Project type: Archaeological field school and excavations. The variety of activities and the team's professionalism and flexibility make this project suitable for both beginners and advanced in either Field or Classical Archaeology. Individual program and task assignments are available to advanced students.
Field school founded: 2009
Site: Early Christian monastery complex on Djanavara Hill near Varna, Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
Project venue: Varna, Bulgaria, Black Sea coast
Period(s) of occupation: Early Byzantine (5th - 6th century CE)
About the project: This field school provides a glimpse into the Early Byzantine history and culture. It enables students to learn more about the Early Christian art, architecture, theology, cults, monastic art and everyday life through excavating an Early Christian monastery and attending various lectures, workshops and excursions.
Major field school topics/activities:
Early Byzantine and Early Christian culture, Art and History;
Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation;
Finds and samples processing;
Excursions to sites along the western Black Sea coast.
BHF partners in this project:
Directors: Vassil Tenekedjiev, PhD in Archaeology and Prof. Alexander Minchev, Varna Regional Museum of History, Department of Archaeology
Project coordinator: Alexander Manev, PhD Candidate, Department of Classical Archaeology, National Institute of Archaeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Field school dates:
Application Deadlines: To be announced
Minimum length of stay for volunteers: Two weeks
Minimum age: 18
Number of field school places available: Maximum 20
Project language: English
Academic credits available: Up to 9 ECTS credits are available through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria.
Experience required: No
Special considerations: The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might be exacerbated during intensive outdoor activities.
COVID-19 Safety measures: All participants should read our updated Terms & Conditions regarding BHF's COVID-19 Safety policy.
Varna is the largest Bulgarian city on the Black Sea Coast and is an important trade, cultural and tourist center today with millenary history and numerous archaeological monuments. Near the city are the spectacular Mesolithic sites at the desert-like area Pobiti Kamani and the Varna Copper Age necropolis (second half of the 5th millennium BCE) that once belonged to the Europe’s first civilization. 3000 gold items found there weigh more than 6 kg and show evidence of the world’s oldest goldsmith industry. The town itself was founded in the early 6th c. BCE during the Great Greek colonization by settlers from Milletus in Asia Minor. During Antiquity, the city was known as Odessos - a name of Thracian origin, related to the water resources. Its prosperity was based on its good harbor and the intensive maritime trade with the Mediterranean world. The Early Byzantine period (4th-6th c. CE) is one of the most remarkable in the history of Odessos. After the Late Roman administrative reforms, Odessos benefited from its geographical proximity to the the new capital Constantinople (Istanbul) and the new center of the province Moesia Secunda - Marcianopolis (Devnya) and grew into an important administrative and religious center. It became an episcopal seat. Therefore, it is not surprising that within the ancient city limits a cathedral and six churches dated to the Early Byzantine period have been discovered. At least ten more and two monasteries existed in the vicinity of Odessos.
The monastery on Djanavara Hill was one of the biggest and the most impressive Early Christian complexes not only in the Varna region but in the northeastern Balkans. It was situated 7 km from the ancient city and not far from the renowned Via Pontica - a road along the western Black Sea Coast between the Danube Delta and Constantinople. The remains of the monastery were discovered in the beginning of the 20th c. by one of the founders of the Bulgarian Archaeology and Varna Archaeological Museum, Hermenegild Skorpil. He excavated the monastery church which had an unusual ground plan which parallels those outside the Balkans, in Asia Minor and the Near East. The church's monumental architecture, colorful mosaics and beautiful marble decorations were impressive but the most breathtaking find was hidden under the altar. In the underground crypt, Skorpil discovered relics (bones) of a saint in an elaborated golden reliquary decorated with semi-precious stones. The reliquary was placed in a small silver sarcophagus-shaped box, placed in another one made of fine white marble.
Skorpil didn’t excavate more than the church and the courtyard with colonnades in front of it. Unfortunately he didn't publish his manuscript with the excavation results which was lost after his death. The research was interrupted for almost 100 years. The cold case file was reopened at the end of the 20th c. by Prof. Alexander Minchev and his team from the Varna Archaeological Museum. Over the course of twenty years, they have managed to recover most of the lost information about the church and proved the hypothesis of the discoverer of the site: the Christian temple was part of a large monastery, which developed gradually around it. So far, archaeologists have determined four periods of building and reconstruction between the middle 5th and the early 7th c. CE. The thrill and the satisfaction of its excavations and discovery remain for the participants in the forthcoming excavations. Among the current research topics and questions are: what is the monastery architecture and planning like (archaeologists expect to find its library / scriptorium, the abbot house, the monks’ dormitories, the kitchen, the monastery enclosure, the gate/s, the outbuildings, the water supply system, etc); where is the monastery necropolis; why is the monastery church architecture so unusual and whose holy relics were placed under the altar (at the moment samples from the relics are in an Oxford lab for DNA analysis). Answers to all these questions can help researchers revеаl the origin and history of this significant Early Byzantine monastery and to which Early Christian community it belonged.
