Byzantine Cold Case File: Excavations of the Early Christian Мonastery near Varna on the Black Sea 2023(Balkan Heritage/ Institute for Field Research)

This listing expired on December 31, 2020. Please contact for any updated information.

Location: Varna, BG

Season: July 20, 2020 to August 17, 2020

Session Dates: July 20-August 3; August 3-August 17; July 20-August 17, 2020.

Application Deadline: June 10, 2020

Deadline Type: Rolling


Discount for AIA members: 5% discount off the regular admission fee (for applying directly through BHFS)

Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF), Varna Regional Museum of History, Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA and New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria.

Project Director:
Prof. Alexander Minchev, Varna Regional Museum of History, Department of Archaeology; Dr. Vasil Tenekedzhiev, Varna Regional Museum of History, Department of Archaeology.

Project Description:

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.


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 field school season 2020 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 competences and to attend more lectures, workshops and excursions.

 There are three application/enrollment paths for this field school:

1. All students at universities/colleges outside Europe seeking academic credit units must apply through the Institute for Field Research (IFR), USA. Click here to apply.

2. All students at universities/colleges in Europe seeking ECTS academic credit units must apply through the Balkan Heritage Field School. Click here to apply.

3.  Participants who don’t need academic credits can apply through the Balkan Heritage Field School. Click here to apply.

Period(s) of Occupation: Early Byzantine (5th - 6th century CE)

The field school provides a unique glimpse into the Early Byzantine (5th - 6th c CE) and the Early Christian history and culture along with the opportunity to dig at a significant Early Byzantine monastery on the Black Sea Coast. Lectures on Early Christian art, architecture, theology, cults, monastic art and everyday life; Archaeological field techniques and methods for excavation and documentation; Processing of finds and samples; Excursions to significant heritage sites along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. Academic credits are available for students through NBU, Bulgaria and Connecticut College, USA.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Two weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: No experience required. However, the project is not recommended for individuals with solar allergies or other special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities.

Room and Board Arrangements:
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 admission fee. 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. Meals: Daily breakfast and the official welcome and the farewell dinners are covered by the admission fee. 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!

Academic Credit:
1) 12 quarter (equivalent to 8 semester) credit units through Connecticut College, USA for students attending the four-week session only; 2) 6/12 ECTS credit units through New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria for students at European universities/colleges attending two-/four-week session. credits. Offered by Connecticut College, USA and New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria..

Contact Information:

Balkan Heritage Foundation / Institute for Field Research

7 Tulovo St., Floor 5, Apt.7 / 2999 Overland Ave. #103

Sofia / Los Angeles

1504 / 90064

Bulgaria / United States

Phone: + 359 877 725 052 (BHF); US Toll free number +1 (877) 839-4374 (IFR)

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