BULGARIA'S 4 1/2 ISLES

BULGARIA'S 4 1/2 ISLES

Mon, 06/28/2021 - 15:48

Island hopping in Black Sea

AASAS
Snake Island

When God created Earth, the Bulgarian legend goes, He gathered all the nations to divide the world among them.

To the British, he gave mastership over the seas, while the Swiss received the mountains, the Russians got the great plains, and the Germans took possession of the thick forests. When God ran out of gifts, he noticed that there was a people who were still empty-handed: the humble Bulgarians, languishing at the end of the queue of nations. Baffled, God soon realised what had happened. The Devil had stolen all the best pieces of the earth. The Almighty took everything back, and gave it to the Bulgarians.

This is why, the legend goes, Bulgaria is small but packed with amazing seas, mountains, plains, and forests.

The legend does not mention any islands and there is a good reason for that.

Even in the most optimistic evaluation, the Bulgarian part of the Black Sea has no more than five pieces of land that can claim to be islands or islets. A dozen or so dot the Danube River. None of them is significant in terms of size, but some of them can or have become tourist attractions.

ST IVAN

Where: Less than a kilometre from Old Sozopol

Area: 0.66 sq.km

St Ivan island

You have probably heard the name of Bulgaria's largest Black Sea island in a very particular context – the 2010 news that the "relics" of St John the Baptist were discovered there. The "holy bones" were unearthed by archaeologists excavating the large monastic compound which was established on the island in the 5-6th centuries, and lasted until 1629, when the Ottomans destroyed it to prevent it becoming the base of Cossack pirates.

The island has been deserted ever since, if you do not count the Russian military hospital which was operational during the 1828-1829 Russo-Turkish war.

As there are no humans around, the island is a sanctuary of vibrant wildlife. It is a protected area and home to several endangered species. The most interesting are Bulgaria's largest European Herring Gull population and the country's only earth rabbit colony, in existence since 1934. The coexistence between the gulls and the rabbits is far from harmonious. Tiny bones of bunnies eaten by the birds can be seen scattered all over the island. If you visit, try to avoid May, when seagulls nest and may become aggressive to humans.

ST PETAR

Where: So close to St Ivan that it was believed to be part of it until recently

Area: about 0.01 sq.km

St Petar Island

Bulgaria's smallest Black Sea island was probably born after a severe earthquake rocked the island of St Ivan. This upheaval may have happened around the middle of the 19th century, when the name of the island appears in historical records for the first time.

The islet is more popularly known as Bird Island, because of its Herring Gull colony. This is also the reason for its white colour, the result of accumulated guano.

ST KIRIK

Where: 250 m off Sozopol

Area: 0.8 sq.km

St Kirik Island

Not an island, really. St Kirik can be walked to through a pier, built in 1927, shortly after a state fishery school was founded on the island. A school for fishermen? At the beginning of the 1920s, many of Sozopol's seafaring population, overwhelmingly ethnic Greeks, left Bulgaria. They were replaced by Bulgarian refugees from the interior, former farmers and shepherds who had no idea how to make a living from the sea. The school was supposed to help their children adapt. In addition, it was a secret training ground for the officially non-existent Bulgarian Navy, which had been abolished after the Great War.

Gradually, the military took over the island. St Kirik was included in the Sozopol Architectural Reserve in 1965, but remained a restricted area well into the 21st century. The Navy moved out in 2007, when the island was given to the Ministry of Regional Development. Since then, plans to turn it into a tourist attraction have been proposed and then abandoned. One of the most extravagant was to install a colossal statue of Apollo, a replica of the 12-metre bronze monument to the god that stood there in Antiquity.

This proposal met its match in late 2020, when the Bulgarian Culture Ministry announced that the French and UAE governments were interested in expanding the Louvre brand to the former fishermen school.

So far, nothing has happened. The Isle of Kirik remains off-limits for visitors to this day.

ST TOMA

Where: Opposite Arkutino, in the Ropotamo Reserve

Area: 0.01 sq.km

St Toma Island

This islet bears the name of the chapel which once stood on it, but it is more popularly known as Snake Island. A flourishing colony of grey water snakes live there. They are completely harmless, but can give you a good scare if you are swimming in the bay.

The other peculiarity of Snake Island are the only wild-growing cacti in Bulgaria, introduced here by King Boris III in 1933. The cacti are of the Opuntia variety, and flower in June. In August and September the yellow blossoms produce edible fruits which look like plums and taste of strawberries.

St Toma was included in the Ropotamo Nature Reserve in 1962.

