The main attraction of Nessebar is its churches… lots of them!
Nessebar is mostly touted as the city with the most number of churches per capita — about 40 churches. But by the time we were there, we only managed to find only 10 of them. But each of them deserves our attention and mention in this article. They are important architectural monuments and show the history not only of the city, but also the entire Bulgaria.
Church of St Stephen (Nova Mitropoliya)
The Church of St. Stephen is an Orthodox church, the main part of which was built in the XI century. Subsequently, the church was expanding to the west during the 16th century. During the 18th century the narthex (antechamber) was completed. It was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is why a lot of murals depict scenes from the life of the Mother of God.
The church is small (only 12 x 9.5 meters wide). This three-nave basilica is constructed of brick and stone blocks.The frescoes, iconostasis (from the 16th century), the throne and the ambo (from the 18th century) are remarkably well preserved.
The Church of St. Stephen is now a museum. Entrance fee costs 5 levs for an adult and 2 levs for a child. It is open on weekdays from 9 AM to 7 PM, and on weekends from 9 AM to 1 PM.
An entrance to it is paid – 5 levs for an adult and 2 levsfor a child. Working hours: on Monday – Friday from 9:00 to 19:00; on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 13:00.
To find a temple, you must first go through the main street of the old part of Nessebar – Mesembria, and immediately after the church of Christ Pantocrator, turn right. The Church of St. Stephen is located on the intersection of Ribarska and Mena streets is located the Church of St. Stephen.
The Church of St. John Aliturgetos (Not consecrated)
Built in 14th century, the Church of St. John Aliturgetos was leveled by an earthquake in 1913, so only the ruins remain. But even with the remnants, they still convey the church’s beauty.
This cross-domed church is made of brick and stone masonry and framed by four pillars. It measures 18.5 x 10 meters. Construction is not typical for churches, as it has two entrances – north and south. The floor of the church was covered with mosaics of various types of marble, and the altar partition consisted of marble frames. A worker even died during the church’s construction.
While the church was not sanctified, services were held regularly there.
The building stands right on the beach, on the southern part of the old town, near the port. The Amphitheater is located on the streets of Kraybrezhna. This is where free concerts and festivals are held.
The Church of Christ Pantocrator
The Church of Christ Pantocrator is one of the best preserved temples in Nessebar. This very beautiful building was constructed from the 13th to the 14th century. The church has a rectangular shape with dimensions of 16 x 7 meters and two entrances (west and south).
To the present day building was not preserved completely: part of the wall and the dome of one of the towers were destroyed. Despite this, the church still impresses with its greatness. The main highlight of the temple is the impressive masonry of bricks of different colors and sizes. Many arched elements, gorgeous paintings and murals (made in the Middle Ages), the trace of painting preserved on the walls every year attract more and more tourists.
The church is located in the heart of the old town. While it doesn’t hold religious services any longer, it otherwise has an art gallery. Entrance fee is 3 levs.
The Church of the Holy Saviour
Externally, the Church of the Holy Saviour does not resemble a temple, it is more like an ordinary fisherman’s house, which is located deep in the old town. This small building, only 11.7 x 5.7 meters, is the only Christian church in the city constructed during the Ottoman Empire. It was built in 1609 at the expense of a rich townsman (evidenced by the inscription above the entrance).
According to Turkish laws then, Christian churches could not be higher, than the rider sitting on a horse, therefore the floor of the temple is located below the ground level. Another feature of this building is a tombstone of Byzantine princess named Mataisa Kantakouzenos Paleologina which had settled on the church’s floor for many centuries. Now it can be seen in the Archaeological Museum.
At present, the church doesn’t perform religious services anymore, but it is now a museum. In this church you can see a lot of bright frescoes depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary. An entrance into it is paid.
Next to the Church of the Holy Saviour are the ruins of early Byzantine baths (VI century).
The Church of John the Baptist
The small Church of John the Baptist (12 x 10 meters) was built in the 10th century in the old part of Nessebar. The building consists of river stones and rubble. The temple is famous for its exceptional acoustics, because inside of the walls are bricked clay jugs. Throughout the history the church has been subjected to reconstruction and repair a lot of times.
The main attractions of the temple are the ancient frescoes (XIV century) and the portrait of a local resident (presumably, he was the benefactor).
