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Nesebar is one of the most beautiful and unique cities in
Bulgaria located 36 km North- East of Burgas.
It is situated on the Black sea
coast Nesebar Old City lies on the island connected with the mainland by a small
Nesebar was first settled 3200 years ago during
Bronze Age, when Thracian tribes first moved here. Subsequent
civilizations and nations left their mark on Nesebar.
Cobblestone streets, well preserved medieval churches and wooden
houses from the 18th and 19th
century give a city
its own charm. Old churches of this picturesque city is an interesting
mix of Slavic and Greek traditions. Nesebar is included on the list of
World Heritage Sites of UNESCO since 1983. You can walk for hours
through narrow streets, sun bath on the shore and eat in small restaurants and
taverns. Fresh fish, mussels and oysters caught in nearby waters is the
best choice on the menu. If you want to go diving there will be some
interesting surprises for you here as well. Not only Nesebar is famous
for its relatively clean water and diverse marine life, but you might
find a Bulgarian version of Atlantis. The original island was 40 acres
in size, but after earthquakes it dwindled to only 24 acres. Whole
sections of the ancient and medieval Nesebar went underneath the water thus preserving
them for future generations.
Nesebar existed for at least three thousand years. The island of
the coast of modern Bulgaria first settled by the Thracians as
early as 12th century BC. They called their settlement Menebria. Ancient historian Strabo explained that "Mena" was the
name of the famous Thracian king and "brias" means "city" in
Thracian. Thus the original name could be translated as "city of
Mena". It could mean that either the ruler of Thracians founded
the city or his subjects dedicated the city to his memory.
Antiquity Period in Nesebar History
In the 6th century Greeks Dorians from the Attica city of Megara
settled here in the 6th century BC and renamed their settlement Mesembria (Μεσήμβρια).
It is one of the few Dorian Greek (South Greece) colonies along
Western Black Sea Coast. Most other colonies were established
Ionian Greeks from modern day Western Turkey. Greek actively traded with the local tribes that surrounded
their colony. Additionally it served as an advertisement for the
Greek civilization and its achievements. Temple of Apollo,
acropolis, agora and other regions of the ancient city must have
been very impressive for the people that lived in small huts.
Nesebar was a multicultural metropolis with many
nations from various parts of the Mediterranean have settled and
co- existed peacefully for several centuries. It was part of the Delian League headed by city- state of Athens
against coalition under rule of Sparta in a conflict that became
known as Peloponnesian War (5th century BC). It ended with
defeat of Athens, but the city didn't suffer much in the end of
the war. Citizens of Nesebar minted their own bronze and gold
coins that was an important privilege in the Ancient times. In
72 BC Roman army capture Nesebar without significant military
action. Residents of the city gained certain degree of autonomy
in their internal matters. They were even allowed to mint their
own coins, an important privilege in the Republic.
Christianity in Nesebar
Christianity in Nesebar appeared fairly early in
European history. We don't know the extent of the Christian
community that existed here, but in the late 1st century AD.
Christian medieval documents state that Saint Irene of Macedon
visited Mesembria. She herself was converted to Christianity by
the Apostle Timothy. One of the original apostles told Irene to
go and preach the word of God to pagan population of the Roman
Empire. Irene followed his word and started her sermons thus
converting many people to a new fate. The same source also
states that Roman officials of Nesebar ordered her arrest and
execution when they realized the influence of a new religion
might cause unnecessary commotion in the city. Irene was caught
and executed, but an angel sent by God resurrected her and
helped her escape the city to Asia Minor, where she was
eventually captured and killed.
Medieval Period in Nesebar History
fall of the Western Roman Empire Nesebar became part of the
Byzantine Empire. Ancient baths, old bishopric, basilica of Holy
Mother of God, military fortifications and other sites are among
the structures that were build by the Byzantine rulers.
Bulgarian Khan Krum conquered Nesebar in 812 adding new possession to his
ever-growing First Bulgarian Empire. Bulgarians called their
city Mesebar or Nesebar as it became known today. Knyaz or
Prince Boris I ceded Nesebar to the Byzantium in 864 AD, the
same year he was baptized by the Byzantine Greek priest.
