The picturesque town of Nessebar (population 9 440 inhabitants), one of the oldest European towns, is situated on a small peninsula, 37 km north-east of Bourgas and 429 km east of Sofia. The beach is considered to be the best along the Black Sea Coast. Today Nessebar is one of the resorts most preferred by tourists. A popular tourist attraction, it charms visitors with its narrow cobbled streets, wooden houses, courtyards, taverns and romantic atmosphere. The old town is famous for its mediaeval churches, and buildings with beautiful facades and well-preserved interiors, remnants of the Slav and Greek Orthodox communities that were part of the peninsula’s history. Nessebar is an architectural and historic monument of Bulgarian culture and one of the most favoured tourist resorts along the southern coast.
The beginning of human life in Nessebar dates back to the 2nd millenium BC. The town is the successor of the ancient Thracian settlement called Messembria founded in the 2nd century AD. Its name means "town of Melsa".
In 513 BC Greek colonizers from Megara, Vizantion and Halkedon settled in Messambria. They built fortress walls, a theatre, a gymnasion, and temples of Apolon, Zeus and Dionysius. The prosperity of the town began in the 4th century BC and continued till the conquest of the Black Sea colonies by the Romans. In 72 BC the legions of Mark Lukul conquered Messembria and in the course of 4 centuries of Roman dominance the town declined. After the decline of the Roman Empire in 395, the sea town remained within the boundaries of Byzantium and gradually turned into a religious and economic centre with an important strategic significance. In the 5th-6th century Messembria was encircled by a new fortress wall, the remains of which can still be seen today. During the early Byzantine period a lot of churches were built. Such are the three-ship basilicas St. Sofia and St. Mary Eleusa.
In 681 the Bulgarian State was established. In 812 Khan Krum conquered Messembria after two-week siege and included it in the boundaries of Bulgaria. The contemporary name of the town - Nessebar dates back since then. The period 11th-14th century was quite turbulent for Nessebar. The town, situated on a border, constantly changed its dominion - at times part of Bulgaria, at times - of Byzantium. Nessebar reached its apogee during the rule of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331-1371). It took an active part in the trade of Bulgaria with the marine republics of Venice, Genova and Dubrovnik. In 1366 after a continuous siege Nessebar was occupied by the knights of Amedei VI Savoiski. The next year they gave the town to Byzantium. About a century later (1453) Nessebar was occupied by the Osman Turk Karadja Bey and included in the Empire. The evidences about the history of the settlement from the 15th-19th century are quite scanty. In 16th-18th century there was a big shipyard in the outskirts of the town which belonged to the Sultan.
The main means of living of the population were fishing and trade with fish, wine-growing and extraction of salt. During the Renaissance (18th-19th century) beautiful two-storey houses were built - wonderful examples of the so called "black sea house" - with broken up facades, bow windows, balconies and a lot of windows. After the Liberation (1878) the rich past of Nessebar attracted the attention of archaeologists and historians.
In 1920 the first organized archaeological excavations began. From 1956 Nessebar was declared an archaeological and architectural reserve. In 1983 the Old Town of Nessebar was included in the world heritage list of UNESCO.
The churches in Nessebar are 41. Not all of them have preserved their full brilliance but even their present condition strongly impresses tourists. One of the oldest sights is the Basilica situated on the seashore, built probably at the beginning of the 5th century. St. John the Baptist Church was built in the 10th century and is a typical cross-domed church with three naves. St. John Aliturgetos Church is considered to be the most beautiful one. The typical houses of Nessebar built in the unique style of the 16th-19th centuries are interesting architectural monuments.
There is a regular bus transport, connecting Bourgas and Pomorie with Nessebar and Sunny Beach. There is water transport to Bourgas; one can often hire a local boatman to transport him or her to different places in the bay.