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Sculpture portraying Greek god Apollo

Tiny Black Sea Island may be Hiding Lost Temple of Apollo


A lost temple dedicated to the Greek and Roman god Apollo may be hiding in Sozopol, Bulgaria, known in ancient times as Apollonia Pontica  - ‘Apollonia on the Black Sea’.

Archaeologists with the Apollonia Pontica Excavation Project have been exploring the ancient city of Sozopol, Bulgaria. Their findings of temples, altars and artifacts suggest the area, and potentially an island off the coast, hides a lost temple to the patron god of the sun, music, poetry, art, medicine, light and knowledge, according to Popular Archaeology.

In 2009, Professor Krastina Panayotova from the Archaeology Institute of Bulgaria began excavations in Sozopol, but from 2013 the researchers focused most of their attention on a small island off the Black Sea coast.

The tiny island of St. Kirik is connected to Sozopol by a breakwater, and still hosts the ruins of a medieval monastery. Bulgarian news website The Sofia Echo reports that the remains of buildings gave researchers a look into one of the only ancient Greek colonies in Bulgaria, writing, “There was evidence of rituals performed in honor of the goddesses Demeter (of grain and harvests) and Persephone (goddess of the underworld, daughter of Demeter and Zeus). These finds included small jugs, amphoras and ceramic figurines.” Other artifacts excavated included bronze arrow points, fishing gear, and tools for fabric-making.

An ancient temple dedicated to Apollo in Corinth, Greece. (Olecorre/CC BY SA 3.0)

The Greek settlement of Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), founded by Miletian colonists during the 7th Century BC and ruled by Thracian kings, became a prosperous city through its trade in copper, gold, olives, wine and other goods. It was here, on the small island of St Kirik that a well-known 12 meter (39 foot) high bronze statue of Apollo once stood.

Two hoplites, armed foot-soldiers in ancient Greece, wearing breastplate and armed with javelins and spears. 600 – 500 BC.

Two hoplites, armed foot-soldiers in ancient Greece, wearing breastplate and armed with javelins and spears. 600 – 500 BC. (Marie-Lan Nguyen / CC BY 2.5)

Passed down through ancient inscriptions and the word of Roman author Pliny the Elder, the statue was said to have been erected in the 5th century BC in front of Apollo’s temple and transported to Rome in 72 BC when the Romans sacked the city.  It then spent many centuries on Capitoline Hill before becoming lost in the pages of history.

Boustrophedon (writing which flows left to right first line, then right to left next line) inscription from Apollonia, 6th c. B.C.

Boustrophedon (writing which flows left to right first line, then right to left next line) inscription from Apollonia, 6th c. BC. (Public Domain )

The legends of a colossal statue, the local coins minted in the image of Apollo, the remains of an ancient Greek settlement, and other artifacts – including a Late Archaic temple complex with altar, an ancient Greek copper foundry, and an early Byzantine basilica and necropolis - may point the way to determining if and where a lost temple might be hidden.

Silver coins of Apollonia Pontika in Thrace, featuring crayfish, anchors, and gorgoneion (Gorgon head).

Silver coins of Apollonia Pontika in Thrace, featuring crayfish, anchors, and gorgoneion (Gorgon head). (Classical Numismatic Group Inc./CC BY SA 2.5)

According to the Greek Reporter, in 2016, archaeologists working at the site of Apollonia Pontica unearthed the ruins of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to the goddesses of Demeter and Persephone. And in 2018, excavations revealed well-preserved ruins of a building and artifacts such as an amphora (wine vessel) depicting the Greek Oedipus myth and the Sphinx.

It is hoped the research conducted by Panayotova and associates will eventually be able to confirm the location of a lost temple of Apollo. In the meantime, intriguing finds will continue to shed light on the culture and lives of the people at the ancient settlements on the Black Sea coast.

More information can be found at the Balkan Heritage Field School website:

Sculpture portraying Greek god Apollo.

Sculpture portraying Greek god Apollo. (CC BY SA 4.0 )

Top Image: Detail, Sculpture portraying Greek god Apollo. Source: CC BY SA 4.0

By Liz Leafloor



Great comment

The principal island in the Cyclades dedicated to Apollo was Delos (navel of the Cyclades), where the trading islands brought huge head of herd to pay the Carians each year for services rendered (basically professional Marines to support the merchant fleet).
The temple to Demeter on this island in the black sea would make a lot of sense, the Minoan deities also represent cardinal directions (time of day and seasons). Earth Mother - North (Winter solstice and mid-night) - where it is in the trading group, her Son Apollo - the Sun South at mid-day, (summer) the Master of [domesticated] animals and his twin sister Artemis - sunset and bring MoonLIGHT - West, Mistress of [wild] animals and consort Venus (East - sunrise). Noting it very easy to confuse the ladies, but seem to be distinct entities, collectively the ones that organise the solar system. They are the planets which define the cycles of life (day and night), tides and seasons, etc.
In Minoan times the black sea region may have been supplying bows (which should mean they have indigenous springy wood, see below) and saffron within the black sea, and had an appetite for olive oil, beeswax, honey and cats for pest control in exchange (but the later may be more associated with Troy). I would really appreciate if those that know the region that could confirm the ground truth. Noting this relates to the black sea region rather than this specific island. Your insight would be very useful, and allow me to confirm that an important artefact is a supply and demand map!
N.B. The trees for bows may include: hickory, mulberry, walnut, ash, cherry and hickory along with exotic woods such as basswood, yucca, osage orange, lemonwood, blackwood and ironwood. The springy variety of wood may have been preferable, they did have composites (flax cloth and pine resin) at the time so may have been using either laminated compound woods veneers or possibly steam to shape the bows (it would be interesting if there is any evidence of steam rooms (they did have them - which you may be implied if there are channels into the room or caldrons).
Really useful and interesting article... thanks. Oh, I've just looked the island up on a map, I wonder if the reason it is dedicated to Apollo, is due to the passageway South to the Cyclades. They seem to like to use islands (rather than mainland ports) as trading hubs, probably as it offered some protection from the warring mainland (but they may have assisted to arm). The other obvious connection to Apollo is the bow, that both the twins hunted with, both giving and taking life (to each of the sexes).


Liz Leafloor is former Art Director for Ancient Origins Magazine. She has a background as an Editor, Writer, and Graphic Designer. Having worked in news and online media for years, Liz covers exciting and interesting topics like ancient myth, history,... Read More

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