NESSEBAR or MESSY BAR? – Bulgaria

Nessebar, Bulgaria.

Nessebar, Bulgaria.



‘Some people call it not Nessebar, but Messy bar.’ Our guide Stefan is almost apologetic. And indeed the first impression is not promising.

Was UNESCO being overgenerous when it handed this little Bulgarian peninsula a World Heritage listing?

From our ship’s berth we can see a blue and white fishing boats drawn up on a pebbly beach in front of crumbling stone walls. So far so good.

Colourful boats on the beach and a crumbling wall look authentically traditional.

Colourful boats on the beach and a crumbling wall look authentically traditional.

But as soon as we’re on shore we’re met by rows of gaudy ice-cream stalls, bars and pizza restaurants. Souvenir shops sell the predictable beachside fridge magnets and t-shirts with hilarious slogans of the ‘Sex Instructor – First Lesson Free’ variety.

Over the last twenty years, tourist numbers in this Black Sea resort have jumped ten-fold, to over 300,000 per year. When beach towns become holiday towns, ugliness is bound to follow.

Most people no doubt come here for the sun and the sea, rather than the ancient culture that holds more appeal for us sophisticated Australians. We have sun and sea back home and most of our coastal towns are not notable for their architecture or the beauty of their main shopping drags.

St Nicholas is doing his best to impress, but he has competition on the ground.

St Nicholas is doing his best to impress, but he has competition on the ground.

Stefan fills us in on some details of the town’s ancient Thracian and Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman origins, then after a quick dip into the museum we set out to visit Nessebar’s ancient churches.

This is where the World Heritage comes in. Nessebar apparently has more churches per capita than anywhere in Bulgaria, or was it the world? The tiny brick churches, built with alternate layers of brick and stone to help them withstand earthquakes, have survived many hundreds of years.

Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Church of Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

Church of St Sophia - 5th or 6th century.

Church of St Sophia – 5th or 6th century.

Church of Christ Pantacrator - still going after seven hundred years.

Church of Christ Pantacrator – still going after seven hundred years.

As it happens, Mevrouw T and I had been in Nessebar some years earlier, travelling with her cousin who was then living in Bulgaria. She arranged for us to stay in a family home which offered a very cheap ‘room’ – for about $5 a night, from memory.

We were squeezed into what was obviously a teenager’s bedroom, with the boy’s personal stuff hastily crammed into cupboards to accommodate us. All fine, until the lad staggered home at 2am and burst in on us, very surprised to find strangers in his bed.

There are still some quiet areas, with traditional wooden houses.

There are still some quiet areas, with traditional wooden houses.


Nessebar houses,attractive  wood above, stone (and souvenir shop) below.

Nessebar houses,attractive wood above, stone (and souvenir shop) below.


This time our accommodation was far more comfortable. After a few hours strolling in Nessebar we could return to the luxury of our cabin on cruise ship l’Austral, and watch the sunset as we steamed towards Odessa.

The writer was the guest of Compagnie du Ponant.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “NESSEBAR or MESSY BAR? – Bulgaria

  1. younger daughter, who is studying for Architecture was fascinated by those wonderful old wooden houses – would have loved to see more of those.

  2. David

    Frieda and I loved your account of a bit of Bulgaria where we lived for 3 years. We too loved the old churches, but except for the occasional tourist running in and out we saw nary a Saint paying his or her respects to the Creator.

    • Very nice to hear from you, David. Yes, it wasn’t clear whether any of the old churches were still in operation. But to be fair, there are probably other churches in the newer part of the town which are not for tourist use only.

  3. Tony S

    Good to hear you are spending your travelling time near Houses of God. So many sins, so much of a backlog. But is anyone on duty in the confessionals? Tony S

    • There was a lady sitting in a little booth, Tony, but I think she was collecting fees they charge for photographing the frescoes inside. She looked sympathetic though, so you probably could confess to her, and if it were really a bad sin she’d call a priest.

  4. Julien

    Reblogged this on Bulgaria and commented:
    #Bulgaria #Nessebar

  5. Pingback: WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: SEA – the Black one aint black | Richard Tulloch's LIFE ON THE ROAD

  6. Being overrun by noisy and demanding tourists would turn even the quaintest little nook of a village into something ghastly. The tourist industry is really a double-edged sword sometimes…

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