East Gate of Apollonia Pontica found at Sozopol, Bulgaria

Digging has gone on way past the usual archaeological season at Sozopol in Bulgaria, but the archaeologists have been well rewarded by a series of fascinating finds.

The excavation works, organised by the National Museum of History under the Direction of Professor Bozhidar Dimitrov, were carried out because two restaurants which had been illegally constructed in the 1970s were scheduled for demolition.

Sozopol's South Tower and wall. Photo: Novinite.com
Sozopol is a town on the Black Sea on the site of the ancient town of Apollonia Pontica (see my post of 17 July – an Apollonia in Bulgaria) and though the ancient fortifications have long been one of the town’s attractions, archaeologists have previously been unable to locate the East Gate. A French team working in the mid 20th century failed to find the gate despite a concerted effort.

Thanks to the new discoveries it will now be possible to understand the complete extent of the fortifications surrounding the ancient city. The walls have been rebuilt many times and precise dating of the standing remains needs to be ascertained. The original city of Apollonia was walled in classical times, however in 72 BC it was taken by the Romans under Lucullus and the walls were destroyed. Thanks to the patronage of a wealthy Thracian named Metok the walls were soon rebuilt, but clearly there has been a great deal of rebuilding and restoration over the centuries. In relatively recent years locals raided the walls for building material for their houses.

When the illegal buildings were demolished, the monumental remains of the walls were revealed. A rescue excavation was carried out by archaeologists Tsonya Drazheva and Dimitar Nedev and in the space of three months they managed to excavate a considerable area in front of the curtain wall.

The remains of the curtain wall flanking the East gate were almost fully preserved to a height of almost 8 metres – the tallest of all the (3,000) fortresses in Bulgaria. In the centre the main entrance gate of the town was seen, 4 metres wide and flanked with two massive towers, also very well preserved.

The construction of the gate shows how sophisticated the fortifications were. If the enemy managed to enter the gate they would find another gateway within and be overlooked by the flanking towers.  This system is also found in Illyrian fortifications in Albania.

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The archaeologists also made other discoveries including a medieval church around 10 metres beyond the outer curtain wall and a small building facing the gate which may have been a customs post. This hypothesis is suggested by the fact that a quantity of customs seals was found on the floor of the building and in two jars. According to a treaty of 716 between Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire, the goods traded between the two states had to have lead customs seals to show that the required duties had been paid.

The excavation works will resume next year, and by the end of June it is hoped that the gate will be restored as part of the tourism programme of Sozopol.