Ancient City of Nessebar
Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black Sea, the more than 3,000-year-old site of Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria). At the beginning of the 6th century BC, the city became a Greek colony. The city’s remains, which date mostly from the Hellenistic period, include the acropolis, a temple of Apollo, an agora and a wall from the Thracian fortifications. Among other monuments, the Stara Mitropolia Basilica and the fortress date from the Middle Ages, when this was one of the most important Byzantine towns on the west coast of the Black Sea. Wooden houses built in the 19th century are typical of the Black Sea architecture of the period.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Ancient city of Nessebar is a unique example of a synthesis of the centuries-old human activities in the sphere of culture; it is a location where numerous civilizations have left tangible traces in single homogeneous whole, which harmoniously fit in with nature. The different stages of development of its residential vernacular architecture reflect the stages of development of the architectural style on the Balkans and in the entire East Mediterranean region. The urban structure contains elements from the second millennium BC, from Ancient Times and the Medieval period.
The medieval religious architecture, modified by the imposition of the traditional Byzantine forms, illustrates ornamental ceramics art, the characteristic painted decoration for this age. The town has served for over thousands of years as remarkable spiritual hearth of Christian culture.
The Ancient City of Nessebar is an outstanding testimony of multilayered cultural and historical heritage. It is a place where many civilizations left their tangible traces: archaeological structures from the Second millennium BC, a Greek Black Sea colony with surviving remains of fortifications, a Hellenistic villa and religious buildings from the Antiquity, preserved churches (in some of them preserved only parts of archaeological structures) from the Middle Ages. Nessebar has demonstrated its historical importance as a frontier city on numerous occasions. Having been a remarkable spiritual centre of Christianity for a thousand years, today it is a developing and vibrant urban organism.
The Ancient City of Nessebar is a unique example of an architectural ensemble with preserved Bulgarian Renaissance structure, and forms a harmonious homogenous entity with the outstanding natural configuration of the rocky peninsular, linked with the continent by a long narrow stretch of land. Its nature and existence is a result of synthesis of long-term human activity, which has witnessed significant historic periods – an urban structure with elements from 2nd millennium BC, classical antiquity, and the Middle Ages; the development of medieval religious architecture with rich plastic and polychrome decoration on its facades in the form of ceramic ornamentation typical for the period; the different stages in the development of the characteristic residential vernacular architecture, which testify to the supreme mastery of the architecture of the Balkans as well as the East Mediterranean region. The vernacular architecture of the urban ensemble, dominated by medieval churches and archaeology, together with the unique coastal relief, combine to produce an urban fabric of the high quality.
Within the boundaries that encompass the small rocky peninsula, are all the evidence of the numerous cultural layers – from the 2nd millennium BC until the present time.
Although the main elements have generally remained unchanged, since 1986 some exceptions have occurred with a number of illegal interventions on 19th century structures, and some new buildings executed in violation of the Cultural Heritage Law.
In addition, and in violation of the Law on Monuments and Museums, negative influences have also emerged with the emergency stabilization of the peninsula shoreline. All of these changes have the potential to threaten the extraordinary coherence of the urban fabric and the overall visual integrity of the property.
Only conservation and stabilization work is carried out on the Medieval Churches, and all the investigated archaeological sites are exposed and preserved. Some Medieval Churches now require repair. The unauthorized changes to some of the vernacular buildings, and persistent and increasing pressures from tourism, public and residential functions, and investment interests, combined with the introduction of mobile retail units, are beginning to threaten the traditional urban structure of the city, its architectural appearance, and its atmosphere.
Systematic archaeological studies, reinforcement, restoration and conservation have preserved the material traces of history in Nessebar more than anywhere else. The small peninsula is a meeting place of bygone times. Nessebar has demonstrated on several occasions the significant historic position of a frontier city on the outposts of a threatened empire. The millennia of uninterrupted human occupation (the earliest traces of human settlement date back to over 3,000 years ago) have produced an impressive cultural occupation layer that is as thick as 6 m in some places.
Confined to a rocky promontory of the Bulgarian coast, Nessebar is a rich city-museum with more than three millennia of history. The Thracians were the first to establish themselves on this natural defensive site, as attested by numerous discoveries of Bronze Age objects. Strabo records, moreover, the legendary foundation by the Thracian, Mena, from whom the city took its original name, Menebria. Dorian colonists from Megara made it one of the oldest Greek colonies of Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) under the name of Messembria: according to Herodotus it was already in existence in 513 BC.
Nessebar lies nestling along a romantic isthmus. Its cobbled streets, well kept medieval churches, and timbered houses from the 19th century illustrate its chequered past. Nessebar’s churches can be best described as a cross between Slav and Greek Orthodox architecture, and are some of the finest in the area. One of the oldest towns in Europe, it still exudes the spirit of different ages and peoples – Thracians, Hellenes, Romans, Slavs, Byzantines and Bulgarians.
The Greek city, whose acropolis rose on the eastern end of the peninsula, was defended on the landward side by a 6th-century wall which still partially exists to the north. Vestiges of the agora, the theatre, and the Temple of Apollo were brought to light near buildings constructed during the period when Messembria fell under Roman influence. The city was taken in 71 BC, but continued to enjoy numerous privileges, such as that of minting its own coinage. When the death of Theodosius (395) provoked the schism with the Roman Empire, Messembria fell into the Byzantine domain and it was not long before it became one of the most important strongholds of the Eastern Empire, and the object of struggles between Greeks and Bulgarians. It was successively held by first one and then the other, depending on the fortunes of each army, until 812 when the Bulgarian Khan Krum seized it after a siege of two weeks.
Until its capture by the Turks in 1453, Nessebar comprised monuments of exceptional quality: for example, the Stara Mitropolia, a large basilica without transept rebuilt in the 9th century; the Church of the Virgin; the Nova Mitropolia, founded in the 11th century and continually embellished until the 18th century; the Church of St John the Baptist, which houses the archaeological museum; and finally a remarkable series of 13th- and 14th-century churches: St Theodore, St Paraskebba, St Michael and St Gabriel, and St John Alituhgethos. Other notable churches are the Old Bishop’s Residence in an early Byzantine style (4th-5th centuries), and the New Bishops Residence (St Stefan), containing valuable 12th-century murals.
The Turkish domination coincided with the decline of Nessebar, but it did not diminish the monumental heritage, which was enriched from the 19th century by numerous houses in the ‘Plovdiv style’. This vernacular architecture ensures the cohesion of an urban fabric of high quality. Nessebar’s National Revival houses with stone foundations and broad wooden eaves, which overhang narrow cobbled lanes leading right to the sea, are also remarkably beautiful.