Apparently it was part of the deal that involved
Christianization of the Bulgaria, but Boris' son Tsar Simeon the
Great re- conquered the city shortly after taking the throne.
Bogomils in Nesebar
In 1098 peasants around the city started a rebellion under
religious pretext. Many local started following a Christian sect
of bogomilism found by priest Bogomil ("dear to God"). It was a
political and religious movement that rejected the
ecclesiastical hierarchy accepted in the Eastern Orthodox
Church. Additionally they refused materialism of society and
considered Church too corrupt and too rich for its own good.
Their views and beliefs were similar to Cathars in South France.
However unlike Cathars, bogomils did not mind spilling blood and
start wars with the secular as well as religious authorities.
Just like their French Gnostic counterparts Bogomils were wiped
out by the soldiers of the royal army sent from Nesebar against
1237 Nesebar was taken by the troops of Venice after a siege. They didn't keep
the city, but stole many valuables and caused great damage to
the city. The city grew in size and splendour especially under
rule of Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander (1331- 71) that speared no
expanses to increase Bulgarian presence on the border with
volatile border with the Byzantines. Many of the buildings
however were looted and destroyed by the Western European
Crusaders that besieged and captured the city under leadership
of Amadeus VI, Count of Savoy in 1366.
Ottoman Turk Period in Nesebar History
Eventually the invaders were forced out from the
region, but new threat in a face of Ottoman Turks quickly spread
through the region in the 15th century. Byzantine Empire and
Bulgarian Empire fell pray to this new force from the East.
Nesebar start its political and economical decline. Only old
fountain and Turkish baths remain today from the time period.
Additionally Ottoman Turks who followed Islam closed all the
Orthodox Christian churches in Nesebar and prohibited their attendance and
reconstruction. This explains why of the churches date either to
the time before the arrival of the Ottoman rule or right after
its defeat in the second half of the 19th century.
In the 19th century many young Bulgarians (including those from
Greek War of Independence (1821) against the Turks and many
fought under famous Alexandros Ypsilantis. After Russian Empire
finally defeated the Turks and gained independence for Bulgaria
(on March 3 1878) Nesebar became part of Bulgaria in 1885. By that time
was a mere shadow of itself. Nesebar was merely a small city of
fisherman and vine growers. In the 20th century the new part of
the city was added, while the Old part of the city was preserved
and kept in its original condition. It is one of the few
Bulgarian sea side town that kept its unique charm and kept its
historic legacy. Nesebar has 44 churches in different state of
preservation, although the original number was probably over
9am- 6pm Mon- Fri, 9am- 1:30pm, 2- 6pm Sat- Sun May, Oct
9am- 12pm, 12:30- 5pm, closed Sat- Sun Nov- March
Entrance Fee: adults BGN 5, students BGN 3, groups BGN 4 per person
Archaeological museum of Nesebar was open fairly recently in 1994 in the Old Town. It contains
collection of pottery, naval anchor, coins and many other ancient
artefacts from the Thracian period when Greeks first settled here
and started to trade with the local tribes. Additionally the museum
has several medieval Christian icons in its possession. Most of them
were painted or written (as artists call it) locally in Nesebar and
Ruins of military fortifications that once protected are spread
throughout Nesebar. They were erected in the 5th century BC and
later increased two centuries later. Parts of the ancient wall are
discovered in different parts of the city, although the largest
portion of the former fortifications are situated at the entrance of
Byzantine City walls or Western Walls of Medieval Nesebar once encircled the whole city. It protected the
city against sea pirates as well as foreign armies. Today they are
well preserved at the Western entrance to the Old Town of Nesebar.
The main entrance to the fortified city was protected by two
pentagonal towers. Gates had two pairs of doors. One door had two
parts and could be swung open, while another door could be lowered
at night to seal Nesebar at night or during sieges. City walls were
erected with use of special Byzantine masonry architectural style
known as "opus mikstum" or mixed case. It consisted of layers of
stone for strength and several layers of bricks for flexibility. As
a result medieval military engineers managed to create large
structures resistant to seismic activity like earthquakes that are
common in the region. Since Nesebar city walls were created in the
7th century AD they underwent restoration only five times over
course of twelfth centuries.
