Nessebar, Bulgaria: A romantic walk through the wooden city
January 1, 1970
The city of Nessebar is situated in southeastern part of Bulgaria at the Black sea coast. It is, as one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria, attracting travellers from all around the world by its magnificence and romance. The historical roots of the city are reaching to the times of antiquity, when in the Bronze age the tribe of Thracians founded their settlement at the territory of today’s Nessebar. Back then they called the settlement Melsambria, after its founder and leader Melsa (Melsambria = The city of Melsa).
In the 6th century the Greeks started to build many temples and schools in the city and that is how it started expanding – the huge city walls, leading around the whole city, were built in this period as well. Later Melsambria became a part of the Roman empire and Christian churches were built and the city was all renovated. In the time flow Nessebar was also a part of the Ottoman empire, there were battles raging around and diseases spreading, but the city of Nessebar is still standing with its majesty and after all this time still taking the breath of its visitors away.
How to get to Nessebar?
Of course that depends on where you are coming from. If you are travelling from another country, the best thing you can do is to take a plane to a city located only 18 km from Nessebar, Burgas. It is a small airport but in the summer very busy as everyone is coming for vacation at the seaside. There is also a lowcost air company Wizzair providing flights to Burgas from London Luton (UK), Warsaw and Katowice (Poland) and from Budapest (Hungary). Right behind the airport gate you can take a bus directly to Nessebar for only 6 BGN (bulgarian lev) which means 3 Euros.
If you already are in Bulgaria and want to visit Nessebar, then the fastest and the most comfortable way to travel there is hitchhiking. Bulgarians with their Balkan nature are very outgoing and curious and to take hitchhikers is a small adventure for them. In case you are not exactly an adventurous type of person, there is still the option of a bus or railway transport. The long distance buses in Bulgaria are roughly twice more expensive than the trains but will get you to your destination twice faster. On the other hand, if you want to travel in the night then the train is recommended. Considering that the bulgarian railway’s system is not very developed yet, it is not a very pleasant to travel by train on a hot summer day – you can enjoy a gorgeous view on the way through the stunning Balkan landscape though.
What to see in Nessebar?
As I already indicated, the city abounds with a very rich history which is one of the reasons why it also got on a list of world cultural heritage of UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization). It is perhaps the biggest example of the ancient architecture at the Black sea coast. Nessebar is being called “the wooden city” for a reason – all the houses and buildings are made of wood with stone foundations.
The history lovers will appreciate experienced tour guides offering their services in several languages, I personally prefer night walks through nearly empty city and getting lost in secluded places and alleys Nessebar brims over with. On this kind of walks a person can feel how the history is breathing on him/her from every single brick, how the mystery is hiding behind every corner and how dinky he/she is comparing to all these old monumental constructions, which has been there for centuries. This atmosphere is even more underlined by the local grannies, sitting on their stools, knitting or crocheting and selling their ware or their homemde fig jam, about which, by the way, they say it is a natural aphrodisiac. The historical center of Nessebar is pretty small, yet it is a crazy labyrinth and it is very easy to get lost in there – but I assure you on each of these wanderings you will discover something new and beautiful.
The city gate and its “keeper”
Already on your arrival you will notice the old wooden wind mill on the left shore of the peninsula, which represents the typical Nessebar architecture.
And right behind the wind mill the ancient ruins of city walls and the city gate, which are standing there since the 6th century, will amaze you.
The entrance to the old city of Nessebar also has its own special “keeper” – an old man playing bagpipes and amusing people by his heart-touching performance. At the first sight a person might think, that he is just another one of these drunk homless people, but the opposite’s right. During my last visit of Nessebar he invited me to join him, while he was drinking his afternoon coffee on one of the 14 thousand years old rocks, he lit a cigarette and started to talk about his life, about his travels to Syria and Iraq, about his first love (who coincidentally was from Czech republic just like I am) and about Nessebar. He was looking around with the memories in his eyes and said: “This is where, 25 years ago, I started to play bagpipes”. Since that, he comes every summer and plays there, at the gate, to make people happy. Except for bulgarian he speaks also russian and english and I’m pretty sure, that he could make some conversation in other languages, too, because he surprised me with absolutely perfect Czech.
Churches and museums
Right after you get in the city you will see an iron model of the city with marked historical points, which can help you to orient. If you continue down the street, soon you will reach one of the beautiful churches Nessebar is full of – the church of Christ Pantokrator from the 19th century. Right in front of the church, you can visit a film museum – they have several props inside from different movies (among others also a Tardis).
