They are located 900 meters from Sozopol, Burgas district. They can be reached only by sea.

2°26′14.78″ N, 27°41′33.44″E, 18 m above sea level



The islands of St. John and St. Peter were declared a protected area by Order № 1065 of 24.11.1993. A change of size (increased) – by Order № RD-855 of 11.7.2006, a change of mode of activities – by Order № RD-855 of 07.11.2006. The size of the protected area is 30.04 hectares.

Purpose for declaring it a protected area: Preservation of the natural habitats of protected and rare birds.

Mode of activities:

Prohibited: construction, opening of quarries and other activities which change the natural environment of the area or its water regime except those activities which are related to archaeological research, conservation, restoration and exhibiting cultural artifacts;

Prohibited: afforestation with alien species;

Prohibited: livestock grazing except for the personal needs of staff of the lighthouse on the island of St John;

Prohibited: hunting, fishing and archaeological excavations during the breeding season of birds – from April 1 to July 30;

Prohibited: damaging and destroying the rock formations;

Prohibited: taking common rabbits outside the island of St. John and their displacement.

Overlap: ЗЗ from the Birds Directive: Bakarlaka

Area Descriptions

The island of St. John is located about 900 meters from Sozopol and is the largest Bulgarian Black Sea island. Its area is 660 acres (or 280 ha according to other sources) and its highest point is 33 meters above sea level, which makes it also the highest island here. It is also known as "The Big Island" (from Greek Megalonizi). The permanent combination of natural and cultural characteristics turns it into a unique cultural site. This is why the island was declared a protected area, and a few years ago – a natural and archeological reserve.

More than 70 species of birds inhabiting the island have been recorded. This unique site combines a great view, interesting fauna and historical and archaeological monuments. There are no organized trips to the island for tourists. However, it is accessible for tourists and can be reached by boat from the port of Sozopol.

In the years of the rapid over-construction of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast until 1990, the natural and archaeological treasures of the island were preserved thanks to the restrictions because of the military base located here. The biggest danger for the island occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s when "Balkantourist" liked the island of St. John and wanted to build a huge hotel complex. Only the intervention of the then head of state Todor Zhivkov prevented its construction. The no longer existing military base on the nearby island of St. Cyril monitored and guarded around the clock all the islands in the Bay of Sozopol. In 1993 it was declared a protected natural area and this was the next step in the preservation of the island.

The most important archaeological site on the island of St. John is the large cult complex on its southern coast, where a team from the National History Museum has been working since 1985. The oldest is the Thracian sanctuary of VII-IV century BC. Right next to it there is a huge sanctuary of Apollo the Healer with the famous bronze statue of Kalamis. It was 13.20 meters high and its gold gilt shone in the sun. Thus it could be seen from the city all the time (currently there is a project to restore the statue and erect it as a symbol of the town). A huge complex of buildings, protected by a stone wall, grew around the sanctuary. It occupies the entire southeastern quarter of the island. Perhaps, as in other similar cases, hospitals, inns, and farm buildings to cater for the worshippers were built here.

After the adoption of Christianity in Byzantium, at the end of the V and the beginning of the VI century St. Bogoroditza basilica was built on top of its ruins. In the first half of the IX century the basilica no longer existed and it remained in ruins until today. In the first half of the X century the church was again restored and richly decorated with marble moldings, columns and magnificent altar screen in the style of Preslav Metropolitan Architecture. The monastery "St. John the Baptist" was an important literary center as early as the X century.

Between 1262 and 1310 the buildings here were completely renovated. Sozopol fell under Ottoman rule together with Constantinople in 1453. The monastery was completely destroyed during this invasion. In the 20s of the XVI century the island of St. John was used by refugees during the Cossack military operations in the Black Sea. In July 1629 the Ottomans destroyed the monastery buildings, with the exception of the Catholic Church, so that they could not be used by pirates.

After Apollonia was taken over by the Romans in 72 BC, a lighthouse was built on the island of St. John. Its remains can still be seen there. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, when the Russian troops stayed in Sozopol throughout the winter, an infirmary for soldiers sick from cholera was set up on the island.

In July 2010 during excavations on the island archaeologists discovered pieces of the relics of St. John the Baptist. In the reliquary (a special funeral sarcophagus) they found pieces of bones from the hand and the face, and a tooth of the saint who baptized Jesus.

A hundred meters east of the island of St. John is the small island of St. Peter. It can even be reached on foot. It is 15 acres in size and 9 meters high. Since the island is not mentioned in written sources until the second half of the nineteenth century, it can reasonably be assumed that it was separated from the island of St. John during some natural disaster in the middle of the nineteenth century. Archaeological research here has shown that on the small island there are traces of a Renaissance chapel, and the thin cultural layer abounds in antique ceramics.

It is also known as "The Island of Birds" and the birds’ excrements have turned its rocks white. Archaeological excavations carried out here have revealed the remains of a chapel from the Revival period and some ancient pottery.

Among the birds living on the islands there are species which are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria. The largest colony of silver gulls in Bulgaria nests in this area. In 1906 Tzar Ferdinand brought two pairs of birds from the French coast, and now the colony amounts to 6-7000 birds. Every year environmentalists ring the newly hatched birds in order to gather more information about the Bulgarian population of the species.

The only population in Bulgaria of the introduced in 1934 species of common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) inhabits the island of St. John.

The area around the two islands is a favorite spot for scuba diving, because here there is a unique underwater phenomenon known as "the stone forest". At a depth of 20 meters there are stone columns with a diameter of 4-5 meters. According to some studies these are trees which grew 70 million years ago, and at some point were flooded by the sea. It is believed that the water which covered them did not contain oxygen, and instead of rotting, the giant plants were petrified.

In 2001 the island of St. John was declared a national natural and archeological reserve. It comprises the habitat of silver gulls and the architectural monument of national importance St. John the Baptist, the major monastery of the largest Christian group of monasteries along the Black Sea coast.

The sonar lighthouse built on the island of St. John gives out sound signals and, together with the lighthouse on cape Emine, shows the way of the vessels going to Bourgas Bay.
The lighthouse on the island of St. John with coordinates 42° 27' N and 26° 72' E was built on the highest point of the island by a French company in 1883 and was equipped with VIth degree optics. It emits a constant white light which at the time was visible from 15 nautical miles away. In 1911 a large, white, concrete tower was built on the island. Its beacon from the 43.6-meter altitude can be seen from 18 miles away. In 1972 Czechoslovakian optics were mounted on it and it was electrified.

St. John Island is composed of volcanic rocks. Offshore, at its southwest end, there is a reef of underwater rocks. Thus the lighthouse is located at its highest point which is a good landmark for sailors. When approaching the island from the north it merges with the coast and can be recognized only by the lighthouse tower.


Related routes

Project: Green corridors - promotion of natural, cultural and historical heritage in the region of Burgas and Kirklareli. Grant Contract №РД-02-29-173/01.07.2011.

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