Sozopol and Nessebar – Bulgaria, Eastern Europe
When it comes to summertime and history, Bulgaria ranks among the top destinations in Europe since only it, together with Greece and Italy, can boast of so many golden beaches, beneath which there are centuries of history. Towns like Sozopol and Nessebar are among the most attractive sights. Both are at almost equal distance from the resort center and capital of the south Black sea coast – Burgas, but of course, in opposite directions.
A charming piece of antiquity has literally perched itself 34 kilometers south of Burgas on a rocky peninsula out in the sea, at the most southern point of the wide Burgas bay. Sozopol is one of the oldest seaside towns in Bulgaria, set up as early as 610 BC by the Greeks. Access to the town is easy. You only have to take the seaside road going down south (which reveals incredible sights), and follow the signs. Every hour there are also buses from Burgas to Sozopol.
When you arrive in Sozopol, you will find yourself engulfed in history. Centuries ago, the Thracians were the first settlers on these lands, but it was the Greeks who set up the first settlement in the 7th century BC. They named it Apolonia after their God of Beauty, Apollo. It is not by chance they gave the town this name – the area is spectacular.
In praise of Apollo, the Greeks erected a 13-meter bronze statue. Gradually the settlement grew into a trading centre for honey, grain, wine, olive oil and pottery. In the 6th century BC, the town already had coined its own money. Before falling under Roman domination in the first century BC, Sozopol was such a powerful town that it set up its own colony – Anhialo, today’s Pomorie.
During the reign of the Bulgarian khan Krum, Sozopol became Bulgarian territory after which it frequently changed affiliations – it was ruled by Byzantium and Bulgaria in different stages of its history. During the Middle Ages, the town fell under Turkish domination after a continued siege in 1453. Since then, only wooden houses were built, some can still be seen today, in the old part.
Contemporary Sozopol is a tourist center. Besides its architecture it has ancient churches, although Nessebar surpasses it in this respect. The St. Zosim and the Holy Virgin shrines date back to Renaissance times. The houses of Dimitar Laskaridis, built in 1502, and of Anna Trendafilova, have an interesting restaurant. It is only one of the 45 architecture monuments in the town. The small harbor offers a fascinating view, especially at sunrise when fishermen pull out their nets.
Sozopol attracts visitors with its narrow cobbled streets, old stone houses rising on both sides, some of which have been turned into cozy restaurants; picturesque fishermen boats and nets spread on the sand; numerous small shops and pavilions, offering works of art, paintings and wonderful sea souvenirs. For some, however, the best souvenir is the homemade jam made from whole green figs, sold by old women sitting on wooden benches in front of the high walls of their houses. Foreigners will definitely be impressed by their divine taste. They'll even take home the precious small jars of jam.
Thirty seven kilometers north of Burgas, you'll find Nessebar, situated on a rocky peninsula jutting out into the sea. In front of it on a small island is Nessebar’s Old City, linked to the mainland via a narrow strip of land.
Among the first sights are the remnants of the ancient castle walls that once guarded the settlement. The city gate is found between two round towers. Once you step in, you'll be in the past. Only the cars and scooters buzzing around remind you that it's the 21st century.
Nessebar is one of Europe’s oldest towns, inheritor of the ancient Thracian settlement, Messemvria. After the Greeks settled, it became the only Dorian colony on the Black sea coast, unlike its neighboring settlements that were of the Ionian type. Messemvria developed into a big and well-fortified town, benefiting from the natural guard of the sea. It became an important trade center, too. In the 5th century BC, the town started to coin its own money. Two centuries later, it founded its own colony – Navlohos, close to today’s, Obzor.
In the Middle Ages the town remained under Roman and Byzantine domination, up to 812, when it was included under the lands ruled by the Bulgarians, led by khan Krum. Later Nessebar developed active commercial ties with Mediterranean and Adriatic lands. The St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist churches were built in that period. They became prototypes for those Nessebar churches constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries. They were masterpieces, like the architecture in the medieval Bulgarian capital of Turnovo.
Nessebar experienced its second flourish when Tzar (king) Ivan Alexander I came to the throne. During his rule many monuments were constructed, among them the Chistos Pantokrator, 13th century and St. Yoan Neosveteni, 14th century churches, as well as a number of monasteries – The Holy Virgin, Hristos Acropolit, St. Paul and St. Andrew. Each year hundred of tourists visit these churches and monasteries.
Legend has it that throughout its history, Nessebar had a total of 40 churches. Currently there are 26. The town is ranked number one in the world for number of churches per capita. Nessebar is also known as the Bulgarian Ravena, thanks to its numerous and well-preserved churches, especially those dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. Throughout most of its existence, it has also been the bishop's residence. Apart from its religious edifices, Nessebar has also preserved a number of castle wall remnants, Renaissance houses. Part of the pavement dates back to the Roman times.
In 1956 UNESCO placed Nessebar on its World Cultural Heritage list. What is specifically mentioned is Nessebar’s castle wall with the entry gate from the 3rd and 4th centuries, its churches set up and decorated in the 5th to 6th and 10th to 14th centuries. They represent some of the best examples of medieval Bulgarian and Byzantine art, as well as the 60 houses from the 14th to the 19th centuries that contribute to proclaiming Nessebar an architectural reserve.