The Balkan Heritage Field School became part of the excavations of the monastery on Djanavara Hill in 2009. For three years the students, while studying and practicing, contributed to the main goal of the research: recovering the lost information from the excavations in early 20th c. This was successfully achieved and now a book about the church is underway.
After a five year break, the Balkan Heritage Field School reopened the project in 2017 at the monastery on Djanavara Hill. The field school provides a unique glimpse into the Early Byzantine history and culture along with the amazing opportunity: to dig at a significant Early Byzantine monastery on the Black Sea Coast and to learn more about the Early Christian art, architecture, theology, cults, monastic art and everyday life. Additionally, participants will visit the following archaeological and historic sites in Bulgaria: the Early Byzantine and Medieval fortress at Kaliakra cape, the Early Byzantine fortress and the archaeological reserve Yailata, the Early Byzantine fortress with episcopal basilica and a winery on St. Atanas cape, the archaeological sites and the museums of history in the town of Devnya (Late Roman city of Marcianopolis) and Balchik (ancient Dionysopolis), the Late Antiquity and Medieval site Madara (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the first capital of Bulgaria - Pliska, several archaeological sites in Varna and the Varna Archaeological Museum.
The field school season 2023 envisions excavations at several places around the representative monastery colonnaded atrium (the central court) where during the previous excavations, remains have been found of several buildings with at least four periods of reconstructions, making the site a good field for studying, practicing and gaining valuable hands on experience.
Two two-week sessions and one four-week session are available. Each includes fieldwork, lectures, workshops for finds processing and documentation, excursions to significant archaeological and historical sites. The participants who join the four-week session will be able to further develop their field archaeology skills and competencies and to attend more lectures, workshops and excursions (refer to the Course Program and the Agenda below).
Students who are required to prepare field reports and presentations for their universities can receive additional instructions and assistance.
All participants will receive:
The two-week field school session provides a minimum of 75 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours as follows:
The four-week session provides a minimum of 150 hours of fieldwork and training, workshops, lectures and guided tours incorporating those from the two-week session plus the following:
Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm
8.00 - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner.
Meeting time/point on arrival date: 7:45 pm - Orbita Hotel lobby
Transfers from Burgas, Sofia and Plovdiv airports, train or bus stations can be arranged upon request for an additional fee.
Morning: Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School and collaborative universities & institutions, the project and the participants. Ice-breakers.
Afternoon: Town sightseeing and orientation walk.
6.30 - 7.10 am - Breakfast
7.10 - 7.30 am - Transfer to the excavation site;
7.30 am - 1.00/1:30 pm - Fieldwork, including 30 min break*
1.30 - 5:00 / 5.30 pm - Lunch and siesta break
5.00 / 5.30 - 7.00 / 7:30 pm - Lectures / workshops / lab work / sightseeing
7.30 - 8.30 pm - Dinner
* in cases of rain, the project envisions finds processing workshops, lectures and film projections
The following study trips are included in the field school program and covered by the reimbursement payment:
For participants in the two-week sessions:
For participants in the four-week session: All excursions included in the schedule above.
In the middle of each two-week session a day off is envisaged. The BHFS team can organize/assist with organization of various leisure activities for participants during their free time such as excursions, visiting natural and historical sites and beaches, boating, sailing, fishing, diving, attending cultural events, etc.
Departure day. Check-out by 11.30 am.
Transfers to Burgas, Sofia and Plovdiv airports, train or bus stations can be arranged upon request for an additional fee.
Brown, P. The world of Late Antiquity. New York, 1971
Cormack, R. Byzantine Art (Oxford History of Art) . Oxford University Press, 2000
Dalton, O. M. Byzantine Art and Archaeology. London, 1911
Dalton, O. M. Early Christian Art. London, 1925
Grant J., S. Gorin and N. Fleming. The Archaeology Coursebook: an introduction to themes, sites, methods and skills. Routledge. 2008
Jones, A. H. M. The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey . Volume 1 and 2. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986
Krautheimer, R., S. Ćurčić. Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture. The Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, 1993
Lowden, J. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. Phaidon Inc Ltd, 1997
Maas, M., eds. The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian . Cambridge University Press, New York 2005. (Chapter 10)
Mango, C. History of World Architecture: Byzantine Architecture. Rizzoli International Publishing, New York, 1978.
