The old town of Nessebar is practically an independent island, consisting of less than a kilometer of fishermen's houses. Made of wood and topped with terracotta roofs, they sit on a rocky surface, joined to the Blgara coast by a narrow land bridge.
It is also a dense pile of ruins superimposed on top of each other dating back more than 3000 years ago, and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
When walking through the old part, you can see the winding streets and fishermen's houses of the nineteenth century, broken by the medieval church of San Esteban – decorated with murals of Jesus Christ calming a storm and 1000 New Testament figures – and the excavated ruins of the basilica from Stara Mitropolia, a 5th-century cathedral, when this place was an important Byzantine commercial center on the Black Sea coast.
But local archaeologists and fishermen have found relics older than these. For example, a Greek and ceramic acropolis whose origin dates back to before the arrival of the Romans.
Also walls built by the founders of the city, the Thracians, the equestrian warriors who dominated the Balkan peninsula more than 2000 years ago.
But to find the most amazing artifacts you have to go off the island and dive into the seas that surround it.
Greek ships intact
Recent oceanographic investigations, using a pair of remotely operated underwater vehicles, have entered the Black Sea waters and have revealed pieces of ancient history never seen with such a detailed resolution.
These underwater missions have discovered ancient ships of commerce and war, including the oldest and best preserved shipwrecked ship: a Greek commercial ship from around the year 400 lying almost intact on the seabed.
And among the remains, other new evidence is offering clues to something that happened more than 7,000 years ago, when some experts believe that the Black Sea was just a small freshwater lake.
Geological samples drilled on the seabed could finally solve the mystery of whether it was here that the waters once penetrated, crushed civilizations and created the legend we know as the Ark of No and the biblical universal Flood.
Zdravka Georgieva, a Martian archaeologist from the Bulgarian Underwater Archeology Center, was born in Nessebar and learned to dive in the Black Sea reefs.
"I really wanted to know what is under the sea," says Georgieva, who first heard about the unexplored residues of ancient settlements and boats in the small Archaeological Museum of Nessebar, which houses a handful of historical artifacts.
"I knew through the museum and the people there, as a teenager, that there are historical monuments there below. And I wanted to touch them and observe them very closely."
After studying at the University of Marine Archeology in Southampton in the United Kingdom, Georgieva has been working on his "dream job" as part of the
Black Sea Martima Archeology Project (MAP).
This initiative aims to discover how this sea and its surroundings have changed since the last Ice Age through the study of the seabed.
The Anglo-Bulgarian team, led by Professor Jon Adams of the University of Southampton and in partnership with the Underwater Archeology Center, discovered the Greek ship from 2400 years ago last year, along with 60 other ships wrecked in deep water.
Remote submarine operators scanned the site in 3D and showed how the ship was lying on its side, with the mast and rudder clearly visible, as were rowing benches and large ceramic containers in the hold.
The golden age of discoveries
Georgieva called it "the most spectacular find so far" and coincides with other marine archaeologists in which we are entering the golden era of discoveries around the Black Sea.
Archaeologists already knew about the ancient civilizations built here and the ships that traded along the coast.
But until now, the visual technology was not so advanced as to offer such a reliable image of the seabed, making everything that lay down there remained under mystery.
"We know from historical sources that colonization took place on the Black Sea coast from Greece or from the Mediterranean, but we had not discovered ships. Why are they? Why didn't we find them?" Georgieva asks.
"In the last four years a great step has been taken in how we investigate the landscapes and submerged shipwrecks."
The fact that boats are so well preserved here is due to a unique aquatic phenomenon, explains Dr. Bob Ballard, famous explorer of sea depths.
Ballard is an American oceanographer known internationally for leading the discovery of the remains of the Titanic in 1985. Since the decades, he has been fascinated with the so-called "Andean Sea" under the Black Sea.
That is, cold and lifeless waters, where oxygen is diluted and thus allows a better conservation of the wrecked remains.
"I'm interested in anoxia: when I found the Titanic, we went inside and saw a high degree of preservation. The deep sea is a giant museum," Ballard said in a telephone interview from his home in the US state of Rhode Island.
As only a few bacteria can survive in the oxygen-free layer of the Black Sea, the invariability is stronger here, being able to mummify human remains and preserve the moments after a shipwreck in "perfect conditions" for thousands of years.
Between 1999 and 2014, Ballard led an expedition to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that was the first to explore this shadow kingdom in a comprehensive way.
