The Ancient City of Nessebar
Bulgaria has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, all of them inscribed in the 1970s and 1980s. Among them are the Thracian tomb in Kazanluk, which I visited and wrote about in 2014; Rila Monastery, which I visited in 2009, and Boyana church, which I visited in early 2013. Coming to the Sveti Vlas with my parents gave me the opportunity to visit #4 – the ancient city of Nessebar, which is only about 8 miles (13 km) South of here.
Situated on a rocky peninsula on the Black See, Nessebar is more than 3000 years old. It was originally a Thracian settlement, but later became a Greek colony. It became part of the First Bulgarian Empire (681 -1018 AD) in the early 9th century, under Khan Krum. Nessebar is known for its many churches, most of them built in the Middle Ages. Over 40 are rumored to have been built, although there is evidence of only 23. The city reached its peak during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185 – 1396 AD). For all the history buffs reading this,between the First and Second Bulgarian Empires (from 1018 AD to 1185 AD), Bulgaria fell under Byzantine rule. In fact, until the Ottomans came around in the 14th century, Bulgaria and the Byzantine Empire were locked in a constant power struggle. After the Ottomans arrived, Nessebar, as the rest of Bulgaria, entered a dark age. However, in the 19th century, the city started to grow again and many wooden houses in the style of the Black Sea coast were built at that time. Today, the ancient city of Nessebar is a thriving tourist destination; the whole town of Nessebar, which includes the ancient city on the peninsula and its modern parts, is one of the premier resorts on the Black Sea.
Mom and I took the #5 bus from Sveti Vlas and arrived in Nessebar about 30 minutes later. We walked around the ancient city and took photos. We stopped at the most charming cafe on a square overlooking the remains of the church of St Sophia. The cafe is known for its pastries, and I couldn’t help but indulge in one with my coffee. I loved the old feel of the town, although there were many stores along the city streets, which took away from the ambiance. There were no maps to be purchased, so you just sort of meander and look for as many churches as you can find. The peninsula is tiny, so that’s not a hard job. 🙂
On the way back, mom and I got off the bus early, in Sunny Beach, and walked its promenade for a bit before getting back on the bus to Sveti Vlas. Sunny Beach is another beach resort on the Black Sea, and its been built up tremendously over the last 20 years. My mom showed me all the giant hotels, including the first that had been built – the only one on the sand side of the promenade. It was appropriately named Sand Dunes. There were many, many street vendors along the promenade, to the point where they had formed a wall on both sides of it and you couldn’t even tell the beach was on the other side. They were all selling the same stuff – hats, t-shirts, beach stuff. Further down, in front of the biggest hotels, there were no vendors – city planning doesn’t take care of this but money does, apparently. The hotel I liked the most was a five star resort called Helena. It was built in the style of the old Bulgarian houses of the 19th century, very much like the houses we’d seen in the ancient city of Nessebar. We walked across the grounds to get to the main road, where we wanted to catch the bus, but had a hard time figuring out where the stop was. We saw a little sign and a booth on the opposite side, but nothing on our side. We had to ask around a little bit to figure out if its up or down the street, and I was wondering if the sign and booth were missing so as to not spoil the visage of the fancy hotel we were in front. Such is life in Bulgaria – little nuisances like this add up to a point where you just want to scream.
We got back to Vlas with enough time to squeeze in a late afternoon beach session, followed by dinner in the city square by our hotel, as usual. Missing bus stops and all, this is a very, very relaxing part of my trip, indeed.