ST ANASTASIA

Where: 6.5 km off Burgas

Area: 0.22 sq.km

St Anastasia Island

St Anastasia has accumulated more history than its humble size suggests. It was inhabited at least from the 4th-6th centuries AD, and in the Middle Ages on it was built a monastery that survived well into the 20th century.

Then something unexpected happened.

In 1923, the government closed the monastery and turned the island into a political prison for members of the persecuted agrarians and Communists. In 1925, 43 Communist inmates made a daring escape. The fugitives managed to reach the Soviet Union, but soon afterwards most of them fell victim to Stalin's political purges.

Their escape, however, proved inspirational for the Communist government after 1944. St Anastasia was renamed to Bolshevik and was repurposed for recreational activities. In the 1960s-1980s, the island became a favourite haunt for both tourists and the Burgas bohemia, who loved the rugged terrain, the marvellous vistas of Burgas Bay, the cheap restaurant and the feeling of escaping from the over-regulated life on the mainland. The island had become a place to escape to, not to escape from.

With the democratisation after 1989, the island's old name was restored. Due to financial issues, regular transportation was cut off and the restaurant was closed. For years, the only people on St Anastasia were the keepers of the lighthouse, which was first built in 1888, and in 1914 was replaced with the structure still in operation today.

The end of St Anastasia's desolation came in 2014, when the Burgas City Council brought back the island onto the local tourist map complete with infrastructure, a museum, a hotel and a restaurant.


us4bg-logo-reversal.pngVibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners


Issue 177 America for Bulgaria Foundation The Black Sea Nature Bulgarian history Archaeology Bulgaria

Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

0 comments

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

communism bulgaria political prison belene.jpg
DARK TALES IN BELENE
Belene is a backwater of a town on the Bulgarian bank of the River Danube. It is inhabited by less than 8,000 people. Yet, for more than one reason, its name is known to all Bulgarians.

Petrified Wedding in the Rhodope
QUIRKY ROCKS OF BULGARIA
The ability to spot visual patterns in seemingly chaotic landscapes, preferring false positives to false negatives, has been cruciвal for the survival of the human race.

palace remains
BULGARIA'S FIRST CAPITALS
If power and the economy were gravity, the gravitational centre of modern Bulgaria would be Sofia, where the population and the important agencies of the state, economy and culture are located.

ancient and medieval fortress matochina night
BULGARIA'S TOP 10 FORTS
Castle-wise, Bulgaria is nothing to compare with Scotland – and many other European countries. There is little reminiscent of Transylvania's menacing fortifications, Bavaria's fairy tale confections, or the Loire Valley's romantic châteaux.

Monument to Father Paisiy in the centre of Bansko, his supposed birthplace
WHO WAS FATHER PAISIY?
The Revival Period. Any visitor who has been to Bulgaria for more than a couple of days for business and/or pleasure has heard this combination of words, but what does it mean?

stunning stone pyramids bulgaria
PINNACLES OF LEGEND
We often take landscapes for granted: the mountains and the river valleys we love to look at and explore seem immune to the passage of time, eternal and unchanging, even though we know this is not true.

gods bridge
FINDING GOD'S BRIDGЕ
It is easy to say that the Bulgarian Northwest has been forgotten by God. Economically depressed and depopulated, it has for years consistently topped the EU's least developed regions list.

beautiful dam bulgaria
BULGARIA'S SPECTACULAR MANMADE LAKES
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial development has taken its toll on communities and landscapes. Polluted air, water and soil, the destruction of nature and a decimated biodiversity are all its consequences.

woodrow willson monument bulgaria sofia
WOODROW WILSON COMES TO SOFIA
Seen from a US standpoint, the 28th American President is usually being put in the "upper tier" of US leaders despite criticism of his propagation of racial segregation.

urbex bulgaria cold war radio jamming site
COLD WAR REMAINS AT PADARSKO, BULGARIA
If you ever find yourself in the Thracian Plain northeast of Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city that holds many enticements to both expats and casual visitors alike, you will probably be bored.

bishops basilica of philippopolis mosaics
FIVE STUNNING EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCHES
Early Christian communities appeared in the Balkans as early as the middle of the 1st century. A couple of centuries later, there were so many followers that dozens of them were martyred for their faith during Roman persecutions.

Bulgarian Black Sea beaches
BULGARIA'S WILDEST BEACHES
Anyone who's visited Sunny Beach or the stretch of coast south of Sozopol will be amazed: Bulgaria's Black Sea shore, actually, is not just a concrete jungle dotted with multi-storey hotels, casinos and bars.