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Articles Blog

Nessebar, Bulgaria

Karyn Planett

A Glimpse At Bulgaria Past

Unless you’re a well-heeled traveler with a thick, dog-eared passport, you’ve probably not been to Nessebar previously. Or even Bulgaria, for that matter. ‘Tis a shame for this is a coastline rich with archeological treasures and architectural surprises. Globetrotters flock here, as well, for predictably sunny days and prices to satisfy every pocketbook, hearty food and a long history. A stint ashore in Nessebar gives you an introduction into this menu.

Bits About Bulgaria

The country is officially known as the Republic of Bulgaria, with a total population of nearly 8.5 million—86% of whom are Eastern Orthodox, the other 13% Muslim. The first Bulgarian state was recognized in 681 A.D. It faces the sea along its 354-kiliometer Black Sea shoreline with Varna and Burgas the major resort destinations. Those who call Bulgaria home are a mixture, with native Bulgarians accounting for the majority, 85% in fact. Turks, Gypsies, and Macedonians complete the ethnic tableau with smatterings of other nationalities tossed into the mix.

For the latter part of the last century, agriculture and manufacturing provided the economic base for the country. The economy reflected the ideals of the Soviet Union with cooperatives, collectives, state-owned businesses and the like. Not surprisingly, tourism has emerged as a significant employer, especially in the seaside areas with Eastern Europeans and Turks the major holidaymakers.

From 1946 until 1990, the nation was governed like in the Soviet Union with the Communist Party’s Politburo effectively making the decisions for the people. As this style of totalitarian government saw its demise all across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, so too did the Bulgarian system fall. In 1991, the country became a democratic republic with a president elected to serve a 5-year term. Bulgaria entered NATO in 2004 and EC membership is targeted for 2007.

Knocking About Nessebar

Begin with the factoid that Nessebar’s old quarter has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Why? Because it sits on a thin neck of land attached to the coast and has changed little for centuries. It stands as a symbol to the designs and decisions made by early settlers as far back the 6th Century B.C. Nessebar is, by all accounts, one of the country’s oldest towns. Your guides and guidebooks will describe in detail the ancient polis of Mesambria that appeared in the 6th Century B.C.; the Thracian settlement of Melsabria; the Roman invasion in the 1st Century B.C., and the conquest of Khan Kroum in 812. Under Tsar Ivan Aleksandur (1331-1371) the area blossomed into a cultural center as well as a seaport. Swallowed up into the Ottoman Empire in 1452, many of its stone fortifications were leveled. Thankfully others survived and can be visited today including towers, sanctuaries, sections of the old wall and gates that were used for safety.

Sights that shouldn’t be missed, if one is on that sort of mission, include something called the Bulgarian National Revival architectural ensemble. Sixty in all, if you’ve got the time. Typical of Black Sea coastal houses, they usually feature cool basements of stone, upper floors with decorative wood paneling, bay windows by the score, and corbels as support. Follow any cobblestone path and fine examples will be revealed before you. Those that garner the most interest include the houses of Mouskoyani, Bogatov, Rousiev, Captain Pavel and others. The latter sits perched on a sizeable stone foundation above the port and is typical of the Bulgarian National Revival style.

Houses Of Worship

The devout face of Nessebar’s people is reflected in the many houses of worship dotted across the skyline. In the past, there were more than three dozen in this tiny community. The Old Bishopric is recognized as one of the most important. Dating back to days of the 5th Century or the dawn of the 6th, it stirs a sense of awe due to its powerful dimensions. St. Stevens Church, also known as the New Bishopric, is “new” only relatively speaking. It dates back to the 12th Century, as believed by some experts while others contend it is much, much older. Visitors are asked to note that it has been preserved almost in its original design. It is claimed that color ceramic decorations were incorporated into the design in this church for the first time. Murals from the 14th-19th centuries are recognized as being of high artistic value. The iconostasis icons are especially interesting, as well.

Other churches of note include St. John Alyturgetos and Pantokrator Church, considered by many to be the town’s most picturesque. The features of note include colorful ceramic rosettes, a luxuriant interior, with artistic and architectural elements unique in their design.

Now if all this sightseeing is not your cup of tea, so to speak, you might pass the day attempting to master Bulgaria’s Cyrillic alphabet, or discussing the impressive body of “contemporary” Bulgarian literature including works by D. Dimov and D. Talev. Under communism, pieces addressing the issue of “Social Realism” were “encouraged” and used to promote the party ideals, so works from that period were considered rather uniform in style.

A new day shines on Bulgaria in so many ways. Chat up some youthful, eyes-to-the-future Bulgarian students and you’ll soon discover just that.