Early Byzantine Baths of Nesebar are situated just behind the Church of Sveti
Spas (or Saint Savior). These baths were constructed during the reign of Byzantine
Emperor Justinian I the Great (483- 565). Chronicles of Saint Theophan and patriarch Nikifor state that in 680 AD these baths were
visited by the Emperor Constantine IV Pogonatos ("the Bearded") who
used its therapeutic powers. Historians claimed it was here that he
"cured his legs". Unfortunately they were burned down and destroyed
during Bulgarian invasion under leadership of Khan (Bulgarian ruler)
Krum in 812 AD. Remaining parts were quarried by the locals to use
in construction of other buildings. Part of the ancient complex that
remained underground buried were spared from vandalism. Today it is
all that remains from previously magnificent and impressive
Old Bishopric or Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Nesebar was
constructed in the 5th century on a site of a former ancient agora.
It was part of a monastery, but the monastery was destroyed in the
medieval times. Today it is part of the UNESCO World
Heritage Site. The building has a semi- circular apse, a narthex and
an atrium. It is 25 m (82 ft) long and 13 m (43 ft) wide.
Unfortunately the frescoes and icons that once covered the sides of
the structure were not preserved. Double sloped wooden roof with
clay pieces covered the house of worship, but these were not preserved either. Judging by few remains the
floor was also covered by colorful mosaics.
Much of damage was
carried out by the Venetians in 1257 who captured Nesebar that was
part of the Bulgarian Empire at the time. Despite being a Christian structure
and a seat of Nesebar bishop, Basilica of Saint Sophia was completely
looted. Its silver and golden objects were stolen and melted. The
entrance is free as it is with most structures. Old Bishopric is
particularly beautiful in the evening then sun rays of the setting
sun hit the altar side of the church. The church still preserves a
marble slab in one of its walls that quotes the Bible: "Hear my
prayer, O Lord" (Psalm 102:1).
Medieval basilica of Nesebar is surrounded by various vendors, cafés and artists
who sell their paintings. Try to avoid street food. People who sell
it don't always follow hygiene procedures and various types of
complications are quiet common after consuming their food. Many
local also produce traditional objects and sell them here for a
fairly low price.
Basilica of the Holy Mother of God Eleusa of Nesebar is a former
monastery. "Eleusa" means "tender" in Greek thus the nickname of the
Christian structure. The temple was constructed in the 6th century
AD. It measures at 28 m long and 18 m wide with three naves, three
apses and a nartex. Two side aisles also have two smaller apses that
point in the North and South direction. It is a common architectural
design of many medieval churches. It gave it basilica an appearance
of a cross.
In the 14th century the
monastery along with this part of the city sunk due to earthquake.
In the early 20th century another earthquake struck the city lifting
this part of the city while submerging other part of Nesebar. This
the reason why the Basilica along with the defensive tower in the
background lies slightly below the city streets. You can judge the
depth to which it was submerged by looking at the tower stones.
Lower levels of the tower are smooth due to sea water, while higher
up level exposed to air are more rough and uneven.
Location: street Kraybrejna (near entrance to the
Nesebar Old City)
Constructed: Basilica 5th- 6th centuries
Necropolis: 10th- 11th centuries
Christian Basilica of Nesebar was erected here in the 5th and 6th centuries.
This imposing Christian temple it was reconstructed over a
course of its history. Citizen of Nesebar buried their loved ones in
the small cemetery or necropolis (literally "City of the dead" in
Greek) near by. Most of the graves date back to the 10th and 11th
century, which might suggest that bones of the previously deceased
might have been moved to some other location within old Nesebar
after a while. Or maybe archaeologists during their digs couldn't
reach all part of the medieval areas out of fear that newer
residence buildings might be damaged.
Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist
of Nesebar was constructed in
the 10th century. It measures 12 m long and 10 m wide. The structure
has three semi- circular apses and no narthex. It is one of the best
preserved churches in the city with its unique distinctly Bulgarian
architectural style. The inside walls of the temple were plastered
and artists used these white hard surface as a canvas for painting
icons, portraits, animals and other items. The frescoes date from 14th century
and other from 16th- 17th centuries. One of frescoes actually
preserved faces of medieval citizens of Nesebar. One of the columns
have later inscriptions that says: "Holy John, save me".
Church of John the Baptist has some of the best acoustics in the
city. The secret for this strange phenomenon is pottery amphorae
that were hidden among bricks and stone of the wall. They gave sound
distinct amplification during singing, chanting and praying. The church is not functional.
Today it contains an art gallery that is open to the public.
9. Remains of a cross like church
Constructed: 10th century
of the Cross like building date back to the 10th century. It followed
a usual Byzantine outline of the Christian structure. Bulgarians often
mimicked this architecture of their neighbors to the East. Most of
churches in Nesebar carry classic Byzantine appearance.
9am- 6pm Mon- Fri, 9am-
1:30pm, 2- 6pm Sat- Sun May, Oct
Closed: Nov- March
Entrance Fee: adults BGN
5, students BGN 3, groups BGN 4 per person
Cathedral of Saint Stephen or Stefan of Nesebar was constructed in
the 11th century and was originally dedicated to Virgin Mary, Mother of God. It
became known locally as a New Mitropoliya. The name implies that it
was a seat of Mitropolit (second only to Patriarch) of Nesebar. It was reconstructed and
increased in size in the 16th century. Its carved iconostasis
dates back to 1599. The structure was constructed mostly from local
stone and red brick for outside. This three nave basilica measures
at 12 m long and 9.5 m wide. It follows the same basic design as the
Old Mitropoliya with two aisles on each side. Marble columns give
the basilica an elegant appearance. The cathedral also contains throne of the bishop
dating back to Bulgarian Revival in the 19th century. Ancient
frescoes were unfortunately destroyed. The ones that got preserved date back to
the 16th- 18th centuries. There is about 258 of mural paintings that
contain over 1000 figures from
various scenes from the Bible. The facade of basilica contains images
from the Apocalypses.
The church of Saint Theodore of Nesebar was constructed in the
13th century. The church is 8.70 m long and 4.15 m wide. It has an
apse and a narthex. The construction of the church used local white
limestone and black and red bricks. Today it serves as an art gallery.
Church of Saint Paraskeva
of Nesebar is a Bulgarian Orthodox church that dates back to the 13th
century. This medieval temple is currently recognized and protected
by UNESCO. It is a single nave chapel and measures at 15 m long and 6
m wide. It has a nartex and a pentagonal apse. It was erected from
red bricks and hewn stone. The altar portion also has glazed saucers
of various colors build in the wall. Apparently the chapel had a
bell tower in the medieval times, but it was destroyed. All that
remains is a part of the stairwell that once led to the upper
levels. Church of Saint Paraskeva is preserved in its original
appearance. They only part that was added later is the wooden roof
that was rotted and had to be changed repeatedly.
Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel of
Nesebar was constructed in
the 1200s. Its heavenly protects Michael and Gabriel in the Eastern
Orthodox tradition are included in the seven highest angelic
spirits. On traditional Orthodox iconostasis they are portrayed on
both sides of Jesus Christ, usually on the two side doors that led
to the altar of the church. Archangel Michael is considered to the
chief of angels and Gabriel as a guardian of the paradise and chief
of angels that help people. Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel
of Nesebar is 14 meters long and 5 meters wide. Lack of
care left the building in a bad state so much of the roof and a dome
have collapsed after years of negligence and abandonment. Today
religious services are no held in Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel
of Nesebar, but it is open to the public. Its remains are protected
by a UNESCO.
Church of Christ Pantocrator of Nesebar is included
on the list of cultural and historical sites of UNESCO. Church of
Christ Pantocrator was constructed in the
1200's. It is one of the best preserved medieval church in the city
as well as all of Bulgaria. It measures 16 meters long by 7 meters wide. It has
three apses and two entrances, on the South and North side of the
building. The building was constructed from pieces of red bricks and
local white limestone. Much of the plaster was lost along with
medieval frescoes that covered them. Three small richly profiled
apses are located on the eastern side. A square bell tower
rises above the porch. The roof of Church of Christ
Pantocrator of Nesebar is an octagonal tower with arched
windows. Today the building is converted to a picture gallery.
