The many unusual churches of Nessebar

2014-07-25T09:18:57+00:002 September 2012|Art and architecture, Bulgaria, UNESCO World Heritage|
Sveti Spas (Church of Saint Spass), Nessebar, Bulgaria

Sveti Spas (Church of Saint Spass)

During the Middle Ages, the city of Menembria on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast had more than 40 churches. Quite impressive for a such a tiny place. (Some claim it’s the town with the highest number of churches per capita anywhere. I’m not so sure, though; I’ve seen numerous small towns in the American Midwest with an impressive number of churches).

Today, the city is better known as Nessebar. Or Nesebar, Nesebur, or, probably most correctly, Несебър. UNESCO has deemed the Ancient City of Nessebar worthy of special protection, so I’ll go with UNESCO’s spelling.

Many of the churches are now in partial ruins, like Hagia Sophia below. Although, to be fair, Sophia doesn’t look bad for a 1500-year-old.

Hagia Sophia (Church of Saint Sophia), Nessebar, Bulgaria

Hagia Sophia (Church of Saint Sophia)

Others are very well preserved, and look like exclusive stone villas, one lovelier than the next.

Church of the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, Nessebar, Bulgaria Church of St. John the Baptist, Nessebar, Bulgaria

The prettiest church in Nessebar

is Church of Christ Pantocrator. It’s richly decorated, including an interesting band of swastikas at the corners (it’s a bit difficult to spot them here; they’re below the small, white pyramids on the right side of the photo). Nothing to do with Nazism this; the swastika predates that brutal ideology by several millennia. Here, I’m told, it was the symbol of an ancient sun cult.

Church of Christ Pantocrator, Nessebar, Bulgaria

Church of Christ Pantocrator

Pantocrator is a true work of art. Appropriate then, that it now houses a gallery, exhibiting the works of Bulgarian artists. As I walk past on my way to Nessebar’s old harbour, the sun sets, casting the last rays of the day on the red, green, and white tiles of Pantocrator. Beautiful!

unesco logo

The Ancient City of Nessebar is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

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  1. Steve 4 September 2012 at 0421 - Reply

    Love visiting super old churches! I have a friend from Bulgaria–I’ll have to have her take us around Nessebar.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2112 - Reply

      Oh, do! Many interesting and beautiful spots along the Black Sea coast. Sozopol is another favourite of mine.

  2. Vivi 5 September 2012 at 1913 - Reply

    I’ve been there 15 years ago, the Hagia Sophia church has been in a better condition at that time. I really feel sorry about that gorgeous architectural wonder, this kind of oriental architecture makes me always wondering about the engineering of the renaissance.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2113 - Reply

      Agree, interesting and thougth-provoking architecture.

  3. Abby 6 September 2012 at 0933 - Reply

    Oh my gosh those photos are stunning!!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2113 - Reply

      Thanks, Abby.

  4. [email protected] 6 September 2012 at 0956 - Reply

    Stunning photos Sophie. Thank heavens UNESCO has protected these beautiful churches. Thank you for introducing me to Nessebar.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2114 - Reply

      Thanks. Yes, I don’t think the town is all that well-known outside of Europe.

  5. Jackie Smith 6 September 2012 at 1715 - Reply

    I love this post! Those photos are stunning and I found the information so interesting!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2115 - Reply

      Thanks, Jackie.

  6. Leigh 6 September 2012 at 1828 - Reply

    What fantastic detail in these churches and the lighting you captured on them is equally wonderful.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2116 - Reply

      Yes, they really have the most extraordinary details. Best to have a little time and get up close.

  7. jade 6 September 2012 at 1903 - Reply

    what a great visit- I love the colors of these photos. they almost look like they were taken many many years ago.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2117 - Reply

      They were taken seven years ago – but yes, they do seem older than that.

  8. Wends of Journeys and Travels 7 September 2012 at 0358 - Reply

    I just love this one. The churches of Bulgaria is impressive and the Church of Christ Pantocrator is inviting and inspirational.

    Wished I can go to Bulgaria and see them too 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2118 - Reply

      Hope you will someday 🙂

  9. That is a beautiful church – thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2118 - Reply

      Thanks, Becca.

  10. InsideJourneys 7 September 2012 at 0501 - Reply

    Beautiful! My kinds of place, Nessebar. Old churches and a heritage site – lovely combination. Just added this to my list. Thanks, Sophie!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2119 - Reply

      It’s indeed a surprising little town.

  11. Mary @ The World Is A Book 7 September 2012 at 0624 - Reply

    Beautiful churches! I love how well-preserved they are. I don’t think I’ve seen many pictures of Bulgaria so this is all wonderful and interesting information. The Church of Christ Pantocrator church has such unique decorations and architecture.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2120 - Reply

      You’re right. Bulgaria doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. Shame really.

  12. Devon 7 September 2012 at 1019 - Reply

    Its an fabulous kind of church I love it…Thanks a lot for sharing..

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2120 - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Devon.

  13. ItalianNotes 7 September 2012 at 1500 - Reply

    I’ve only passed through Bulgaria a couple of times, but sights like these churches make me want to linger.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2121 - Reply

      Nessebar is worth a a linger…

  14. Cathy Sweeney 7 September 2012 at 2348 - Reply

    The swastika as a symbol of an ancient sun cult.– yet another interesting fact I’ve learned from following your blog. The churches are really lovely and the Church of Christ so unusual and beautiful.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2123 - Reply

      The first time I encountered a swastika (outside of WWII history) was in Bali many years ago. Sad how Hitler removed it from its ancient context and ruined it…

  15. Jade Johnston - 8 September 2012 at 0440 - Reply

    I love old church ruins… i need to check this out

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2124 - Reply

      Next time in Europe…

  16. Andriana 8 September 2012 at 0806 - Reply

    Hello dear, I’m pleased you like so much one of the most beautiful coast cities in Bulgaria! I’d like to point out that it’s not Menembria but Messembria. Greetings from Bulgaria, you have a lovely blog!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2109 - Reply

      Thanks, Andriana. I’ve heard – and read – both Menembria and Messembria as names used during ancient times. It’s great to get a local’s comment. You live in a beautiful and intriguing country 🙂

  17. Vera Marie Badertscher 8 September 2012 at 1745 - Reply

    You’re right about Sophia, she doesn’t look a day over 1200!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2124 - Reply


  18. Nancie 9 September 2012 at 0202 - Reply

    These old churches have so much personality. You have captured them beautifully.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2124 - Reply

      They really do…

  19. Natasha von Geldern 9 September 2012 at 1200 - Reply

    What beautiful stone work! And a fascinating part of the world!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2125 - Reply

      So many wonderful surprises all over Eastern Europe really…

  20. Sabrina 9 September 2012 at 1947 - Reply

    Haha! I’m with you, I doubt this town has the towns in the bible belt beat 🙂 We have a church every few blocks. But… no doubt that Nessebar has the prettier ones!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2126 - Reply

      That’s what I remember from small-town Oklahoma, too 🙂

  21. Krista 10 September 2012 at 0420 - Reply

    What a beautiful place to explore. 🙂 It is my dream to go to Bulgaria and would love to visit this town one day. 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2012 at 2128 - Reply

      Hope you do, Krista. It’s fairly easy to visit, there are flights from lots of European towns to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Often inexpensive.

  22. Turtle 16 September 2012 at 1243 - Reply

    Beautiful shots! It looks like a great place to discover…

  23. Mary @Green Global Travel 10 November 2012 at 0308 - Reply

    Great photos!

  24. Adriana 9 April 2016 at 1817 - Reply

    Wow! Amazing photos!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 April 2016 at 1520 - Reply


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