Today was incredible! Today was our day off and also the one on which we embarked on a journey to Nessebar which is located about two hours away from our hotel. The drive was beautiful. We drove along the Northern shore and passed the lake and canal in Varna, a ship yard that was the third biggest in Europe at one time, and some beautiful forests. We passed over some mountains and then began the descent down into Nessebar which is slowly becoming engulfed by a new resort town that is springing up along the shores of the sea down that direction.
To reach Nessebar, we had to drive across a small peninsula which before it was paved, apparently was covered by the waves in the winter and then froze over making the town into an island and unreachable by land. As we were deposited at the walls of the city, our tour guide began to tell us the history of the island.
The present-day town is the successor of a Thracian fishermen's settlement named Menabryia (meaning literally "the town of Mena") the foundation of which dates back to the 2nd century BC. Later it remained the only Doric colony along the Black Sea coast, as the rest were typical Ionic settlements. The Greeks named it Messembria (which was later transformed into Nessebar by the Slavs), and it grew into a big and well-fortified town-state. The town benefited from natural protection from both the land and the sea. Remains suggest the existence of aqueducts, a sewage system, fortified wails, an amphitheatre and numerous cult edifices (including an impressive temple of Apollo) at that time. The town became a popular commercial centre as a variety of goods from the Aegean and the Mediterranean regions were traded there and it also minted its own coins in the 5th century BC. Two centuries later, it founded its own colony called Navlohos near Obzor. The whole land between Nessebar and Obzor used to be a granary that supplied the two colonies with food as well as goods of exchange. In the 1st century BC the town surrendered to Marcus Lukulus' legions and was subjected top Roman domination, during which the construction of a second colony of Messembria began and was finished. The second colony, built to the south of Nessebar, was named Anhialo (present-day Pomorie).
In the early Middle Ages the town rebuilt its fortress walls and stayed part of the Byzantine Empire until 812 when the proto-bulgarian Khan Kroum conquered it, including it in the territory of Bulgaria. During the reign of Ivan Alexander the town went thorough a cultural and economic boom, and occupied substantial territories beyond the stretch of the peninsula. It was around that period when most of the churches of Nessebar, remains of which are to be found in the present-day town, were built. In 1366 the knights of Amadeus of Savoy conquered the town, and then sold it to Byzantium for 15,000 golden ducats. In 1453, shortly after Constantinople fell under Turkish domination the town was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and went through a period of decay. The Liberation found Nessebar as a small fishermen's settlement, with well-developed viticulture on the hills above the town.
Our first stop was the Archaeological Museum where we looked at pots and stones and grave stones and things like that. Not different to the naked eye or untrained historian than what we had previously seen in Varna. The best part was downstairs in the museum. The people had rescued icons from the 41 churches in the town and preserved them. They were beautiful. All in bold colors displaying numerous Biblical scenes. The Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, Jesus, Jesus's crucifixion, the beheading of John the Baptist, and so many more. They made the museum trip.
After the museum we wandered around the town and gazed at the churches or what remained of them. According to legend, the churches of Nessebar were no less than 41, which, when compared to the small population of the town, make Nessebar one of the world's settlements with the highest number of churches per capita. One of the oldest sanctuaries is the Basilica, built on the coast most probably around the beginning of 5th century. It was amazing.
One funny part was a man who was sitting inside playing a stringed instrument. When he heard that we were from the US, he started playing "Home on the Range." Not really a song I expected to hear here...
The Old Bishop's Residence located in the centre of the town is probably the most impressive church in Nessebar. It is more than 25m long and 22m wide while its three naves were decorated with ceramic circles and arches. That one was neat and the inside is supposedly preserved as well, but it was locked and hadn't opened for the summer tourist season yet.
Lunch was good again. We started with the delicious shopska salad and then moved onto an incredibly hot vegetable soup which we enjoyed with bread. The main course was chicken in what looked like the mishmash from one of our earlier meals. The dessert was a different kind of dessert. It looked kind of like a caterpillar, according to Faith and Tyler. It was a light pastry that was surrounded by and covered in a maple sugar.
After lunch we were free to wander around through the streets. There were women selling lace, men selling soccer shirts, honey (which Nessebar is known for), and so much more. My favorite was an Indian man who had the most beautiful drinking glasses I have ever seen. When he found out that we were American, he was so happy. He said that we were the first Americans he had ever had in his shop and would give us all a free glass of tea. The tea was amazing and while we were admiring his beautiful glasses, he proceeded to tell us about them. The glasses were rimmed with either gold or silver and were all impeccably made. When he dropped one, though, we all about had heart attacks. Once we regained our normal heartbeats and saw that the glass wasn't broken, we were pretty impressed. Then he set it on the floor and stood on it. This gentleman was definitely not a small man and we all stood there in awe as the glass didn't break again. It was astounding. Glancing at our watches though we realized we needed to head back to the bus.
The bus ride back was a quiet one as we either slept or looked out the window at the beautiful scenery. We stopped at what was their version of a gas station. They had a garage door with Mickey Mouse on it which I found very amusing... who knew he was big over here too? The bus continued on until we got to Varna where some of us got off so we could go see Aida at the Bulgaria Opera House.
Aida was incredible! A brief history and synopsis of Aida is that it was written by Giuseppe Verdi in 1871 after he was asked by Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt. In the four acts Aida, an Ethiopian princess, is captured and brought into slavery in Egypt. A military commander, Radames, struggles to choose between his love for her and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. To complicate the story further, Radames is loved by the Pharaoh's daughter Amneris, although he does not return the feeling. In the end Aida tricks Radames into betraying Egypt and he is buried alive but Aida sneaks in and together they die. It was beautiful. The costumes, the set, the singers, although it was somewhat difficult to understand anything as none of us were fluent Italian speakers and we couldn't read the Bulgarian subtitles. All in all though, it deepened my sense of music appreciation because even if we couldn't understand the language, the music still told a story. That night I went to bed and dreamed of pyramids and music. A lovely experience.