Nessebar – an ancient seaside town

Nessebar is attractive to tourists with its excellent opportunities for a holiday at sea and its remarkable old atmosphere. It consists of two parts – the “New” City, where are the spacious beach and hotels, and the “Old” City, which has an abundance of old buildings. The buildings are of different ages, with the oldest being more than 1500 years old. Despite their age, they are in good condition, therefore Nessebar entered in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, the old town has attractive geographical features – built on a broad peninsula with steep banks, connected to the land by an isthmus.

Nessebar – map of the sights and the beach

 View of the Nessebar Peninsula - the "Old Town" and the isthmus
View of the Nessebar Peninsula – the “Old Town” and the isthmus
The Nessebar windmill
Another view of the isthmus and the windmill located on it

Nessebar is 20 km north of Pomorie and 40 km from Bourgas. There are many hotels, guest houses and apartments for rent in “New Town.” The city has many places to eat – restaurants, bistros, pizzerias, fast food restaurants and more. Furthermore, at the beginning of the Old Town, there are fish restaurants that seduce the city’s guests with seafood. Of course, combined with the beautiful sea and harbour views, they can taste fresh Black Sea fish.

Small harbour for fishing boats in the southern part of Nessebar "Old Town" near the isthmus
Small harbour for fishing boats in the southern part of Nessebar “Old Town” near the isthmus
A promenade for a walk in the Old Town of Nessebar

Landmarks in Nessebar


The beaches


South Beach in New Town

Its location is in the new part of town and reaches to a park, which is near to the isthmus leading to the “Old” city. Its length is 1.4 km, and its width reaches 70 m. There are umbrellas and sunbeds in the eastern part of the beach. The western part is for free use and also nudists inhabit a part of it. Access to the west end is via dirt roads where there is a free parking area. Also, there are massive dunes in the middle of the beach, a habitat of some rare sand plants.

The western part of the beach of Nessebar, where is a free zone without umbrellas and sunbeds
The western part of the beach of Nessebar
This part of the beach is not too full, and also nudists come here
The beach of Nessebar - the eastern end where is the area with umbrellas and sunbeds
The beach of Nessebar – the eastern end where is the area with umbrellas and sunbeds. In the distance, you can see the Old Town

Small beaches in the Old Town

Located in the southern part of the town. They are narrow sand strips with a length of no more than 50 m. On one beach, there are umbrellas and deck chairs for rent.

 A small beach near the southern port of Nessebar
A small beach near the southern port of Nessebar
Another small beach in Nessebar The Old Town with umbrellas and deck chairs for rent
Another small beach with umbrellas and deck chairs for rent in Nessebar – the Old Town

The mills

The wooden mill located on the hillside is an attractive place to take pictures of the city. Despite its old looking appearance, this mill was made for decorative purposes only. The authentic mill operated here until 1929 when an earthquake and a storm devastated it.

The wooden mill of the strip leading to Nessebar - "Old Town"
The wooden mill of the strip leading to Nessebar – “Old Town”

In the northern part of the “Old Town,” there is a preserved stone building. It operated as a mill in the past. Due to its cylindrical shape, wrongly, someone calls it battle tower or lighthouse.

Remains of the old mill in Nessebar, near the Basilica of "The Holy Mother of God Eleusa. "
Remains of the old mill in Nessebar, near the Basilica of “The Holy Mother of God Eleusa. ”

The fortress wall

The fortress once surrounded the entire city. Due to rising sea levels, the city has reduced its area and lost its former periphery where the wall was. Nowadays, the fortress is in the best condition at its western end, near the isthmus.

The fortress at the entrance of Nessebar
The fortress at the entrance of Nessebar

The Greek settlers made the earliest construction of the wall in the 5th century B.C. Later the wall was strengthened and also upgraded during the Roman, Byzantine and Bulgarian periods.

