopol harbour.

Anchored in a rich history, the Bulgarian town of Sozopol unearths the ancient tools of maritime trade,  By James Brewer

The sands of time will wipe out most remnants of any civilisation, but traces of maritime trade will stubbornly survive.

Under water and on land near the Black Sea, thousands, of lead and rock anchors have been found in recent years, as archaeological research has intensified. The anchors are from ancient Greek merchant ships and from even earlier times.

Finds have been notable in and around the first Greek city state on the west coast of the Black Sea, Sozopol , which was established as Apollonia Pontica in the seventh century BC, mainly by settlers from Miletus in Asia Minor. With their arrival in 610BC, the emblem of the town has been the anchor.

Old anchor on Sozopol's rocky shore.

Old anchor on Sozopol’s rocky shore.

The anchor was symbolically embossed on many coins minted by Apollonia in the six centuries BC, proof of the importance of the maritime trade which transited the settlement’s two ports and other smaller ports in bays nearby.

Some of the anchors brought to the surface are on show in museums, but they are so plentiful that many lie in open grounds outside the town’s archaeological museum, and iron anchors from medieval days can be seen resting and rusting on the rocks by the beach.

In the museum section of the Sozopol Foundation’s complex known as the Southern Fortress Wall and Tower are Thracian rock anchors from the second millennium BC. Hundreds of stone and lead anchors from various periods were found during one underwater archeological campaign alone, conducted by Prof Bozhidar Dimitrov, a leading Bulgarian historian, in an area that might once have been naturally sheltered from northerly winds.

It seems that the stone from the anchors was dug from nearby quarries. Suitable slabs were transported to the port of Apollonia where craftsmen drilled holes in them to match the size of the wooden claws needed for each individual vessel. Several unfinished anchors were found during the underwater probes.

Kostadinka Pazvantova of Sozopol Foundation shows a rock anchor from the 2nd millennium BC in the Foundation museum.

Kostadinka Pazvantova of Sozopol Foundation shows a rock anchor from the 2nd millennium BC in the Foundation museum.

The hinterland of Apollonia had abundant resources of useful ores, allowing it to become an important exporter of these to the Mediterranean region, especially other Greek city states. A collection of stone anchors testifies to the increasing trade relations between Thracian tribes living in the area and consumers in safe sailing distance, as far back as the second and the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.

Even in the early Bronze Age, 4th to 3rd millennium BC, metal processing to extract bronze alloy spurred trade in the Black and Aegean Seas.

A handsome collection of stone anchors from the 12th to 11th century BC features in the excellent museum at Nessebur, another town on the Unesco World Heritage list, an hour and a half’s journey north of Sozopol.  Nessebur was founded as Messambria by the Thracians at the end of the 2nd millennium BC – it was the town of the Thracian leader Melsa, a fortress with two ports, and numerous stone anchors prove that active seafaring occurred in this age. The museum has a glorious silver treasure with Thracian imitations of Thasos tetradrachmae (the widely-used equivalent for four centuries of the modern Euro currency) from the second half of the first century BC; and beautiful gold jewellery from the 3rd century BC.

Incidentally, after the Romans sacked Apollonia in 72 AD, the citizens of Messambria hastily agreed a truce with the victorious proconsul Marcus Terentius Lucullus to save themselves from massacre. Among other artefacts, the Nessebur museum has the base of what must have been a mighty statue of the Emperor Claudius.

Rugged aspect of Black Sea coast at Sozopol. Photo by Graciete Amaro.

Rugged aspect of Black Sea coast at Sozopol. Photo by Graciete Amaro.

According to the website Anchors R Us: “The Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish, the English, and the other mariners would have handled their ships differently in exploration, in trade and in battle had they possessed anchors that could be trusted in bad weather. In fact, ship design itself would have been different had the concepts of modern anchor design been known.”

Today, one of the most popular songs in Black Sea towns is a beautiful ditty from the 1990s about yearnings for the sea. The singer is Toni Dimitrova, born in Burgas, who with Ah Moreto  (Ah, the Sea!) in 1997 won third prize at the festival ‘Burgas and the Sea’. In it, Toni sings the refrain: “Ah, the sea! Ah, the sea! It stays with me. It’s probably the one thing/ which saves me, ” and “Each wave finds its coast/ And there is one hope…”

Fishing was once one of the main activities of the town, and fresh catches are landed each day from boats directly into waiting vans. Most of the fish is bought by local restaurants which serve it with potatoes and special Bulgarian salads.

Bulgaria Hydrofoil operates a fast ferry service to Nessebur and Pomorie. Based in Burgas,  the company has regular departures during the summer season – in 2014, from May 24 – and charter services on request between the main ports on the coast.

Meanwhile, Sozopol’s relationship with maritime commerce is set to change again. In November 2013 a memorandum was signed by ministerial state agencies and non-governmental organisations to rebuild the harbour to enable it to accommodate what are likely to be reasonably-sized cruise ships

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