Несебър (Nesebâr, Nesebar, also Nessebar). Ancient Greeks founded a colony here and named it Mesambria; later on Bulgarians and Ottomans transformed the Greek name into Mesemvrija. The present name was given in the year 1930. The spelling Nesebar is the most common one.
Nesebar occupies a small, rocky island in the Black Sea, only to be connected with the mainland by an (artificial) isthmus. The town can be found between →Varna (around 90 km) and →Burgas (about 25 km) almost in the middle of the Bulgarian part of the Black Sea coast. There's another interesting old town only a few kilometres south of Nesebar, called Pomorie. To the north, touristy Sunny Beach stretches along the Sea.
Nesebar is clearly divided into Old Nesebar, ie the historic old city core occupying the entire peninsula (ex-island), and New Nesebar sprawling along the coastline on the mainland. Since the alleys of Old Nesebar are too narrow, visitors are not allowed to enter by car. But there's a conveniently located parking lot near the entrance to the old city. New Nesebar is not really interesting. Old Nesebar on the other hand is a pleasant melange of some very old houses and partially wooden houses built 200 to 300 years ago, accompanied by uneven cobbled streets. The entire old town centre has been declared World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO.
The old town is almost romantic, but be aware that you'll have to share this place with countless tourists - several million visitors flock to Old-Nesebar every year. Especially in summer it's virtually impossible to enjoy a quiet walk through the alleys. However, there's a good reason for that - Nesebar is indeed somewhat of a must-see.
At first there was a Thracian settlement, with remainings that can be dated back to the 2nd millenium BC. The island was much bigger than it is today - about one third of the land was lost due to coastal erosion. Thracians erected a first harbour and named the place Menabria. During the 6th century BC, the long Greek period began. Dorian Greeks founded a colony in Menabria and used the old Thracian name. Menabria then was a powerful city-state with its own fleet, its own currency, numerous temples and a fortification system. Parts of those can still be seen. In 72 BC, the Roman empire conquered Thracia and Nesebar. The town Anchialos (present-day Pomorie), south of Nesebar, outstripped Mesambria (Menabria was renamed again). Production and trade in Mesambria declined, and the town began to crumble. Things got better under the Byzantine reign between the 4th and 7th century AD. New basilicas were erected and trade reactivated. Furthermore, fortification systems were extended. Mesambria became an important fleet base. Things didn't change a lot during the First Bulgarian Empire and the following Ottoman occupation. It remained an important place, with only a slight change of the name: Now, the town was called Mesemvrija. During the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 14th century, Mesemvrija reached its heyday. The citizens started to build on the mainland as well.
The decline of the town started with the new Ottoman occupation in the 14th century. During the next five centuries, Mesemvrija was degraded to just another small town in the vast Ottoman empire. After being liberated by Russian troops in 1829, many Greek and Turkish inhabitants fled the place. Later, Nesebar became a forgotten place with just a few fishermen. Around the year 1900, only 1900 people lived in Nesebar - 95% of them were Greeks. The demographic situation kept on changing. Greeks left the place and were soon outnumbered by Bulgarians. In the 1930ies, people discovered Nesebar's quality as a seaside resort. In addition to wine production and fishing, tourism slowly became an important source of income. During the 1960ies, the restoration of the old city centre started. This was rewarded in 1983, when the UNESCO declared Old Nesebar a world cultural heritage - quite early for a place in Eastern Europe.
Today, most people live in New Nesebar. The entire town can lodge around 15,000 visitors at the same time - almost as many as there are inhabitants.
Getting there / transportation
Nesebar lies on the main road between →Varna and →Burgas, so it's very easy to get there by bus or car. As mentioned above, buses and cars are not allowed to enter the peninsula. Trains do not operate in the area. The only alternative is a ferry running between →Varna and →Burgas, but rumours say that the ferry service was discontinued. If there's a ferry, I'm sure that it only operates in summer, so it's worth checking before. By the way, the International Airport of →Burgas is just 20 km away.
The first thing visitors will notice after they have passed the road to the peninsula, is the large Archaeological Museum of Nesebar, to be found in one of the very few modern buildings in Nesebar. All in all, there are more than a dozen churches hidden in the historic centre - but most of them are in ruins. The best-preserved church is the Pantokrator church, which houses a gallery today.
|Greek ruins in Old-Nesebar|
Inside the old city centre, many houses are built in the national revival style, which means that the ground floor and the second floor are made of stone and the upper floors made of wood. Another characteristic feature are buildings with horizontal red and white stripes.
|Church in Old Nesebar - with red and white stripes on the top|
Although the town was flourishing during the first Ottoman occupation, there are not many remainings left from that time. As in many other cities in Bulgaria, all minarets have been lopped off after the liberation. All that is left is a typical Hamam (Turkish bath) not far from the entrance to the old town. The whole town is like a huge open-air museum (and flea-market!) and definitely worth a long walk.
Nesebar faces the northern shore of Burgas hills, with rolling hills in the back. As already mentioned above, many seaside resorts can be found near Nesebar, especially along Слънчев бряг (Slanchev Bryag, Sunny Beach) in the north with huge and more or less ugly tourist complexes. In the south, the equally beautiful but less frequented old town of Поморие (Pomorie) is also wirth a visit. The closest big city, →Burgas, which is the gateway to the beautiful seashore of south-east Bulgaria, is just around the corner.
Accommodation in Nesebar is plentiful. There are many neat pensions and small hotels in the old town. Private accommodation is a good alternative. And there are numerous campsites around the town. It's also possible to visit Nesebar in a day trip from →Burgas or Varna or any other place along the coastline.
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- whc.unesco.org/sites/217.htm Short description of the old city centre by the UNESCO (official page, English).
- bulgaria.domino.bg/nesebar Official, Bulgarian and English website about Nesebar. Quite helpful!
Do you have or do you know a good website about Nesebar? Don't hesitate, let me know! After checking it, I would love to add it to the link list. You can submit a link by using the →contact form. Note that commercial websites will be treated differently.