Together with his crew, he discovered dozens of perfectly preserved ships, including an Ottoman commercial ship containing human remains.
"It was a great effort of 15 years of several expeditions, trying to show that the ancient sailors were much bolder than the historians gave them credit. Those sailors pursued very deep water routes; they not only limited themselves to the coast, they also chose jump into the open ocean. "
The mystery of the universal flood
But both Georgieva and Ballard say that the exploration of the depths provides new clues about another, perhaps greater mystery.
In the bestseller
The flood of No (
Noah's Flood in English) by William Ryan and Walter Pitman, marine geologists believed they had found the historical origin about the legend of the great flood that eliminated ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea 7600 years ago.
Previously told in the myth of the Babylonian creation, Enuma Elish, and in the mesopotmic epic of Gilgamesh, the story is most popular for its biblical version known as the Ark of No and the universal Flood.
According to Ryan and Pitman, what is now known as the Black Sea separated 20,000 years ago from the Mediterranean with the appearance of a mountainous terrain (territory that today comprises Turkey).
The theory of the universal flood indicates that, due to the end of the last ice age on Earth, the melting of the polar ice caps caused a large surge in the waters of the Mediterranean.
This increase in sea level opened a strait between the mountains, what is now known as Bsforo (in Turkey), causing a flood up to 200 times stronger than the Nigara Falls.
In just a few months, it is estimated that the Black Sea floods a land mass of the size of Ireland, at a rate of 1.6 kilometers per day.
In 2000, Ballard tried to shed light on Ryan and Pitman's theory. I discovered the shore before the flood next to buildings of civilizations that lived along the almost 20 kilometers of the Turkish coast of the Black Sea. In his opinion, these findings reinforce the hypothesis of the great flood.
But the Black Sea MAP project points to another explanation, says Georgieva. "The geophysicists and other specialists at the Southampton Oceanographic Center say there is no evidence to prove this theory. What we have collected does not prove this catastrophic deluge. The data show rather a gradual increase in sea level," says the marine archaeologist.
There is still information to analyze, but the idea is reinforced that the waters grew unnoticed, at the rate of meters for centuries, even millennia.
In any case, Ballard calls the Black Sea a "magical place", an area with "an incredible amount of history" that has much more to offer archaeologists than the connection with the historical legend of the Universal Flood and the Ark of No .
"The Black Sea has that (the biblical connection); it is also the place where Jasn and the Argonauts went in search of the Golden Fleece," as in the US miniseries of the year 2000. There is much to discover here. Now that we know where and how to look, I think we'll see how the Black Sea produces more chapters of human history, "adds Ballard.
Bulgaria is home to a historic archeological wealth inherited from Romans, Greeks and other ancient societies, similar to what tourists are looking for in their Mediterranean neighbors: Italy and Greece.
But here, the discoveries have been accelerated, especially since the financing increased in 2007 with the entry of Bulgaria into the European Union.
Nessebar is located on a stretch of coastline just over 100 kilometers by car from the city of Varna in the North and almost 70 kilometers from the Sozopol Peninsula in the south.
The historical richness of the enclave is laying the foundations of an emerging Bulgarian archaeological trail.
In 2012, the discovery of the city of Solnitsata, cataloged (not without polimics) as the oldest prehistric settlement in Europe, joined another wonder discovered in 1972: the Varna Necrpolis, considered the oldest gold treasure in the world.
The treasure dates from around 4500 B.C., many years before the pyramids of Egypt were built.
Although the findings of the MAP project in the Black Sea are very deep for tourist visits, diving excursions are organized around the original defensive walls of Nessebar that date back to the few Thracians.
You can also visit battleships of the First and Second World War, as well as the plane of former communist leader Todor Zhivkov, who was deliberately sunk in the bay of Varna in 2011 to create a kind of artificial reef.
To get an idea of what is in the sea, Georgieva recommends that divers visit what she calls the "open museum" of the Nessebar fortifications, the exposed walls in the short stretch that borders the island, along with other similar ruins in Sozopol.
But the discoveries made by the MAP team are also being brought to light, and are currently on display in Lost Worlds, an exhibition that runs through Bulgaria where visitors can explore a digital recreation of the wreck from 2,400 years ago along with others models printed in third dimension, which together with the use of headphones provide a virtual reality experience.
How is the sea where dozens of ancient shipwrecked ships (t) rest and that could explain the Universal Flood – LA NACION