Nesebar (ancient Mesembria) is a town on the Black Sea in Bulgaria situated on a small peninsula that is linked with the mainland with a narrow isthmus.
In 72 BC the town was conquered without resistance by Roman armies. After a temporary occupation in the beginning of 1st century it was included permanently in the limits of Roman Empire. Mesembria, as the town began to be called, preserved untouched its fortification walls and big public buildings. Mesembria continued to mint own bronze coins and remained an important trade and cultural center along the Black sea coast of Roman Thrace. After moving the capital of Roman Empire in Constantinople and accepting the Christianity as official religion, favorable conditions for the renaissance of Black sea towns were created. New Christian temples – basilicas, fortification walls, new water supplying system and town terms were built in Mesembria. All these works were accomplished by leading architects and builders of the Empire on the analogy of capital prototypes. The central church of Mesembria was called St. Sophia, as that was in Constantinople.
For the first time the town was included in the confines of Bulgarian State in 812, when khan Krum conquered it after fortnight siege and Slaves and Bulgarians settled here. For a longer time Nessebar, as Slavonic people called him, was Bulgarian during the reign of tsar Simeon the Great. During 12th and 13th century active trade links were developed with the Mediterranean and Adriatic lands as well as with the kingdoms in the north of Danube. The churches “St. Stephen”(11th century) and “St. John the Baptist” (11th century) were built and wall-painted; they were prototypes of later built masterpiece - churches in Nessebar from 13th - 14th century.
About 62 years from 1201 to 1263 Nessebar, as well as the towns from the Black Sea coast to the south of Balkan Mountains, were included in the borders of Bulgarian state. The town played an important role in the political history of Bulgaria and Byzantium these times, when on the throne were Bulgarian tsars: Kaloyan, Ivan Asen II, Constantine Tih.
At this requested time were built churches “St. Paraskeva”(13th century), “St. Todor”(14th century), “St. Archangels Gabriel and Michael”(14th century) having direct analogies in the architecture from the capital Tarnovo. Nessebar was in good relations with Constantinople, Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Ancona, and Dubrovnik. After a period of about 40 years Byzantine domination Nesebar is incorporated again in the Bulgarian state in 1304 by tsar Todor Svetoslav.
The town enjoyed a particular prosperity during the ruler of tsar Ivan Alexander. New churches were built – “Christ Pantocrator” (13th – 14th century), “St. John Unsanctified“ (14th century), numerous monasteries developed spiritual activity in the regions of the town, like: “Holly Virgin”, “Christ Acropolis’s”, “St. Peter”, “St. Andrea”, “St. Iliya, “St. Vlassyi”, “St. Nicola from Emona”- centers of Hesychasm in Bulgaria. Here were educated also the future Bulgarian patriarchs. The family of the Tsar and the Tsar himself granted series of privileges to the Nesebar monasteries and gave them rich donations. According the legends, during its existence Nesebar had about 40 churches. At present are available data for 23 of them.
Now, because of the great number of well preserved churches, especially from the period 13th-14th centuries, the town is called by our and foreign researchers the Bulgarian Ravenna. During almost the entire history of the town, Nesebur was the seat of a bishop. Owing to this, two of the churches in Nesebur - “St. Sofia” and “St. Stefan” are more known as the Old Bishopric and New Bishopric.
In 1366 the town was conquered by the knights of Count Amedei VI of Savoya and later turned over to the Byzantine Emperor. It has fallen completely under the Ottoman rule, together with the capital Constantinople, in 1453.