Nessebar or “the city of 40 churches” as it is called, – is one of the most beautiful and memorable resorts in Bulgaria.
For curious tourists, go to the old part of Nessebar, which is more interesting and beautiful. It is rich in history and is concentrated with lots of churches, most of which were built during the medieval period.
Despite the fact that Nessebar was under the oppression from the Turks from 15th to 19th centuries, all the churches there remained Orthodox.
Nessebar is one of the oldest cities in Europe. In 1956 it was declared as a museum city, and in 1983 the city was inducted into the list of World Cultural Heritage of UNESCO.
Nessebar is famously touted as the town with the highest number of churches per capita, with a total of 40 churches, but there are only 11 of them preserved (one of them was built more than 130 years ago). Some of the famous churches include the Church of St. Sophia or the Old Bishopric, the Basilica of the Holy Mother of God Eleuisa, the Church of John the Baptist and the Church of St. Theodore, among many others.
The surviving temples of Nessebar
It is difficult to imagine how in an area of just 40 hectares could fit many apartment houses — let alone lots of surviving temples. Another important fact that a strong earthquake, which took place a few hundred years ago, caused part of the city to submerge. As a result, the area of the peninsula was reduced almost twice (by 24 hectares), but the churches remained on the land.
You can encounter information on many sites about tours around old Nessebar. According to their stated services: you would ride on a boat in the sea and if the weather is good, you can see the remains of sunken land. But we were not sure about this, so we did not proceed.
Since we chose Nessebar as the place to stay for our Bulgarian holiday, it afforded us an opportunity to examine it in as much detail as possible. The city is especially beautiful in the evening, where hundreds and maybe thousands of lights illuminate the “bridge” — actually, the isthmus the connects the old and new part of the city — and the peninsula itself, where every church and building is illuminated. Everything becomes like fantasy that migrated from the pages of our favorite books to real life.
Tourists who have visited and have been enchanted by this beautiful city will definitely want to come back here again and again. Some of the tourists we have chanced upon and had a chat with have been to Nessebar five to six times! From those tourists we learned what are the places that are worth coming back to and which of them is better to go, and other places that are otherwise uninteresting and dull.
For those who want to see Nessebar — explore its rich history and go to its interesting resorts — there are many ways to go around the city. There are organized excursions to the city museum. In addition, the city can be accessed by public transport on your own or by a rented car. It is important to remember, that use of the transport in the old part of the city is forbidden, therefore you have to leave the car on the paid parking nearby. Also, if you choose to do self-guided tourism, you have to pay for entrance to some of the churches, most of which have become art museums or galleries.
St. Stephen’s Church (New Mitropolitskaya)
It is a small church, built in the 11th century. The architecture of the temple is impressive — it is well preserved and has frescoes and mosaics. Judging by the style, three masters worked on the iconography: two on the eastern part and another one on the west. It is now a museum where you are required to pay for its entrance.
The Church of St. John Aliturgetos (not sanctified)
According to legend this is the only church in the city that is not sanctified. Built in the 14th century by the coast its facade greets tourists with an unmistakable Byzantine style. But it was damaged by an earthquake in 1913, so we are able to see only its ruins. But even when it is incomplete state, the church is still beautiful.
The Church of Christ the Almighty (Pantocrator)
This is one of the most extant churches in the city. Despite its venerable age (construction of the temple dates back to the 13th to 14th centuries), the architecture of the building as well as numerous paintings and frescoes, are still intact.
The church functions as an art gallery so you are expected to pay a fee for the entrance.
The Church of the Holy Saviour (Ascension of Christ)
This is the only church built during the reign of the Ottoman Empire in 1609. It is a temple that is half-dug into the ground. It is now also a museum where you are expected to pay a fee for the entrance.
The Church of St. John the Baptist
The temple is famous for its exceptional acoustics due to the pitchers in the wall. It was built in the 10th century, presumably at the expense of wealthy citizens.
Like many other churches in Nessebar, the Church of St. John the Baptist is not a functioning temple anymore, but you can go there during art exhibitions.
The Church of St. Paraskeva
The Church of St. Paraskeva is a small one-storey temple built in the XIII century. The original roof construction did not survive so it was re-constructed later.
Like many other churches in the city, this church is not anymore serving its original purpose. Art exhibitions are held here sometimes.
The Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel
The Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel is beautiful but unfortunately it is not very well preserved. The temple has been partially renovated, but still requires constant care and reconstruction. The abundance of arches and mosaics decorate this church. For now, the church is under renovation.
The Church of St. Sophia (the Old Metropolia)
The Church of St. Sophia is the most majestic and ancient temple in the old town of Nessebar. A preserved marble plaque contains a text from the Bible and near it visitors try to make a wish.
Nowadays, the church serves as a location for photoshoots or for major festivals in the city.
The Church of the Holy Virgin Eleusa (of Tenderness)
The Church of the Holy Virgin Eleusa was discovered only in 1920 during excavations. This church was built in the 6th century.
Its northern part and central nave were sunk into the sea due to an earthquake, but that 1920 excavation became instrumental to its eventual restoration (albeit partly) and preservation.
Obviously, this church is not functioning and tourists are welcome to admire the ruins of the temple for free.
The Church of St. Theodore
A small church of St. Theodore was built in the 8th century in the Byzantine style. It is not immediately eye-catching. This is not surprising, because the exterior of the building resembles quite little to any temple. However, the church is well-preserved today. You can see an iconostasis, frescoes and mosaics inside.
The church is mostly closed to tourists, but sometimes it holds art exhibitions.
The Church of Dormition of the Holy Virgin
The church of Dormition of the Holy Virgin still serves as a functioning temple. Compared to other churches in the city, this church was built in 1883, so it is pretty more recent. It is famous for the miraculous icon of the Holy Virgin Odigitria, that is also called “black”.
Holy Mother of God is a patroness of Nessebar, and every year on August 15 (a day of the city), the icon is taken outside the walls of the temple.
The location of Nessebar temples – a map of churches
We mark the location of these churches on this map so that it will be easier for you to find them.
Useful links and interesting information:
- Why does the old part of town of Nessebar is memorized for tourists?
- Choosing a place for a holiday: what resort is better to choose?
- Excursions in sunny Bulgaria: how and where to choose the best?
- A detailed description with useful tips on choosing between an independent tourism and organized excursions.
- A detailed description of all existing churches of Nessebar: a history of construction of temples from the V century until today.