Founded at the end of the Bronze Age by a Thracian tribe, Nessebar was one of the oldest towns on the western Black Sea Coast. Its name, which was originally Mesambria, originates from the Thracian words “Melsas”, the name of the legendary founder of the settlement and “bria”- the Thracian word for town. It is situated on a small peninsula (currently about 0.5 sq. km) that was connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. Mesambria’s first Greek colonizers were of Dorian origin who settled there at the end of the 6th century BCE. The town grew quickly and became one of the most powerful Greek colonies along the western Black Sea Coast. It had several temples, a gymnasium, a theatre, massive administrative buildings and corresponding infrastructure. Mesambria was also gradually surrounded by massive fortification walls. According to the ancient sources, it had two harbors, one to its north and another to its south. 

It reached the peak of its prosperity in the 3rd – 2nd centuries BCE, at which point it even minted its own gold coins. Commercial links connected it to towns from the Black Sea, Aegean, and Mediterranean coasts. Numerous imported precious artifacts now displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Nessebar provide material expression of the site’s rich economic, cultural, and spiritual life in this period. In 72 BCE, the town was conquered by Roman armies without resistance. In the beginning of 1st century CE, it was included within the borders of the Roman Empire. After the capital was moved to Constantinople in 324 CE and Christianity was accepted as the official religion of the Empire in 313 CE, favorable conditions arose for the renaissance of the town. New Christian basilicas, fortification walls, and water supply lines were built in the following centuries. 

The city was besieged and taken for the first time by the Bulgarians in 812 CE. It was situated in border region between the Byzantine Empire and Bulgarian State (Chanate and Empire) and periodically changed hands between the two powers. During the 12th and 13th centuries, active trade links were developed between Nessebar and some Mediterranean and Adriatic towns, such as Constantinople, Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Ancona, and Dubrovnik as well as with the countries along the Danube River. During almost its entire Christian history, Nessebar was the seat of a bishop. Many churches and monasteries were built in the city and its surroundings reflecting its prosperity and richness. 

Nessebar fell under Ottoman rule together with the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1453 CE. During the following centuries, the economic and spiritual life did not stop and Nessebar’s harbor continued to be an important import and export center. The shipyard’s production, one of the main subsidence of the town, served the Ottoman fleet and the local merchants. In 1878, Nessebar was liberated from the Ottomans and included into the borders of Bulgaria. Due to its unique natural position, rich cultural heritage, and the large number of well-preserved monuments (esp. churches from the 13th – 14th centuries), modern-day Nessebar is an archaeological and architectural reserve. In 1983 the Old Quarter of Nessebar was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. 

Underwater Heritage of Nessebar

Underwater studies in the region of Nessebar began in 1960 as a continuation of studies on land. Fifteen underwater archaeological campaigns were conducted in total (until 1983). During these studies, it was found that significant parts of the ancient town today are below the sea level. Ruins of fortification walls, towers (including a hexagonal one), staircases, gates and other structures from the pre-Roman era, Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, were traced in various sectors around the peninsula – northwest, north, northeast, east. The tracked layout of the fortification walls of Mesembria leads us to conclude that due to sea transgression, landslide activity, sea abrasion and a series of earthquakes, Nessebar has lost a significant intramural part of its territory. Today it lays underwater at a depth between 1,5 and 6 meters.