OLD NESEBAR

OLD NESEBAR

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 08:53

Over-tourism threatens UNESCO world heritage site

old nesebar.jpg

The summer of 2019 was disastrous for Bulgarian tourism, with an overall 20 percent drop in holidaymakers. However, there was one place on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast which remains packed: Nesebar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site conveniently located next to Sunny Beach, this nation's largest seaside resort and one of Europe's cheapest holiday destinations.

A peninsula covered with ancient ruins, Byzantine churches and 19th century mansions, Nesebar is a true gem, but you cannot enjoy it properly in summer. When the tourist season is in full swing, crowds fill its narrow alleys. Touts try to lure patrons into the overpriced, fake traditional restaurants. Stalls selling Made-in-China Welcome-to-Nesebar souvenirs, beach towels and kitschy marine landscapes cover the walls of the medieval churches and the centuries-old houses.

Nesebar was founded about 3,000 years ago, when ancient Thracians settled on a rocky peninsula at the northern end of the Bay of Burgas, connected to the mainland by a thin strip of sand. The town, which at the time was called Mesemvria, grew in importance after the 6th century BC, when Greeks moved in. Over the following centuries their colony became a prominent centre of commerce, preserving its importance well into the Middle Ages. Its mineral baths were famous for their healing powers, and its strategic position on the coast was reason enough for countless battles between the Byzantines and the Bulgarians for control of the city. Meanwhile, Bulgarian and Greek noblemen and wealthy merchants poured money into Mesemvria. They built dozens of exquisite churches, which now dot the Old City, and are a crucial part of Nesebar's charm.

Old Nesebar

Old Bishopric

 

In 1453, then Byzantine Mesemvria fell under the Ottomans, together with Constantinople. The town remained a busy centre of trade and a lively port, supporting a population of rich merchants. Unable to build new churches, they invested in hiring the finest artists of the time to redecorate older churches with frescoes and fine carvings, and builders to create sumptuous houses of wood and stone.

However, in the 19th century Nesebar slowly turned into a backwater, overshadowed by the rising star of the new settlement of Burgas. The former major trading centre turned into a town of small-time fishermen and farmers cultivating the vineyards on the mainland.

This was good for Nesebar's architectural heritage. The lack of well-to-do people wanting to build new houses, churches and public buildings led to the preservation of the old structures. This was how the ancient fortress walls, the medieval churches and the wooden houses were preserved to this day. The city did grow somewhat, but newer developments were confined to the so-called New Town on the mainland. The ancient heart of the city on the island was left to its poor and laid back inhabitants.

Old Nesebar

Deadend street

 

Nesebar began to attract crowds at the end of the 1950s, when Communist Bulgaria created Sunny Beach as an international resort on the 8-kilometre-long strand north of the town. For the next three decades the resort expanded, providing hoards of Russians and East Europeans with an affordable way to have some almost Mediterranean sun and fun, without leaving the well-guarded borders of the Soviet bloc. Bulgarians flocked here, too, renting cheaper rooms in Nesebar itself, as Sunny Beach was too expensive for them.

In 1983 UNESCO included Old Nesebar on its list of world heritage.

Back in the 1970s and the 1980s, Old Nesebar still felt real and you could wander its lanes, marvelling at its beautiful churches and undisturbed mansions, before or after heading to a beach that was not unofficially parcelled out between flashy or not that flashy hotels and bars, buzzing with holidaymakers on an alcohol-fuelled vacation and toned women with fake breasts.

Yes, places, like people, change with time. Nesebar's transformation was too brutal. Comparing its Old Town in the 1970s to the 2010s seems to show not just a different place, but a different universe.

Old Nesebar

Eastern bloc tourists indulge in fried sprat and local no-name beer near the port

 

Old Nesebar

Old man from Nesebar

 

Old Nesebar

Old Nesebar port

 

Old Nesebar

Bulgarian youth in Nesebar

 

Old Nesebar

Makeshift stands along Nesebar's main road

 

Old Nesebar

Nesebar in the 2010s

 

Old Nesebar

 

Old Nesebar

 

Old Nesebar

 


us4bg-logo-reversal.pngVibrant Communities: Spotlight on Bulgaria's Living Heritage is a series of articles, initiated by Vagabond Magazine, with the generous support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, that aims to provide details and background of places, cultural entities, events, personalities and facts of life that are sometimes difficult to understand for the outsider in the Balkans. The ultimate aim is the preservation of Bulgaria's cultural heritage – including but not limited to archaeological, cultural and ethnic diversity. The statements and opinionsexpressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the America for Bulgaria Foundation and its partners


Issue 155-156 America for Bulgaria Foundation The Black Sea Revival Period medieval heritage

Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

0 comments

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

veleka river
DISCOVERING STRANDZHA'S COAST
The Strandzha mountains coast, roughly everything along the Black Sea south of Burgas, is about 100 km long as the crow flies. Yet it is very varied.

soviet airplane bulgaria
BULGARIA'S COLD WAR PLANES
In the spring of 2022, Bulgarian military aircraft used during the Cold War suddenly became hot news. Should Bulgaria offer its old Soviet MiG- 29s to Ukraine, or shouldn't it?

centre of bulgaria
WHAT IS KARLOVO?
Great changes often spread from inconspicuous places, and Karlovo is a case in point.

snake island bulgaria
FEW SNAKES AND NO RUSSIANS
"Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!" When the Ukrainian defenders of Black Sea's Snake Island shouted out to the outnumbering Russian forces at the beginning of Putin's "special military operation," they hardly anticipated that they would coin a catchphrase

Sacred hunt, a mural at Aleksandrovo Tomb
THRACIAN BULGARIA
There are places in the world where you can get to know long-vanished nations and their former glory: Egypt, China, Greece... Bulgaria also makes it on this list.

st chistopher zlatolist
THE MYSTIC POWER OF ZLATOLIST
Born in 1883 near Serres, which was then in the Ottoman Empire and today is in Greece, Stoyna Dimitrova was seven years old when she experienced something extraordinary.

old burgas
LOOKING AT BURGAS, DARKLY
Despite some researchers' claims that Bulgaria's largest city on the southern Black Sea coast is ancient (related in some way to... Troy), most would agree that Burgas is quite new.

Tombul Mosque in Shumen is arguably the most beautiful in Bulgaria
BULGARIA'S TOP MOSQUES
Sunni Islam is Bulgaria's second largest religion after Eastern Orthodoxy.

sozopol from air
SOZOPOL WITHOUT TEARS
Should I visit Sozopol? There is hardly a place that divides opinion more than this town on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Yes, by all means do go to Sozopol, will urge some of your Bulgarian friends.

roman plovdiv theatre
EXPLORING ROMAN PLOVDIV
Plovdiv claims 7,000 years of uninterrupted history, starting from prehistoric times, but the earliest visible traces of this long past are much younger.

An Orthodox Satan is about to devour a unrighteous man in the village of Teshovo, western Bulgaria
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Guidebooks boast about the beauty and artistic importance of the murals in Bulgaria's churches that date from the later centuries of Ottoman domination.

thracian gold treasure
TOMBS, TREASURES AND ROSES
Everyone has heard about the Valley of the Egyptian Kings, but Bulgaria has its equivalent.