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Church of Christ Pantocrator

Ulitsa Mitropolitska 13, 8231 Nesebar, Bulgaria

The Church of Christ Pantocrator is a medieval Eastern Orthodox church in Burgas Province’s eastern Bulgarian town of Nesebar (historical Mesembria). The Church of Christ Pantocrator, part of the Ancient Nesebar UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built during the 13th and 14th centuries and is renowned for its ornate external ornamentation. The church, which is now an art museum, is one of Bulgaria’s best-preserved churches from the Middle Ages.

The church is fashioned in the cross-in-square style of late Byzantium. It was built with stones and bricks using the opus mixtum method and measures 16 by 6.90 metres (52.5 ft 22.6 ft), 16 by 6.70 metres (52.5 ft 22.0 ft), or 14.20 by 4.80 metres (46.6 ft 15.7 ft, depending on the source). The thickness of the church’s walls is 0.80 meters (2.6 feet). The hue of the bricks imparts a reddish aspect to the chapel.

The church has a narthex and a cella (or “naos”) with a rectangular, elongated floor plan. The narthex is tiny, but underneath it lies a medieval tomb. There are four entrances to the church: two from the south and west leading to the cella, and two from the west and north leading to the narthex. The apse of the church is composed of three tiny sections that overlap to create a bigger element. The church’s prothesis and diaconicon are situated near the apse.

The dome, which is octagonal in form, dominates the center of the cella. It was supported by four shattered columns right underneath it. As was typical in modern Byzantine church building, the bell tower has been constructed on top of the narthex and extends from the rectangular main structure. Originally rectangular, the bell tower is now substantially destroyed. It was accessible from the south through a stone stairway.

The outside walls of the Church of Christ Pantocrator are notable for their lavish and colorful ornamentation. The most elaborately ornamented portion of the church is the east side with the apse, however all sides of the building are uniquely adorned. The most fundamental style of decorating consists of alternating strips of three or four rows of bricks and carved stones to produce an optical design. Along the east wall are rows of blind arches, four-leaved floral patterns, triangular embellishments, round turquoise ceramics, and brick swastika friezes. Ousterhout compares the overlaid arcades of the church to an aqueduct; an older example of this structure may be seen at the Cappadocian church of anl Kilise in Aksaköy, Turkey. Tourists find it odd and intriguing because swastikas are incorporated into the décor. It may be explained by the medieval Sun symbolism of the swastika.

The artwork of the elongated north and south walls consists of brick blind arches in the lower portion and a huge arch for each wall close to the dome with a columned window in the center. Above the lower arches on the north and south facades are windows. In addition to decorative decorations and ceramics, the dome contains eight windows, one on each of its eight sides. The paintings that were formerly painted on the inside walls of the church have only been survived in fragments.

Generally speaking, the Church of Christ Pantocrator dates to the late 13th or early 14th century. Robert G. Ousterhout of the University of Pennsylvania dates its construction to the middle of the 14th century. The author of Rough Guides, Jonathan Bousfield, traces its construction to the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria (1331–1371), although authority of Nesebar shifted often between the Second Bulgarian Empire and Byzantium during this period. The church is dedicated to Christ Pantocrator, a Greek word for God that translates to “All-Ruler.”

The church is situated on Mesembria Street, close to the entrance to the ancient town of Nesebar. Currently, building contains an art gallery exhibiting the works of Bulgarian painters. The Church of Christ Pantocrator is included in the Ancient City of Nesebar UNESCO World Heritage Site and the 100 Tourist Sites of Bulgaria since it is part of the ancient town of Nesebar. It has been under governmental protection as a “national antiquity” since 1927, and it was designated among Bulgaria’s culturally significant national monuments in 1964.

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