The ancient Black Sea town of Sozopol is a finalist for the prestigious World Travel and Tourism Council Destination 2015 award. Sozopol will be competing with the capital of Slovenia Ljubljana and with the Northeast and Yilan Coast of Taiwan. The winner will be announced in mid-April. But even at this point Sozopol looks like being the favourite.
“Preserving a town's heritage while ensuring it meets the demands of the present, is always a challenge. Doing it when your town's history stretches back to 611 B.C. is even harder. That the Bulgarian seaside town of Sozopol has done all this while ensuring the highest levels of inclusive access is what makes it a finalist for the Destination Award.” This is the text that can be seen on the WTTC website. It also includes intriguing facts from the town’s history as well as the criteria for its nomination.
One of them is Sozopol’s achievements in unearthing archaeological finds and making them accessible to the public. Once known as Appolonia, Sozopol was an important trading port in the time of Ancient Greece. The Southern Fortress Wall and Tower complex – one of the most popular local sites dates back to those times. It was its accessibility as a tourist site that in fact attracted the attention of the WTTC experts. At the same time guests to the town are fascinated by the wonderfully intact old town of cobbled streets and medieval stone and wood houses, studded with cafes and restaurants. In summer holiday-makers who come here most of all for the beautiful beaches and comfortable hotels fill the town’s streets. But what makes it different from other seaside resorts is its cultural and historical heritage.
Its popularity as a world tourist destination soared in 2010 when during digs on St. Ivan island near Sozopol the archaeologists made a breath-taking discovery – relics presumed to be of St. John the Baptist were found in the altar of the oldest church on the island. The find shot Sozopol up in the list of most popular pilgrimage destinations. Two years later, in 2012 the town again caused a stir – during excavations of an ancient monastery next to what were once the city walls, the expedition discovered the remains of what were… vampires! The two skeletons, one male and one female had solid iron stakes driven through what was once their hearts, as was the anti-vampire ritual in our lands. The find became an instant sensation and Sozopol – a popular “vampire” tourism destination on a par with Dracula’s Bran castle in Romania. But there is one more reason why the small Black Sea town received this prestigious nomination – the coordination and results of the joint efforts of the local administration and the NGO sector in the sphere of tourism.
Here now is Kiril Arnaudski, chair of the Sozopol foundation whose efforts helped restore some of the town’s emblematic historical monuments:
“More than 2,000 specialized organizations are members of this World Travel and Tourism Council and they have all uploaded information about the town to their websites – you can imagine the publicity that means for the town.”
The Sozopol foundation has launched an initiative that is designed to connect the town with other similarly accessible cities in the region. Eventually nine fully accessible tourist routes through Italy, Spain and Bulgaria will be developed into complete tourist packages. With such inclusive and thought out efforts, Sozopol is putting Bulgaria's ancient heritage firmly back on the map.
English version: Milena DaynovaPhotos: BULFOTO
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