Church of Christ Pantocrator of Nesebar was included in the
list of UNESCO's cultural and historical heritage.
Church of Saint John or Ioan of Nesebar is one of the most
colorful religious structures on the island of Nesebar. It was constructed in
the 14th century. It is 10 m wide and 19 m long with two entrances
in the North and South sides of the church. It is an usual feature
for the Bulgarian Christian temples of the medieval period. Its name "aliturgetos"
means "without a liturgy" in Greek. According to a legend a local man
worked here during construction, slipped and fell to his death.
Religious officials did not allow to consecrate Nesebar church because of this tragic event.
Although certain services were held here, the main service of
liturgy was never performed here. It basically served more of the
prayer house rather than a real church. This church has traditional
three altar apses and a narthex. It was heavily damaged during Chirpansko earthquake in 1913 that ended its use as a Orthodox
Christian Church. Today it is more of the museum. On the remains of
the Western wall, opposite of the altar you can find drawings of the
ships that date back to the 1300's. The floor of the church is
covered by mosaics from white, red and green squares, circles and
Entrance Fee: adults BGN 3, students BGN 2, groups BGN 2.50 per
Saint Spass (Savior) Church of Nesebar dates back to the 1600's. It
was one of the few churches that were constructed in Nesebar during rule of
the Ottoman Turks. Christians were allowed to erect their house
of worship as long as it did not stand out in the city. This
explains its fairly modest and simple outside look. You might
pass it without realization that it is actually a Christian
Church. It has a single nave and a single apse. It measure 12
meters by 6 meters. Inscriptions that are found over South
entrance states that frescoes were painted during life of Bishop Kiprian
(head of Nesebar seat) in 1609. It is one of the best preserved murals that
survive in Nesebar churches. In particular Virgin Platutera in
the apse of the church is remarkable. Additionally you can find
a tombstone of a Byzantine princess Mataissa Cantacuzina who is
buried here. She was originally entombed in the New Metropolitan
(Metropoliiya) church in 1441, but later coffin with her remains
was moved here by the orders of the bishop of Nesebar. Today the
church serves as a museum of the city.
Church of Saint Clement
Constructed: 17th century
Church of Saint Clement was constructed in Nesebar in the 1600's.
Many of its beautiful frescoes are well preserved and clearly
visible despite lack of any restoration.
Church of Virgin Eleusa (Nesebar)
Church of Saint Mary or Assumption of a Virgin of Nesebar is one
of the few active
Bulgarian Orthodox Churches in Nesebar that was constructed in 1873. It is
operational and services are held inside.
Constructed: 18th century
Windmill that is found at the entrance to the Nesebar Old Town have been
preserved since the 1700's. Location of the town allowed
constant fresh sea breeze to keep the mill working.
baths (khamam) in Nesebar (Nesebar)
Constructed: 18th century
Turkish baths or khamam or hamam of Nesebar were constructed in the 1700's at the time when the country was ruled by the
Ottoman Turkish Empire. It was an important place for
men of Nesebar to met, socialize and discuss serious matters of the
state and personal business. Today they are left abandoned
and closed. yet they are in a good state of
21. The house of Moskoyani- Ethnographic museum
Open: 10:30am- 1:30pm, 2-
6pm Tue- Sun June- Sept
10:30am- 1:30pm, 2- 6pm
Closed: Mondays, Nov-
Entrance Fee: adult BGN
3, student BGN 2, groups BGN 2.50 per person
of Moskoyani- Ethnographic museum is dedicated to
traditional life of residents of Nesebar.
22. The house of Captain Pavel
Constructed: 19th century
This is a former residence of a notable folk hero that was
preserved since the 19th century.