Another view of the fortress of Nessebar
Another view of the fortress
  One of the battle towers near to the entrance in the Old town
One of the battle towers near to the entrance in the Old town
Ruins of another tower
Ruins of another tower
 Another tower near the church "St. John Aliturgetos "
Another tower near the church “St. John Aliturgetos ”

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Old houses

They are everywhere in the Old Town, along its cobblestone streets. Constructed of stone and wood, they represent the Black Sea Revival architecture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 Old house in Nessebar
Old house in Nessebar
Another old house
One of the streets with old homes, Nessebar
One of the streets with old homes

The churches of Nessebar

Here we present some of the churches we saw on our walk in the Old Town. Undoubtedly more can be added to their numbers – over 40 have been discovered throughout the city. Of course, listed below are some of the most famous, with only one of them (the newest) currently in operation.

1. The Basilica of St. Sofia, also called the Old Metropolis

It was once a stately building with a gable roof, but now only ruins have remained. It was built in 451 and used for a long time in the Middle Ages as a cathedral of the Diocese of Nessebar.

The Old Metropolis "St. Sofia"
The Old Metropolis “St. Sofia”

2.The Basilica “The Holy Mother of God Eleusa. “

Like the basilica St. Sofia, it was built in the 5th A.D. It was 28 m long and 18 m wide. It was part of a monastery complex and was probably used until the fourteenth century (until then was mentioned in historical sources). The name “Eleusa” comes from Greek and in translation means “tender.”

The Basilica “The Holy Mother of God Eleusa “in the northern part of the city

3. St. John Aliturgetos

The Church of St. John Aliturgetus. Nessebar
The Church of St. John Aliturgetus

It was built in XIII-XIV centuries 18 m long, 10 m wide. The name “Aliturgetos” comes from Greek and means “not consecrated”. Probably the church was not consecrated, although it is in such a significant place near the entrance of the city and the seashore.

4. St. John the Baptist

A well-preserved church, which has still been used as an art gallery till today but is more than 1000 years old. It was built in X century with dimensions 12/10 m.

 The Church of St. John the Baptist
The Church of St. John the Baptist

5. Christ Pantocrator

It is also a well-preserved church, which operates now as an art gallery. It was built in the 13th – 14th centuries, measuring 16/7 m. The name Pantocrator comes from Greek and means omnipotent.

The church "Christ Pantocrator"
The church “Christ Pantocrator”

6. St. Stefan

The church St. Stefan

It was built in the period X-XIII century. In addition to its preserved appearance, the church is also valuable for its preserved original murals and iconostasis (from 1599). Nowadays, the building serves as a museum.

7. The Holy Virgin

The newest church in Nessebar, that was built in 1873. It operates today and gathers the citizens of Nessebar for holidays, solemn liturgy, weddings and baptisms.

Church of the Holy Virgin in Nessebar - the only operating church
Church of the Holy Virgin in Nessebar – the only operating church

A short history of Nessebar

Settlement during Antiquity

In place of today’s city, in ancient times there was a Thracian settlement, founded at the end of the Bronze Age (around the 14th century B.C.). It was named Melsambria after the name of its Thracian founder – Melsa.

It is here (according to Aristotle) ​​where the famous ancient fable writer Aesop was born. His eternal fables were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. He is of Thracian origin and was born at the end of the 7th century B.C. before the arrival of the Hellenic settlers.

They came here in the 5th century B.C., and they called the city Messambria, which remained for a very long time the official name of the town.

Another ancient Hellenic town, called Apollonia (now Sozopol), was settled a century earlier by the Ionian Greeks who came from Miletus (west coast of Asia Minor, Turkey). Unlike Apollonia, to Mesambria came Dorian Greeks from Megara. Megara is a polis located on the shores of the Saronic Gulf, near present-day Corinthian Gulf (present-day Greece).

Probably, the Thracians welcomed the arrival of the new settlers well as they perceived them as a trading partner. The reason for that is the Dorian Greeks were good sailors with skills to navigate the sea and pass through the straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. They also had good ships in that time, that carried goods over long distances. As a result of the partnership, the Dorian Greeks began to export raw materials to the Mediterranean.

Commercial port

The land around the city was not fertile. In place of the Sunny Beach resort, there was a vast sandy desert surrounded by swamps. Unlike it, the competing cities of Apollonia (today Sozopol) and Anhialo (today Pomorie) had better resources. There were mines near Apollonia, while near Anhialo – the fertile Anhialo’s field, where vineyards, fruit trees, grains and more grown.

