Founded by the Greeks, NESEBAR 35km northeast
of Burgas was later used by the Byzantines as a base from which to assail the
Bulgarian First Kingdom, provoking Khan Krum to seize it in 812. Thereafter ownership
alternated between Bulgaria and Byzantium until the Ottomans captured it in 1453.
The towns decline to a humble fishing port under Turkish rule left Nesebars
Byzantine churches reasonably intact, and nowadays the town depends on
them for its tourist appeal, which is testified to by the constant stream of visitors
crossing the slender isthmus that connects the old town with the mainland.
Buses arrive at the harbour at the western end of town, above which lies an
Archeological Museum (Summer: MonFri 9am7pm, Sat & Sun 9am1.30pm
& 27pm; $1.50) containing ancient Greek tombstones and a feast of medieval
icons. Immediately beyond this is the first of Nesebars churches, the Church
of Christ the Pantokrator. Completed during the fourteenth-century reign
of Tsar Aleksandar, its blind niches, turquoise ceramic inlays and red-brick
motifs are characteristic of latter-day Byzantine architecture, although the
frieze of swastikas a symbol of the sun and continual change is unusual.
Slightly downhill on ul Mitropolitska, St John the Baptist (now an art
gallery) also has a cruciform plan, but its undressed stone exterior dates it
as a tenth- or eleventh-century building.
Overhung by half-timbered houses carved with sun-signs, fish and other symbols,
ul Aheloi branches off from ul Mitropolitska towards the Church of Sveti Spas
(Summer only: MonFri 9am1.30pm & 25.30pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am1.30pm;
$1), outwardly unremarkable but filled with seventeenth-century frescoes. Diagonally
opposite is the now ruined Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel,
patterned not unlike the Pantokrator. A few steps to the east lies the ruined
Old Metropolitan Church, dominating a plaza filled with pavement cafes,
street traders and hawkers. The church itself dates back to the fifth or sixth
century, and it was here that bishops officiated during the citys heyday. South
of the towns main street, down ul Ribarska, lies the New Metropolitan Church
(also known as Sveti Stefan; daily 9am1pm & 26pm; $1), whose interior
fresco of the Forty Martyrs, on the west wall, gives pride of place to
the patron who financed the churchs enlargement during the fifteenth century.
Just downhill from here theres the ruined Church of St John Aliturgetos,
standing in splendid isolation beside the shore and representing the zenith of
Byzantine architecture in Bulgaria. Its exterior decoration is strikingly varied,
employing limestone, red bricks, crosses, mussel shells and ceramic plaques,
with a representation of a human figure composed of limestone blocks incorporated
into the north wall.
Around the harbour are kiosks serving fresh mackerel and chips in high season.
The old town is crammed with restaurants; the sea-facing Neptun, towards
the far end of town, is reasonably reliable, while the Plakamo, just downhill
from the New Metropolitan Church at Ivan Aleksandar 8, is family-run and relatively
sheltered. Bar Burgas, Mena 10, is one of the better places to enjoy an
attractive fishing village