The Church of St Nicholas lies on top of the eponymous hill of Sveti Nikola ("Saint Nicholas") just south of the town of Melnik. The church occupies a location which hosted other sacred buildings in Antiquity. A Thracian sanctuary devoted to the goddess Bendis, the Thracian variant of Artemis, stood at the place before a Christian basilica was built in the 6th century. However, the older church did not survive for long, as it was ruined by the end of the 6th century.
The Church of St Nicholas is generally dated to the late 12th century, a time when Melnik was ruled by both Byzantium and the Second Bulgarian Empire. There is a single opinion which links the building of the church with the rule of Prince Boris I of Bulgaria (r. 852–889) and the period shortly after the Christianization of Bulgaria, though the evidence for this is not accepted by most scholars. A second stage of construction followed in the first half of 13th century, when the Church of St Nicholas was elevated to the seat of a bishop. In order for the church to better fulfil that purpose, a fence and additional buildings were constructed around it to form a compound.
The church served as the town's cathedral until the construction of the similarly-named Church of St Nicholas the Wonderworker in the 18th century. Although the medieval Church of St Nicholas was in use as late as the 19th century as a monastery church, it is only partially preserved today, with all but the eastern part entirely in ruins. After the Balkan Wars (1912–1913), Melnik was deserted by much of its population and the lack of maintenance resulted in the church's rapid structural decay.
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