Nowadays, the church operates as a small art gallery. The entrance is paid.
The Church of St. Paraskevi
The Church of St. Paraskevi – a small one-storey building, built in the 13th century in the ancient part of Nessebar. The church was built as a basilica with the dimensions of 14.7 x 6.6 meters of carefully hewn stone blocks and bricks.
The roof structure was not preserved to this day. It is assumed that it was domed, and above the building there was a tower-bell.
Nowadays, the Church of St. Paraskevi does not hold religious services any longer.
The Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel
The Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel is a very nice building, located in the old part of the city-museum. The temple has dimensions of 14 x 5.2 meters, built of stone and brick probably in the 14th century. The building has three doors but a single nave.
The church is decorated with a big dome and square tower. The beautiful decoration of the temple with arches with three rows of glass elements attract the attention of many tourists.
The church is not operating in any way and is now under construction.
The Church of St Sophia (Stara Mitropoliya)
The oldest temple of the ancient town is the Church of St. Sophia, located in the heart of the city. The end of its construction dates back to the 9th century, although the first phase ended in the 5th to 6th century. In the past, the residence of metropolitan of Nessebar was once located. During the 13th century, the temple was pillaged by invaders from Venice, so that some church relics were moved to Venice.
The church, built of stone and brick, has a size of 19 x 13 meters. Inside, everything is covered with plaster and painted. Presumably the floor of the church was covered with colorful mosaics.
At present the temple is dilapidated – only part of the walls has remained. A marble stone is embedded in one of the walls, with the text from the Bible. According to legend, if you stand next to it and make a wish – there is a strong possibility that it will come true.
Recently, the temple ruins are a favorite place for photoshoots.
The Basilica of the Holy Mother of God Eleusa
The Basilica, built on the north bank of the ancient town, has not been completely preserved. The part of the church (the northern part and the central nave) were submerge in the water due to an earthquake. It was built in the 6th century but residents only discovered it while on an archaeological excavation in 1920. The re-discovery of this temple paved the way to its restoration and preservation.
The temple could boast of impressive sizes – 28 x 18 meters — when it was still intact. There are tombs, marble architectural fragments, fragments of bricks and the main highlight of the church – the icon of the Holy Mother of God.
At present some parts of the building are already impeccably renovated and preserved. While it delight tourists, still a large part of the temple is in need of restoration.
The Church of St. Theodore
The Church of St. Theodore was built in the 13th century in the Byzantine style (although the part of the walls and roof were renovated and built at later time) of brick and hewn white stone. In order to avoid the destruction during the earthquake, in the construction of the walls there are wooden inserts between stones.
The size of the building is small – about 9 x 4 meters. It has a well-preserved iconostasis, frescoes and mosaics.
The church is located on Neptune Street. It doesn’t hold any religious services but it has an art gallery.
The Church Assumption of the Holy Virgin
One of the most recent churches, the Church Assumption of the Holy Virgin was built in 1883. Construction materials for the building is made up of white cut stone and burnt brick.
The gem of this church and the main Christian shrine is an icon with the miraculous image of the Holy Virgin Odigitria which was created in the 13th century. There are many legends surrounding it. According to one of these legends, the icon chose the place itself for the construction of the church. It used to be a school then, and one day the children playing in the yard witnessed the icon of the Blessed Virgin in the tree’s branches. They brought the icon to the church. But the next morning the same thing happened again. Local residents decided not to thwart the will of the icon and decided to build a church on that spot.
The icon is also called “black”. According to legend, it appeared in Nessebar from the Holy Mount Athos. Written from the outset in dark colors, the icon managed to become even darker over time. Other theories state that the icon has darkened because of grief, which people were asked to help them to overpower or that it was frequently carried on the battle places.
Whatever it was, Blessed Virgin is a patron of Nessebar. In 1992, August 15 was declared an official holiday of Nessebar. On this day the icon is solemnly carried out of the church and through the city. From the evening of August 14 until the next day, anyone can stay in the church and pray.
The church also has a museum. Two bronze planks dedicated to the national heroes of Bulgaria — Vasil Levsky and Hristo Botev — hang on the wall near the entrance.
The courtyard of the church is very cozy and green. There are benches where you can sit down, rest, relax and gather your thoughts.
And of course you can see a large sea anchor, propped against one of the walls of the temple.