Ovcharov, D., N. Ovcharov. Early Byzantine Architecture and Art in Bulgaria. In: Athena Review, Volume 3, no.1, 2001, 47-52.
Painter, K. Gold and Silver in the Late Roman World . British Museum Publications, London 1977
Renfrew, C. and P. Bahn . Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. Thames & Hudson; Fifth Edition, 2008
Velkov, V. Cities in Thrace and Dacia in Late Antiquity (Studies and Materials) . Amsterdam 1977.
Byzantium 1200 - Computer generated reconstructions of Byzantine Monuments located in Istanbul, Turkey as of year 1200 AD
History of Byzantium podcast - Podcast about the history of the Roman (Byzantine) Empire from 476 AD to 1453 through A-Cast
The nearest airports: Varna (VAR) airport (8 km/4 mi), Burgas (BOJ) airport (110 km/68 mi).
Particiants who arrive at Varna airport can take a taxi to Orbita Hotel. We recommend Triumf Taxi company which office is in the terminal and which is authorized by the airport authorities. The taxi should cost about 15 BGN (9 USD).
Transfers to Varna from Burgas may be arranged by request. Individual or group transfer prices may vary depending on both distance and number of passengers from 33 to 100 EUR. Ask for details!
Bus connections? Bus lines connect Varna with Burgas, Sofia (the Bulgarian capital) and Plovdiv.
A detailed travel-info sheet will be provided to the enrolled students.
Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria or any of Bulgaria’s neighboring countries for up to 90 days, with the exception of Turkey. However, the Turkish government facilitates tourism by providing the option for obtaining an e-visa at www.evisa.gov.tr/en/. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our Visa information page.
Accommodation*: In a downtown hotel Orbita Hotel, in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, a/c and fridge). Cheap laundry service and free wifi are available at the hotel. Participants are not expected to bring any additional equipment, bed linens or towels. Single rooms are available upon request for the supplement of 120 EUR per week. Staying an extra day at the hotel costs 30 EUR (per night per person).
Students who prefer another accommodation can organize it and pay for it directly. They will receive a discount of 75 EUR (per week) off the reimbursement payment. This choice should be communicated in advance with BHFS Admission officer. Varna is a major tourist destination and there are many nice hotels, B&B and hostels in the downtown area.
NB! It is important to note that no matter of the accommodation venue all students should be on time at the designated meeting points for the shuttle to the site on working days and for the excursions.
The distance from the hotel to the site is app. 8 km/4.5 mi, and it takes app. 15 min drive. Daily BHFS shuttle service is arranged for the participants to bring them to the site and back.
*Subject to change. May be substituted with similar level accommodation.
Meals: Daily breakfast and the official welcome and the farewell dinners are covered by the reimbursement payment. Students are responsible for their own lunch and dinners.
Varna offers variety of restaurants that can meet everyone’s preferences and dietary requirements – from fast food options to cozy gourmet restaurants. The average meal price (soup/salad, main dish and dessert) can cost between 6 to 12 USD. The project team will recommend restaurants for different preferences (cuisine, cost, dietary needs) and will arrange discounts for the students.
Participants must pay on their own for extra days and for single room accommodation as well as for extra meals, beverages, services and products!
During the summer Varna offers a lot of opportunities for sports and entertainment. Possible leisure activities during the siesta and days off are: swimming, sunbathing, surfing, scuba diving, fishing, sailing, boating and even ice-skating. Participants can visit local beaches, the splendid Sea Garden for a walk and and numerous natural and heritage sites in Varna vicinity. The city offers cinemas and theaters, modern shopping areas, bars and restaurants, Aquarium, Dolphinarium, different museums and galleries, and open-air stages, where concerts for popular and classical music often take place.
Insurance: The reimbursement payment does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.
Weather: South-European (Transitional Mediterranean to Continental) climate with hot summers (30-40°C, 86-104°F) dominates in the region. Rainy and chillier days in this season are not uncommon.
What to bring?
Excavation & documentation tools and materials, as well as working gloves are available at the site!
In order to participate in this educational project the BHFS expects all participants to reimburse their related costs, i.e. B&B accommodation (hotel + breakfast per day), tools, materials, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and other administrative costs. All participants are invited to support the project realization through donations. Information about all related costs will be published as soon as the WHO organization announces the end of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Reimbursement Transfer Options:
For further information contact Admissions Office at [email protected].
New Bulgarian University grants 6 ECTS credits to students for attending two- and four-week sessions and 9 ECTS credits for attending the four-week session. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee For details: Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.