History of the Nessebar region

Due to the unique natural surroundings and the well-preserved monuments from various historic periods, at the 7th session of the World Heritage Committee in Florence in 1983, the Old Town of Nessebar became the only Bulgarian town included in the World Cultural Heritage list of UNESCO.


The Nessebar peninsula - the ancient Messambria, called during the late Middle Ages Messemvria, and later Nessebar, was first settled over three millennia ago, at the end of the Bronze Age. The anciant Thracians use to call it Melsambria, which meant the town of Melsa, the legendary founder of the settlement. Messambria had two convenient harbors - a northern and a southern one, where even today pieces of equipment from ancient ships can still be found.

In the late 6th century BC, the first Greek colonists arrived - Doric in origin. The town gradually grew; temples, a gymnasium and a theater were built.

Messambria began to mint its own coins around the year 440 BC. It reached its peak in 3th - 2nd century BC, when gold coins were first minted. The town maintained good commercial contacts with the polises along the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The material testament of the rich economic, cultural and spiritual life of the town are the many finds form this period, exhibited at the Archaelogical museum of the town.

In 72 BC town was captured without any resistance by the Roman armies. After a short occupation, it became part of the Roman Empire in early 1st century AD. Messemvria as it was called at the time, with its fortress walls and large public buildings preserved intact, continued to mint its own bronze coins and remained an important commercial and cultural center along the Black Sea coast of Roman Thrace.

The town first became part of the Bulgarian state in 812, when Khan Kroum stormed and conquered it, and Slavs and the Bulgarians settled here. Nessebar as Slavs called it remained in Bulgarian hands for a longer period of time during the reign of Tsar Simeon The Great.

After almost 40 years of Byzantine domination, Nessebar was again incorporated into the Bulgarian state in 1304 by Tsar Todor Svetoslav. The town underwent a great boom during the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander.

In 1366 the town was captured by the knights of Count Amedeo di Savoya, and later ceded to the Byzantine emperor. The town was first invaded by the Ottoman Turks in 1396. It finally became a part of the Ottoman Empire together with the capital Constantinopol in 1453.

Over the centuries of Ottoman domination, the economic and cultural life did not cease. Churches were built and decorated, icons painted.

The port of Nessebar continued to be a major import and export center on the Black Sea coast. Some of the Nessebar monasteries and scriptoria were active until 18th - 19th century. Many houses from Bulgarian Renaissance period are preserved in Nessebar - typical examples of the Black Sea architecture, some of the many windmills, which worked in the town, public baths and fountains.

The cultural heritage of the ancient town is presented in four museum expositions

The Archaelogical Museum, exhibiting the rich material culture of Messambria - Messemvria, the Nessebar from the antiquity, Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Recommended links:

www.ancient-nessebar.com - the website of the Nessebar historic museum

www.lostbulgaria.com - old photos from Nessebar

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