Photo by Els Slots.

The Ancient City of Nessebar located at a peninsula in the Black Sea holds over 3,000 years of history,

Nessebar has Thracian origins and later became an important Greek colony and Byzantine settlement. The Greek colonists left an acropolis, a temple of Apollo and an agora. The town has been a spiritual centre of Christianity for 1,000 years. This is reflected in its medieval religious architecture with rich plastic and polychrome decoration on its facades.

Community Perspective: Nessebar’s attraction nowadays lies mostly with its Byzantine churches - there is virtually nothing left of the other periods of its existence. The town is usually flooded by tourists during the day as it lies close to beach resorts.

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Malta - 25-Feb-24 -

Nessebar by Clyde

I visited this WHS in 2023 and to make sure I could get the best out of my visit (as well as have safe parking) I booked a hotel just in front of star attraction of this site, the Church of St. Stephen inside the old town proper in the middle of the peninsula, away from the infamous Sunny Beach area. I was allowed access via the main gate to unload my luggages and then I was allowed a private spot in the outdoor parking at the marina.

Undoubtedly Nessabar's forte are its medieval churches, which is why it earned its nickname as "the Bulgarian Ravenna" and "the pearl of the Orthodox world". According widespread local legend there once were more than 40 churches existed only on the small territory of the peninsula and nowadays 10 of them have been preserved and restored. More than the number of churches, what is important is the overall picture they gives us today about the nature and achievements of medieval church architecture. Some are remains such as those of the basilica church of St. Sophia or the basilica church and tower of the Holy Mother of Eleusa, which are important remains of the bishop's residence and part of a monastery complex. Another two churches which are merely a shell but include lots of brickwork decorations are the Church of St. John Aliturgetos and the Church of the St. Archangels Michael and Gabriel. These four churches are free and don't require any ticket.

The rest require a separate ticket or a combined multi-day ticket which you can buy from the museum or from one of the churches. I opted for the one which includes all churches, the archaeological museum and the mill since there was an interesting temporary exhibition inside the latter on the objects and graves excavated from the church grounds. If truth be told, in my opinion the churches of St. Theodore and of St. Paraskeva have much more to offer on their exterior than their interior, especially the latter one with its pentagonal apse jutting out to the east (and a wooden/metal roof). The same can be said of the Church of Christ Pantocrator which perhaps has the most complete exterior of all the churches, although it houses a display of medieval fresco fragment from different churches worth seeing too.

Perhaps the smallest church and the least appealing from the outside (in a way it reminded me of some of the churches in the Troodos mountains in Cyprus) is that of St. Spass, but it really is worth visiting inside for its great frescoes painted in 1609 with funds from a local wealthy citizen. I really liked the false marble designs which reminded me a bit of the frescoes of the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe. In my opinion this church interior should not be missed. Another small church is that of St. John the Baptist with only a few traces of frescoes. Its exterior typically represents the transition between the shorter basilicas and the cruciform churches, with a cylindrical drum above its central part ending with a hemispherical dome.

In my opinion the highlight of this WHS, and the one church not to be missed for its interior, is the Church of St. Stephen also known as the New Bishopric. The three-nave basilica is magnificently ornate with frescoes from the 16th century both inside the narthex as well as inside the church proper. Most of the frescoes are related to the life of the Virgin Mary, to whom the church was initially dedicated. I visited during the hottest part of the day (although it was cool inside), which meant I had the place all to myself for most of the time (so much so that I also sneaked behind the curtains to peek at the lovely frescoes behind the iconostasis). There's also some original furniture inside the church such as the bishop's throne and the pulpit. Upon close inspection, on the left hand side of the church when facing the iconostasis, you'll notice 16th-19th century graffiti of sailing boats on some of the mural paintings and ornamental lower parts of the walls. It is believed that these were done by sailors who sought protection for their vessels and crews through them.

Although the peninsula of Nessebar can get quite busy, the high entrance tickets for the churches meant that mostly group tours were entering so it was quite easy to time my visits when the churches at hand had little or no visitors. I also enjoyed the interesting museum once it was included in the all-in ticket, and just next to it lies the UNESCO WHS incription marble plaque.


Bulgaria - 07-Feb-23 -

Nessebar by UncleSlavi

Nessebar, Nessebar - this is the city I have been to the most times. I was there for the first time (according to my parents' stories) when I was 3 years old. The tradition of going to the Black sea in Nessebar every year lasted almost 30 years. After that, I also went without my parents, of course.

This is the first UNESCO World Heritage Site I have visited. And to which I always return over the years.

They call Nessebar an "encyclopedia" of Christian church construction. 44 churches from the period from the 5th to the 19th century have been discovered in it so far. (Considering, however, that the island was at least three times as large, it is obvious that the number of churches also exceeded a hundred). Among them are the oldest early Christian basilicas in Bulgaria. Eighteen of the temples are well preserved.

The construction completely stopped during the Turkish slavery (for five centuries only one temple was built), and the existing ones were subject to destruction because the Turks forbade their maintenance.

The churches are scattered all over the town, but it is not difficult to find them - there are information boards next to each one with the basic information about the respective church.

Don't forget to visit the museum, which is immediately after the entrance on the right. Take a full day for walking around the city and visiting the churches so you don't have to rush through the cobbled streets. If you are on summer vacation, use a cloudy or rainy day (if any). Take time to eat at one of the many panoramic restaurants with wonderful views of the sea.


Germany - 19-Feb-23 -

I guess all has been said which can be said about Nessebar. The small city and its wonderful unesco churches are without any doubt worth a visit.

I stayed one night in Nessebar on the 14th of jan. Very few visitors were there,hardly anyone after sunset.

I had the town to myself in the later hours of the day. The locals told me that Nessebar is a pure hell in the summer months and even in spring as the city is virtually overrun by hordes of tourists from the nearby golden beach + local bulgarian tourists from other parts of the country.

I managed to see 2 unesco churches from inside and visited all places of interest in that small bulgarian town. Most churches were closed in winter time.



Germany - 05-Nov-20 -

Nessebar by Nan

When we look at a historic map, e.g. one of the Byzantine Empire under Basil II, it easily looks as if they controlled whole areas, akin to a modern nation state. In reality, the territory governed was often limited to the major fortified and garrisoned towns, the vicinity and (maybe) the roads connecting the towns. Rural and remote corners were often outside of state control, with a local ruler potentially paying lip service to the central government in a far away capital. As long as they didn't cause major annoyances warranting a punitive expedition (and sometimes even if), they were left to their own devices.

This is especially true of the Balkans, a territory claimed by the Eastern Roman Empire for centuries. The Balkans, the inner parts heavily forested and mountainous, allowed the locals to retreat easily. Even where accessibility was less of an issue, e.g. the plains of Bulgaria, horse nomads could simply move their tribe.

Therefore, to govern the Balkans and project power the Romans relied on garrison towns, especially fortified towns on the coast. On water, having naval supremacy for long periods, they could move troops and provisions fast and safely. Roads, meanwhile, were often subject to attacks, e.g. the Via Egnatia, the famous Roman road connecting Dyrrhachium (Durres), the ferry port to Italy, with Constantinople wasn't always open.

Nessebar was part of this coastal town network. The Roman name was Mesembria and the settlement dates back to a Greek colony from the 600-500 BCE. The town is situated on a peninsula with a hill, easy to defend. The sea has swallowed up parts of it that are now below sea level. After the rise of the Bulgar Empire around 800 CE, it was exchanged hands between Constantinople and the Bulgars repeatedly.

What you find today, apart from the ubiquitous tourist shops and restaurants that make up most of today's old town, are some fortifications and ruins. The best parts of the inscription are the Byzantine churches that remain. While it's pleasant to visit, I was not awed and have seen better medieval or Byzantine towns.

Getting There

Nessebar is a popular day trip for tourists on Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts. Bulgaria's largest tourist resort, aptly named Sunny Beach (Слънчев бряг), has grown directly on its footsteps and it's one urban area nowadays. There seem to be bus connections directly to/from Nessebar. From Sunny Beach, you have more options, most notably to Burgas and Varna, the two international airports of the area. The bus station in Sunny Beach (at the time of my visit) was a parking lot off the main road.

While You Are There

If you have a car, there are several WHS in the area to visit. However, I was not impressed by any. The best Bulgarian WHS are near Sofia (Boyana, Rila, Pirin) which is too far for a daytrip. And even those aren't great. Only reason to come to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is if you enjoy packaged vacation deals and cheap all inclusive buffets and drinks.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 26-Sep-18 -

Nessebar by Els Slots

In the Ancient City of Nessebar, several successive civilizations have left their mark over a period of 3000 years. It started with the local Thracians, followed by the Greeks, the Romans and their eastern successors the Byzantines who made it into a Christian spiritual center in the Middle Ages. Not much substance has been written in reviews so far about this little Bulgarian town, which is threatened by its proximity to the resort of Sunny Beach (the name says it all…) and overrun by day-trippers of the worst kind, especially in summer.

Nessebar’s attraction nowadays lies mostly with its Byzantine churches - there is virtually nothing left of the other periods of his existence. It reminded me a bit of Ohrid in Macedonia, a small town with Byzantine churches dotted here and there amidst souvenir shops and restaurants. None of the old churches in Nessebar are in religious use anymore (they are either ‘museums’ or ruins), while there is still some (albeit limited) religious feel to Ohrid.

You can buy different combination tickets to visit the various museums and churches in the town. I took one of 18 Lev (9 EUR), with which you can enter the archaeological museum, the St. Stephen Church and 3 other churches of your own choice. I started my tour at the archaeological museum, which lies right after the city wall when you enter the peninsula. There was hardly anyone there. They display here mainly relics from the Greek and Roman periods of the city - Nessebar was a colony of both. It’s an interesting enough start, but I found no memorable objects in the collection.

Walking further onto the peninsula, the first large church that you encounter is that of St. Stephen. This is the absolute highlight in terms of murals in Nessebar; the walls are completely covered with 258 different representations. There is almost no empty space left. After a French group with their guide left the church (it took some waiting before they finished occupying the space), I was also the only visitor here for a while and could admire the paintings one by one.

Most churches in Nessebar are not known for their interior wall paintings but for creative wall decorations on their exteriors: bricks have been arranged in patterns between the gray stone. Colourful pieces of ceramics are also added for additional decoration. The Church of Saint Paraskevi is the best example of this.

On my last morning, I walked a full lap of the peninsula along the waterfront. Even if you walk slowly, this takes less than an hour. On the south side lies another of the most beautiful churches - the Church of Saint John Aliturgetos. This was heavily damaged by an earthquake but is now being restored with money from the US Ambassadors Fund. The brick patterns are especially beautiful here.

I stayed in Nessebar for one night, which was just enough for me. Early in the morning is actually the only time of day that Nessebar is not flooded with tourists. I had a pleasant evening as well, sitting on my balcony at the Nessebar Royal Palace hotel with a view of the beautifully lit Church of Saint John the Baptist next door.

John booth

New Zealand - 07-Dec-12 -

Nessebar by john booth

Nessebar deserves its listing just on account of its location on a peninsular jutting out into the Black Sea. But by taking a short walk through the town I discovered streets of picturesque wooden houses, Byzantine ruins, and churches of many different hues, from the huge church of the Virgin Mary, the ruined church of St Sophia and the many small Orthodox churches which appear everywhere.

I reached the town by taking bus no.11 from Burgas station.

Bob Hale

USA - 01-May-05 -

Holland America included Nessebar a few years back. We spent a half day taking in the old town. Unfortunately HAL's time table had us there before any shops opened; before any locals showed up for work. We met a few, and were delighted they could grasp some of our English. As true Americans, we grasped nothing of their Bulgarian! Rich in old word history, the town demands the visitor do some homework before walking the town. The guides are limited in English - after all, Bulgaria is still getting started in the tourist business.

Would I visit again? Indeed, and this time I'd opt for an over-night. The Bulgarian kitchens were just getting warmed up when we headed back to the ship. Next time, I want lunch!!

And, the people are all smiles.


Bruce w. Turner

United States of America - 01-May-05 -

I've been to Nessebar twice. First time was in 2002, second time was August 2004. I brought my daughter along and she was really impressed by not only Nessebar but Bulgaria overall. My wife comes from Plovdiv, Bulgaria.We meet in Germany. My other intrest of Bulgaria, especially Plovdiv, is its place in our Christian History. I agree with the afore mentioned comments of Nessebar, and Bulgaria. I would love to live and work on the Black Sea Coast. Between,Nessebar and Primisko.


Latvia - 01-May-05 -

Nessebar may seem to be not very special, but if you care to find out its history - ouch, this place is quite interesting! Then you start to appreciate its numerous small Byzantine churches, ancient monuments (there is good museum), picturesque streets with specific houses.

I spent there one day - this was the best experience for me in Bulgaria.

Site Info

Full Name
Ancient City of Nessebar
Unesco ID
3 4
Archaeological site - Byzantine

Site History

1983 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations



The site has

Art and Architecture
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WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


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