23. Ensembles of houses of the Bulgarian
National Revival in Nesebar (18th- 19th century)
Houses of the Old City quarters is a special
component of unique Bulgarian feel. Residents of the settlement
constructed their homes as a two story building. The first floor
was made mostly from stone and rocks and was reserved for the
economic purposes. Today many of them are turned into
restaurants, hotels, hostels, small shops with souvenirs and
etc. The second story was made mostly from wood and was
considered a residential part of home. The second floor is
usually slightly bigger in area so it appear to hang over the
streets outside. Local claim that it was a smart way for
Bulgarian Christian citizens to escape heavy taxes of the
Ottoman Turkish Empire that burdened them. Property and real
estate taxes only taxed land underneath the fist floor of the
house. Home owners purposefully made it slightly smaller, while
the second floor could be made slightly larger to escape extra
levies and government taxes.
This is only part of destinations that are
located in the Old City of Nesebar. Every year archaeological
digs uncover something new and interesting in this city. Just
recently archaeologists discovered a burial of an ancient Greek
woman that dates back to the third century BC. Her massive stone
sarcophagus was opened by scientists and there they discovered
remains of a influential aristocratic woman along with her most
valuable possessions including golden ear rings in a shape of a
lion head. Other finds include bronze mirror and pottery that
probably contained perfumes, food and water for the afterlife.
In 2003 construction workers were working in the
sewage system underneath the city. There they accidentally
discovered a whole ancient temple after one of the walls have
collapsed. Archaeologists estimated that this pagan religious
complex was constructed in the second century before birth of
Christ. We can guess what other mysteries and secrets are hiding
below medieval streets.
Aqua park (Nesebar)
Aqua Paradise is the largest water park in Bulgaria with its total
area of 30,000 feet. It contains 40 water slides and other
attractions. It was recently opened in 2006 in the New part of the
city and significantly expanded in 2009. In addition to water pools
and slides Aqua Paradise Aqua park houses a coffee bar and a
restaurant with international cuisine. The park is open between May
21st and September 14th.
spring "Geranite" (Nesebar)
Mineral water springs "Geranite" is situated near a
North beach. They were famous for its homeopathic medical benefits
since the ancient times. They are available to tourists and you can
try on your own. Local legends claim that "Geranite" is only visible
part of the underground river that flows through a cave. Some locals
even claimed to have descended to that underground water system and
even discovered ancient Roman coins. Whether truth of fiction, but
local residents are absolutely certain that health benefits of "Geranite"
is owed due to a large treasure buried by the Roman legionnaires at
the source of water springs.
Practical Information about traveling to Nesebar
weather is Nesebar is warm and stable. In summers the
average temperature is at the high 70's F. In winter
months it rarely goes below freezing point. The best
time to visit Nesebar is between May and October. The
driest months of the year usually lasts between July and
August. While many tourists flock to the city in the
early and middle of summer it might be wise to visit
this destination in August and September. The heat is
more bearable in these months, while crowds of visitors
Transport in Nesebar
the Nesebar Old City is not accessible by anything larger than a
small sedan. Some of the streets are even narrow than
that. So the best way to explore Nesebar is by walking
around by foot. Most of the city is situated on a
peninsula with relative little elevation so you don't
have to walk up and down all day. However you should
keep in mind that during summer months the weather might
become difficult to bear. So keep well hydrated, wear
sun tan and cover your head.
Health and safety in Nesebar
Keep an eye on what you eat and what you drink while you
travel in Nesebar. Avoid
consuming food outside of restaurants and well respected
places. You don't want to get complications due to
careless food vendor who doesn't follow simple hygiene
procedures. Also don't forget to take bottled water at
all times. The climate in Nesebar in summers can be very hot and
well hydration is essential. As you walk through narrow
streets you can also encounter small water fountains
that are known locally as Cheshma
(pictured above on the left). It is up to you whether
you want to risk your health and use it.
Food in Nesebar
is surrounded by water so it is not surprising that sea food
makes up much of the local cuisine. It is certainly worth a try.
Although I can not pass without mentioning the best soup I've
ever tried. It is called Shkembe Chorba. It is made of lamb
intestines and usually require some vinegar to add. Now it might
seem unpleasant and probably gross, but it is without a doubt
one the best foods I've tried in my life. Unlike muscle meat,
intestines are not as rough. The gentle meat just melts in your