“Like a modest employee forced to maintain a Mercedes”: this is the feeling shared by many in Nessebar, a three-thousand-year-old Bulgarian site overlooking the Black Sea, which escaped being listed as an endangered world heritage site.

The ancient city, entered on the list in 1983, was not placed on the infamous classification, according to a decision Thursday by the UNESCO Committee meeting in Riyadh.

If in Venice we breathed a sigh of relief, many in Nessebar would on the contrary want to get rid of a status that is not easy to assume.

“People are angry, they want to get out of UNESCO!”, exclaims fisherman Vesselin Maksimov, 48 years old.

The experts “spend their time putting prohibitions”, he told AFP, still angry at having had to wait 13 months to be able to have the roof of his house repaired.

Originally a settlement site for the Thracians, this ancient Greek trading post brings together on its soil the remains of numerous civilizations: buildings from Antiquity, churches from the Middle Ages, wooden buildings from the 19th century…

Looking proud on its rocky peninsula, the town of 1,700 inhabitants has seen construction in recent years threatening traditional architecture, against a backdrop of endemic corruption in the poorest country in the EU.

And the repeated warnings from Unesco hardly seem to encourage the municipality to change course.

The UN agency is therefore concerned about the new development plan adopted in 2021, which prefers tourism to the preservation of the site. Contacted by AFP, the town hall did not wish to react.

In the cobbled streets, groups of visitors weave their way between cheap clothing stalls, souvenir shops and kebab shops.

Seduced by the view of the Black Sea, Marie Hruba, 20, who came from the Czech Republic on a “cheap” flight, appreciates “the beauty” of the place.

But behind the postcard, “the houses are falling into tatters, their restoration costs a fortune, but we receive no help. The politicians are only busy stealing money,” says Vesselin Maksimov.

Instead of renovating the heritage, the city “spends millions” on poor quality public works, says Gueorgui Chichmanidov, who manages the Mesemvria 2020 association representing residents of the old town.

For this owner of a charming café nestled in a historic building, Nessebar’s classification in the “in danger” category is ultimately “inevitable”.

He also points to the appetite of real estate developers, “economic interests” who have no use for the local community, also blaming “the serious incompetence” of national cultural institutions.

Relegation could have “a salutary effect” in stopping this drift, believes the fifty-year-old.

However, in the tourism sector, we fear a similar scenario.

If Nessebar, today one of the most visited sites in Bulgaria, “is no longer a world heritage site, no one will come,” warns Nikolay Balevski, a 38-year-old restaurateur.

“We have no beach or attractions to offer, only our cultural heritage,” he says, calling for people to stop “uglying” it.

15/09/2023 16:00:31 –         Nessebar (Bulgarie) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP