In this series of posts, we will explore the sites in Southeastern Europe that are the modern-day counterparts to the ancient locales described and mentioned in our novel. We will also delve into what these sites offer visitors today!
Our first stop as we travel through time is…
Apollonia Pontica—the first setting in The Mask!
Apollonia Pontica (sometimes also translated as Apollonia Pontike) was an ancient Milesian colony on the western shore of the Black Sea, founded in the 7th century BCE. Miletus was a major Greek city-state on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and is known for being the home of the earliest Pre-Socratic philosophers, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Indeed, according to the Roman author Aelian, the first leader of the colonists—and mayor of Apollonia Pontica—was none other than Anaximander himself! Apollonia Pontica (later renamed Sozopolis—city of salvation) has survived as a settlement for thousands of years, and today, it’s a thriving seaside resort on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
Sozopol, Bulgaria is best known for its charming, cobblestone-laced old town, its beautiful beaches, and its bustling new town filled with hotels, resorts, and vacation apartments. The Sozopol area also offers abundant opportunities for historical exploration. The purported bones of St. John the Baptist were found on the small island of St. Ivan (St. John) beside Sozopol and can be viewed in a church in the old town. Radiocarbon dating conducted by Oxford University scientist Tom Higham suggests that the bones indeed belonged to a Middle Eastern man from the 1st century CE, thus giving credence to that hypothesis. Also well worth visiting is Sozopol’s Archaeological Museum. A noteworthy Greek vase depicting a Thracian peltast in local garb is on display among the other artifacts there.
The patron god—and namesake—of ancient Apollonia was Apollo Iatros, god of healing, knowledge, and the arts. Over two millennia later, contemporary Sozopol has become something of a magnet for writers and artists from around the world. Pre-pandemic, the alluring seaside resort hosted the annual Sozopol Fiction Seminars, organized by the foundation of Elizabeth Kostova, New York Times-bestselling author of The Historian. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Apollonia’s ancient artistic tradition is still flourishing thousands of years later.
This quaint yet enigmatic, antique yet vibrant coastal town has a special feeling to it. A unique vibe permeates Sozopol’s maritime air—we at Travel Through Time Books can attest to it, but it must ultimately be experienced by oneself.
Near Sozopol are several Thracian forts, the ancient sanctuary of Beglik Tash, the beautiful Ropotamo River reserve, St. Thomas Island, the enigmatic Strandzha region, Burgas—a vibrant port city, and the secluded Black Sea resort towns of Primorsko, Kiten, and Lozenets.
Thank you for traveling through time with us today! In our next post, we will depart the coast and head inland to Kabyle!