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Out of the Balkans

Part 1: Out of the Balkans

Chapter 1:
Eleni and Evangelia: Out of Thrace and the Black Sea

On the night of 30 July 1906 Anchialos burned. Bulgarian militia and mobs conducted a pogrom that resulted in the slaughter of four thousand of its six thousand Greek inhabitants.

Awakened by Sozopolis' church bells, Hristodul and Vasiliki Zissis wondered at the glow in the sky to the north, across the bay. In the days that followed their world disintegrated about them. They heard stories of the holocaust in Anchialos, of arson whose flames consumed homes and shops, and of murder and looting that had visited friends and family in the city of Pyrgos.

In Pyrgos, Hristodul and Vasiliki's daughter, Eleni, her husband, Stefan, were victims of the terror and violence of that night. Clinging to their baby, Evangelia, and carrying what few belongings they could, they joined Greek families who ran through the streets toward the docks and small boats that held hope of escape. Stefan stumbled and fell.

The press of humanity trampled him to death and pushed Eleni and her child into the sea. Greek fishermen picked them out of the water and for several days carried them south through the Bosphorus, then west past Constantinople, across the Propontis, through the Hellespont and, finally, into the Aegean Sea.

With dread, and tears, and despair, Eleni retraced the route of her ancient ancestors. She was at sea with the crew of a fishing boat. A destitute widow with an infant and an unknowable future she had one purpose ~ to survive.

* * * * * * *

Eleni Zissis was born in the late nineteenth century, at a time when Sozopolis, a small city nestled on the shore of the Black Sea (1a photo / 1b photo), in an area known as Eastern Rumelia(2), was part of Turkey's holdings in the Balkans. [map]

Founded the seventh century B.C. by Greeks(3) from the Ionian city-state of Miletos(4) the original settlement was named Apollonia Pontika after the god Apollo. In classical times citizens of Apollonia venerated a great statue of Apollo, perhaps forty feet tall, attributed to the mid-fifth century B.C. Athenian sculptor Kalamis.(5) Apollonia's patron was identified with his life saving attribution, iatros, or healer.(6)

One thousand years later when its people converted to Christianity, Apollonia became Sozopolis ~ the city of salvation.

Sozopolis was the first safe harbor merchant vessels reached as they plied north from the Straits of the Bosphorus to trade at cities on the western coast of the Black Sea.

These included, in modern Bulgaria:(7) Sozopol (Apollonia Pontika), Pomerie (Anchialos), Nesebar (Mesembria) and Varna (Odessus); in modern Romania: Constanta (Tomis); and many cities of the Danube river's delta (Istros). On the northern shore were the cities of the Ukraine: Odessa (Odessos) close to the mouths of the Dniester, Bug and Dniepr Rivers, modern Crimea (Taurus): Sevastopol (Chersonesos), and Kerc (Pantikapion), which offered easy passage to the Don River.

The rivers opened access to the grain of the rich agricultural lands of what is now south-central Russia, the Ukraine (Skythia).(8)

When threatened by sudden winds and heavy seas vessels found safe haven at Sozopolis. Often the city's men set out in their small fishing boats to save foundering ships and crews.

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