As a result, Mesambria has emerged as a commercial port where farmers and cattle farmers from the Eastern Balkan Mountains exported their produce. Meanwhile, the citizens of Mesambria were engaged in fishing and crafts, which gave the other export products – dried or salted Black Sea fish and processed metals.

After settling in the city, the Dorians transferred here their practices in its management, typical for the Greek polises and traditions in urban planning. They reinforced the fortress wall that surrounded the peninsula, built amphitheatres, public buildings and the sanctuary of Apollo.

Reliefs exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Burgas, discovered in Nessebar and depicting scenes from the lives of Mesambrians:

The Dancing Agazicles, the Daughter of Noah (3rd Century BC)
The Dancing Agazicles, the Daughter of Noah (3rd Century BC)
A teacher tells a lesson to a child (3rd Century BC)
A teacher tells a lesson to a child (3rd Century BC)
Relief of the strategists of Mesambria from II - I century BC
Relief of the strategists of Mesambria from II – I century BC

Roman period

In 72 B.C. Roman troops conquered Mesambria, and in the 1st century, AD. is already part of the Roman Empire. Then, they changed the name of the city to Mesemvria. During that period, they remodelled the town according to the Roman town planning. Paved perpendicular streets, sewers and baths were built, and the fortress walls were additionally reinforced. Over these peace times, however, Mesemvria and Apollonia remained in the background, at the expense of Anhialo, whom the Romans chose as their regional city.

In IV century A.D., Christianity became the official religion, and further, the first churches were built in the city, whose ruins you can see today.

In addition to the Thracians, Hellenes, and Romans, later Bulgarians and Byzantines also inhabited the city.

A church building in the Middle Ages

Most of the churches we see now were built in the X-XIV century. Connoisseurs declared them as a model of medieval church architecture. Most of them are small in size, made by the citizens, such as family churches. In the whole old town, their total number is over 40. A possible reason for so many is the precarious livelihoods of citizens who are mainly engaged in navigation. Probably people believed that by doing these godly Christian deeds, God would keep their loved ones when they were far out to sea.

Many finds were discovered here during excavations on land and underwater, dating from Antiquity to the Renaissance. The could be seen now in the Museum of Nessebar, as well as in the Archaeological Museum of Burgas.

After the 20th century

Until the beginning of the XX century, the main population of the town was Greek, and mainly Greek was spoken here. Because of tension in the political relations between Bulgaria and Greece in the early XX century, most of the Greeks in Nessebar left and settled in Greece. Similarly, the local Greeks also left in other Black Sea cities – Pomorie, Sozopol, Varna, and others.

Likewise other settlements along the Black Sea coast, in 1930, Mesemvria adopted the Slavic name Nessebar.

Meanwhile, the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century are hard for Nessebar, whose functions as a significant port died down in the shadow of the new big port of Burgas. The town’s population began to be mainly engaged in fishing, and less with agriculture since the city’s land was not suitable for crops. The situation remained the same until 1959, when the near resort Sunny Beach, started functioning. A new industry is opening up in Nessebar, from which its citizens have made their living mainly till today – the tourism.

Continue of the walk

In the south, nearby, and at our discretion, fascinating to visit are:

  1. The town of Pomorie (20 km) with its many historical sites and beautiful beaches with clean water
  2. Next to Pomorie is the most massive Thracian dome tomb in Bulgaria
  3. Furthermore, there is an exciting hiking trail near Pomorie Lake, which is round a wild beach
  4. Also, there is a visitor information centre in Pomorie where you can watch rare birds in Pomorie Lake with binoculars provided
  5. City of Burgas (40km to the south) and Poda Bird Watch Center (50km)

In the north, nearby, and at our discretion, fascinating to visit are:

  1. City of St. Vlas (12 km), where there is a mountain hiking trail with sea views. The trail has several branches, one of which leads to the resort Elenite
  2. Irakli Beach (33 km), which is considered one of the most beautiful wild beaches on the Bulgarian Black Sea
  3. Cape Emine (39 km), close to the village of Emona, from which there are beautiful views of the sea and the steep banks of the cape

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