The old town of Nessebar is one of the most important sights of Bulgaria as a museum town with unique atmosphere, historically valuable churches and beautifully restored houses.
On its tiny peninsula on the Black Sea coast, the old town of Nessebar looks like Bulgaria's postcard motif par excellence. And even on closer inspection, the pretty little town is bursting with beautifully restored houses and cultural-historical national treasures.
As a museum city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Town of Nessebar absolutely belongs on the itinerary of every Bulgaria vacation and is one of our top 10 sights of Bulgaria. The entire old town of Nessebar can be called a highlight.
Worth seeing are the historic wooden houses from the time of the Bulgarian Revival, as well as the old churches and the excavations that are over a thousand years old. A walk through Old Nessebar is also worthwhile at night, when the most beautiful buildings are beautifully illuminated.
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Ancient churches of Nessebar
Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement from the Bronze Age, which was conquered by the Greeks in the 6th century BC and by the Romans about 500 years later. Maritime trade flourished and as a religious center of Byzantium, imposing houses and magnificent churches were built in Nessebar.
The churches still make up the charm of the old town, because miraculously the sacred buildings were hardly destroyed even after the conquest by the Ottomans in 1453. About 40 churches of different eras and architectural styles were built over the centuries on the 850m long and 300m wide island. A quarter of them have been preserved until today. The remains of the Old Metropolitan Church even date back to the 5th-6th century.
Black Sea houses of Nessebar
Besides the churches, the houses from the Bulgarian Revival period are also a reason for the designation as a World Heritage Site. In the 19th century, when Bulgarians gradually freed themselves from Ottoman oppression, about 80 houses of the so-called "Black Sea type" were built. The ground floor with thick stone walls was used for storage or wine cellars, and people lived in the wooden upper floor.
City gate and city wall
A tour of the old town of Nessebar is best started at the old city gate just off the road to the mainland. Both the gate, which was flanked by two mighty pentagonal towers, and the city wall were built by the Greeks in the 5th century BC and constantly expanded until the 14th century. Today, both are among the national architectural monuments of Bulgaria.
Tip: The isthmus between the old town and the new town of Nessebar also invites you for a walk with pedestrian alleys directly by the sea.
Right next to the city gate is the Archaeological Museum of Nessebar. Among the exhibits are finds from the highly developed civilizations of the ancient city of Mesambria (as Nessebar was called by the Thracians) and a collection of icons, considered among the most important Christian works of art in Bulgaria.
Through the city gate on the main street Ulitsa Mesambria straight ahead you get to the main square with the 13th century Pantocrator Church. It has been almost completely restored since 1972. The typical Byzantine church with its striped pattern of different red bricks and the pretty ceramic rosettes is one of Bulgaria's most important representatives of medieval church architecture.
Church Sveti Stefan
The Church of St. Stephen is located in a side street of Ulitsa Mesambria and is worth its entrance fee with the most beautiful wall paintings of Nessebar. As a new Metropolis church, it was built in the 10th century. The frescoes in the main room were created in the 16th century and primarily depict the Virgin Mary, to whom it was dedicated in the beginning. Also worth seeing is the ornately carved bishop's chair.
Church of St. John Aliturgetos
Just across the street is the cross-domed Church of St. John Aliturgetos, a 14th-century Byzantine masterpiece and the largest medieval building in the old town. The church used to be magnificently decorated, but since an earthquake in 1913 the roof and parts of the walls are missing. At its feet, remains of the old city walls of Nessebar can still be seen.
Port of the old town of Nessebar
A few steps lead down from the church of St. John Aliturgetos to the port of Nessebar. In the off-season, small yachts and fishing boats are moored here; in summer, large cruise ships also enter the picturesque bay.
At the other end of the harbor, some steps lead back up to the main street and directly to the Ethnographic Museum. The building itself is also worthy of a museum, because it is the only house from the time of the Bulgarian Revival that can also be visited from the inside. So, in addition to the exhibitions about culture, life and crafts, the architecture and furnishings of the museum are also worth seeing.
On the other side of the peninsula, the second oldest church of Nessebar is enthroned on its northern tip. The "Basilica by the Sea" once had three naves and was almost 30 meters long and was built in the 6th century. The former main church of the Eleusa monastery sank into the sea in the late Middle Ages, probably due to an earthquake, and was not uncovered until 1920.
Church of the Holy Mother of God
Via Ulitsa Slav Yanska we go back towards the center of the island and past the Church of St. Mother of God. It is the only one of the places of worship in the old town of Nessebar where masses are still held. However, the church Sveta Bogoroditsa is not historical, but was built only in 1884.
Old Metropolis Church
A little further on you will come across the Old Metropolis Church from the 5th century, the oldest church in the old town of Nessebar. It is reminiscent of the Church of St. Sophia in the capital Sofia and is also dedicated to St. Sophia. Its ruins, made of rubble stone and red bricks, were once decorated with mosaics and murals and are still impressive to look at.
On Ulitsa Mitropolitska back towards the city gate, in a side street lie the Paraskeva Church from the 13th century. It is dedicated to St. Petka Paraskeva, whose relics were brought to Tarnovo in 1236 and today half collapsed.
Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel
Right next to it is the less wide but higher church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. It dates back to the 13th century and was also severely damaged during the earthquake in 1913. Similar to the Paraskeva church, it also has typical features of the Tarnovo style.
Church of the Redeemer
A narrow alley lined with several traditional houses leads to the Church of the Savior, Ulitsa Sveti Spas. Inside the 17th-century church, murals depict scenes from the life of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, which can be viewed for a small entrance fee.
Church of St. John the Baptist
Just around the corner on Ulitsa Mitropolitska is the church of St. John the Baptist. It also dates back to the 10th century and already shows the first features of the later modern cross-domed churches. After the church of St. John the Baptist, Ulitsa Mitropolitska rejoins the main street, which leads back to the city gate.
Tip: The equally famous and much-visited Sunny Beach on the Black Sea is located behind the New Town just a stone's throw from Nessebar's historic center.