The Stone Forest, Madara and Marcianopolis (Bulgaria)

   Madara, Pobiti Kamani and Marcianopolis


This excursion is included in the programs of the following field schools and it is covered by the reimbursement payment:

- Byzantine Cold Case File: Excavations of an Early Christian Мonastery near Varna on the Black Sea    


The aptly named “Stone Forest” is a natural phenomenon located 18 km from downtown Varna. It is better known as “Pobiti kamani” – its name in Bulgarian that can be translated as “stones beaten into the ground”. This actually describes the appearance of the site very well: hundreds of hollow stone pillars stuck vertically in a sandy desert-like area. These are concentrated in several irregular groups some of which are accessible to visitors. The pillars have different size and sometimes very peculiar shapes that have been provoking the imagination of the local people for millennia. Therefore it is not surprising that a number of flint blades as old as the Mesolithic era have been found in the sand. There is no doubt that the “Stone Forest” is a natural phenomenon. The question about its formation, however, remains debatable. The most supported theory states that the stone cylinders were a result of natural gas seepages from so-called "bubbling reefs" from a time millions of years ago when the whole area was submerged beneath a prehistoric sea. Because of its exotic landscape and the specific local flora and fauna the area has been protected since 1938. Today it is included in the ecological network “Natura 2000”.   


Marcianopolis is a major Roman city in present-day Northeastern Bulgaria some 30 km from Varna and the Black Sea coast. It is located in a small valley near crystal clear mineral springs. Founded by Emperor Trajan (98-117) and named after his sister Marciana, the city grew quickly to a prominent administrative, economic and cultural center. In 4th C. AD Marcianopolis became a capital of the newly formed province of Moesia Secunda. It was also a See of the Metropolitan bishop of the whole province.    

Today only small parts of Marcianopolis are excavated and can be visited. The most important site is a rich house with beautiful floor mosaics featuring mythological figures and sophisticated ornamental frames and patterns. It dates from the 4th C. AD. A special museum building has been constructed on top of the ruins in order to protect the mosaics and to provide comfortable access to the site. Other important archaeological discoveries in Marcianopolis are the remains of a monumental stone-built amphitheatre and an Early Christian Cathedral.      


Madara is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Northeastern Bulgaria, 80 km from Varna. It is, in fact, a complex of several archaeological sites located within a small distance of each other in a mesmerizing natural setting with high cliffs, caves and a lush forest. There are remains from different historical periods: a Thracian stone sanctuary and another sanctuary in a cave dedicated to the Nymphs; a Roman villa; an Early Byzantine and Mediaeval fortress on the cliffs; and monastic cells cut high in the vertical rocks. The most significant monuments, however, are from the pagan period of the First Bulgarian Empire (7th-9th C. AD) when Madara was a major state sanctuary. At that time a monumental relief of a horseman was cut into the cliffs together with several inscriptions containing names of Bulgarian rulers and important information about their reign. Today the Madara horseman is one of Bulgaria’s national symbols.


The tour/price includes:

  • English speaking guide & travel assistant
  • Round trip transportation
  • All expenses of the guide & travel assistant and the driver
  • Travel insurance   
  • Guided visit of the Museum of Mosaics
  • Sightseeing tours of the Madara complex and the Stone Forest 
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