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.
Nesebar in Antiquity
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.
After 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.
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 them.
In 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.
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 Nesebar) joined 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 100.