Off the coast of Bulgaria connected to the mainland by a narrow man-made isthmus is the tiny peninsula of Nessebar (also spelled Nesebur and Nesebar) where the Greeks established a trading post over 2500 years ago. Tours focus on the many small churches built during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983 and attracts many visitors. Just north of Nessebar is the Bulgarian resort area known as (believe it or not) Sunny Beach where many British citizens own vacation homes.
Our Bulgarian tour guide emphasized the abusive rule of the Ottomans and the oppression of the locals during the period. This is natural given Bulgaria’s history of struggle for territory with the Turks. While no doubt there was cultural abuse during the period, it sounded no more onerous than what was imposed on many minority populations in Western Europe. The Orthodox Christians were allowed to build new churches, but they had to be modest. An example of churches during this period was the St. Spass Church which has a very modest and small external appearance, but includes haunting religious wall paintings from the 17th century inside.
My favorite church interior was St. Stephen which included frescoes, icons and carved wooden furniture. Originally built in the 11th century, the interior was renovated in the 16th and 17th. The dark interior with its gold hallowed saints, ornately carved bishop’s throne and psaltery convey an appropriate awe on the visitor.
The Church of Christ Pantocrator (above) has the best preserved exterior, but is converted to a commercial art gallery.
It would be unfortunate to miss the small art museum, which includes stunning icons in the lower floor of the gallery.
The exterior of these churches are typical early Byzantine structures with stripped exterior ornamentation, including blue and green round glazed elements and round-arched windows.
Our tour included a Bulgarian folk dance performance that was a lot of fun at one of Sunny Beach’s restaurants.
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See more of our Nessebar pictures at: www.flickr.com/photos/72746900@N08/sets/72157628538091303/
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