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If Nessebar was Pompeii

The sea rumbled along the bare shores of ancient Nessebar. Its streets were completely quiet, deserted. All the market stalls had vanished, all the shutters were closed, and all the doors were bolted. In silence, each house has obediently bent roof in the midday haze. The sun had risen high in the August sky and its countless rays, like golden spears, were dancing the dance of the conqueror—at that moment it was the solo emperor over the city!
Архивна снимка към Несебър

In front of us opens a chance to see Nessebar in a unique way which we will find nowhere else, but in this dream:

Nesse­bar in never a place for rest. This small pen­in­su­lar is ever conquered by vis­it­ors. It has become a tourist jungle: every­where have appeared market stalls, ice cream refri­ger­at­ors, silver shops. No matter when you come, there is always an intrus­ive roar of visual ‘noise’ that over­lays the time­less voices of the old houses and the stone churches.

Yet, in this dream Nesse­bar is as silenced as Pompeii: it resembles a ghost ship that is lost in the sea. Its empty streets look like long-dried river­beds. On either side the houses of the rich Black Sea mer­chants are stand­ing. The stone walls of their ground floors are merging together into a one uni­formed barrier. The grain barns that are behind them, as well as the dried fish, boats, oars, lan­terns, and fishing nets are now useless, hidden from sight, locked. The upper floors, typ­ic­ally covered with wooden boards, are reach­ing over the streets to one another in order to hide from the cruel spears of the sun, like what a flock of sheep does at noon.

Whatever dir­ec­tion we choose to go, they all look the same; they have become alike, and the sound of the waves—monotonous.

In this unvar­ied scenery only the stone Ortho­dox medi­eval churches stand out. Usually they are over­looked, but now, when Nesse­bar is empty, they draw your atten­tion with all their variety and pic­tur­esque energy.

Архивна снимка към Несебър

Lords in a Crowd

They have occu­pied stra­tegic loc­a­tions around the city: we find them in the squares, cross­roads, and coastal alleys. They are like archi­tec­tural oases in a desert of heated cobble­stones, gray walls, and beaten by the salt sea winds wooden boards. The churches of Nesse­bar look unreal, like images form a lost world. They, and perhaps an occa­sional fig garden, are the only land­marks to tour around.

Accord­ing to one legend, there was a time when in Nesse­bar were stand­ing 40 churches and 10 mon­as­ter­ies! This story sounds sus­pi­ciously exag­ger­ated, however when you realize how small is the area of Nesse­bar and count a dozen churches that are already here, you would be com­pelled to acknow­ledge that in every legend there must be some truth.

Surely, a large number of churches has been dis­covered in other medi­eval towns. But in Nesse­bar the course of time has been more for­giv­ing. Most of them have sur­vived to the present day with stand­ing walls, and some­times with stand­ing roofs!

The churches of Nesse­bar don’t impress by their size (they are com­par­able with the sur­round­ing build­ings). Nor do they impress by  their shape (it is usually the simplest: a long rect­an­gu­lar). What dis­tin­guishes them is their vibrant outer dec­or­a­tion. It is like a cere­mo­nial garment of hon­or­able lords. It is bright, complex, poly­chrome, adorned with many details.

St. John the Baptist, built in 10th century 

St. Stephan, built in 11th-13th century 

The Picturesque Style

In this garment are ‘woven’ archi­tec­tural ele­ments such as: arches, blind niches, frontons, can­ti­levers, columns, and more. They act as a relief, as a gentle rough­ness where shadows are chasing each other all day. They charm us by the vivid colors of the natural mater­i­als they are made of: white stone, red brick, grey sand­stone. The most dis­tin­guished pat­terns are stripes of glazed ceramic tulips, roses, and circles, making the con­vin­cing impres­sion of never fading stone flowers. This dec­or­a­tion gradu­ally becomes more rich and unfolds in more complex com­pos­i­tions from lower to upper parts of the churches. It cap­tures your eyes and moves your gaze upwards, even­tu­ally reach­ing to the sky, where the sun is await­ing. You ima­gin­a­tion takes a deep breath of freedom: The medi­eval builder has created an illu­sion of reality beyond the surface of the walls—all archi­tec­tural ele­ments on the facades con­trib­ute to an image of the kingdom of Heaven, they offer a stolen glance of a city, of the heav­enly Jer­u­s­alem. 

St. Archangels Michael and Gabriel, built in 13th century

Christ Pan­to­crator (All-power­ful), built in 13th-14th century 

The Ancient City of Nessebar is among my favorite heritage sites in Bulgaria. I like it because it is a combination between geographical wander and long-lasting history. However, I am often sad because its unique character is obscured by commerce and mass tourism. On an ordinary day it appears no different than any other resort on the Black Sea cost. And here is why, in this article I tried to imagine it on an EXTRAordinary day. How the small rocky peninsula would appear if there were nobody on its streets, if it were a desolated city, if it were called “The Bulgarian Pompeii”.

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Petar Petrov

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Hello,
My name is Petar and I write articles 📝 about cultural heritage and run this website.

I find the stories that I like to write in the dark and breathless mines ⚒ of our cultural legacy. There, they look like rough diamonds 💠, which for you I will carefully extract, separate from the surrounding material, blast 💥 them if needed, polish and reshape them in order to show you their hidden value💍.

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If Nessebar was Pompeii

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