A little further is the St. Sofia church, which is the oldest one in Nessebar, from 6th century. There are 13 churches still preserved in the city so I will not get into details here about every single one – there are placards with very detailed informations next to each of the monuments.
Two of the churches work now as museums, there is also an an archaeological museum and a museum of etnography.
Another unique thing in Nessebar is partialy preserved water storage system from 6th century – I say partialy preserved, but in actuality it is a big pit in the ground and if there wasn’t for the placard I would never know. It makes you think, though, how unbelievable it is, that people such a long time ago were so smart and skillful, to invent and build this.
And what to do except for walking?
As I said – Nessebar is a peninsula, which means port, which means fishes! Mussels! Shrimps! Calamari (squids) ….It would be a sin not to taste the Black sea sea fruit. But as it happens, the beautiful places are usually expensive. But don’t worry, there is a solution for everything in Nessebar. If you are not exactly a millionaire and you don’t want to pay 50 Euros for dinner, but also you don’t want to eat kebab on a bench in a park, go to new Nessebar. It is very close, the prices are way lower and it is still delicious.
Nessebar is also the most romantic place in Bulgaria and the restaurants bet on it – if you are looking for a place for a romantic celebration of a wedding anniversary or engagement, you will for sure choose one of the beautiful spots right at the sea shore.
It wouldn’t be a visit of Bulgaria without tasting the real bulgarian rakija [rakiya] – spirit made of grapes, bulgarian wine and for teetotallers a rose lemonade. In most of the restaurants and bars you can notice their own grape plants growing all around the place, giving them the fruits to make the alcohol of. It is a culture for every bulgarian family to make their own alcohol at home.
There are also many lovely coffee houses, where you can taste the “turkish” coffee the way people in East Europe drink it.
I, as a Czech person living abroad, recieved the news about a Czech restaurant in Nessebar with a looot of joy – there is a very big choice of draught Czech beer (and you can even draught it yourself)!
For shopaholics the town is a paradise – it is full of little shops and stands with handmade jewelry, forniture, leather and wooden ware and mainly the rose cosmetic products. Bulgaria is one of the biggest producers of rose oil, which is being used to make parfums and Bulgarians are duly proud of it – the rose parfums, creams and soaps are being sold on every corner.
Relax, swim and have fun!
The best time to walk around Nessebar is during the day – since the morning ’till at around 3 p.m. the city is almost empty – all of the tourists are on a beach. And talking about a beach …
If you are looking for a sandy beach, go to new Nessebar – there is a route heading there from the old city and it is not very far. In the beggining, the beach is overcrowded and loud, but the further you go, the less people you meet and in the almost end of the beach is very nice and calm. There is also a nudist beach in the end.
If you don’t want to walk too much and a small shelly beach is enough for you, you can find one in the old Nessebar. The beach is most of the time almost empty and very peaceful.
In the night, you can meet door-to-door Romany bands walking around and performing an incredible show for you for a small payment.
It’s very funny sometimes, because they are more – we were very lucky, because at some point when one of the bands was playing for us, another one came and started to play, too, so there were like 12 Romany guys standing around our table with their instruments and dances. They both tried to outcry the other one with different songs so eventually it was like a visit in a mental hospital, a lot of fun, though.
If you are party animal, and all you’re looking for is “drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll” then Sunny Beach is a place for you. Sunny Beach is artificially built holiday resort, for me, personally, totaly ruining the magic of beautiful Nessebar. It is situated right on the other side of the coast, in front of Nessebar. There are over 300 hotels, dance clubs and bars and you can hear the noise of the night life from there every night, no matter what day it is. It is a favourite place for young people from all around the world to party and drink until they pass out. There are many buses going from Nessebar to Sunny Beach during the day, also you can walk there – the path is by the seashore all along. There are also boats taking to Sunny Beach from the north port of the old city.
Whatever you decide to do, I am sure you will love the city as much as I did. The city has certain ways to surprise everyone, who enters. It engulfs you and you just want to stay in the moments you spend there forever. It makes you wanna cry, it makes you fall in love, it makes you feel light and happy to be alive and it gives you many unforgettable memories. So pack your luggage, grab a snack and hit the road – let the magic of Nessebar take you back in time with the voices of seagulls and murmur of the sea.