Join the Byzantine digs and expeditions of Balkan Heritage in South Eastern Europe!

I started this blog to make Byzantium ‘live’ for people today. Far from being an obscure subject to be left only to dry academic research (which can sometimes be non-inclusive), I have tried to show that Byzantium does live for us and we can see it, feel it and get involved.

Ivan Vasilev and Nayden Prahov on the Via Egnatia

Last year I was lucky enough to be involved at ground level when I walked part of the Via Egnatia, the ancient Roman road than runs from Durres in Albania to Istanbul. On that walk I was fortunate to meet, and make friends with, an eclectic group of people from all over Europe and the US. Amongst them were Ivan Vasilev and his colleague Nayden Prahov.

They are noted Bulgarian archaeologists who run practical archaeological field trips in the Balkans through their Balkan Heritage Field School. These field trips are aimed at anyone who has an interest in practical archaeology be they experienced or novice. They offer a chance to do practical work to aid archaeological projects, and for those who participate to have some fun, in a very interesting part of the world, living and working with like-minded people of all backgrounds. The field schools are particularly suitable for archaeology students looking to gain field experience (watch the videos for comments from recent students). Some might also call it an alternative holiday!

In 2010, The Balkan Heritage Field School is offering you the opportunity to participate in different digs and expeditions connected to the Byzantine culture in Southeastern Europe. During the field courses participants will learn basic methods and techniques of archaeological fieldwork, documentation and interpretation. Each of the projects below include the following three modules: fieldwork; an educational course (lectures, workshops and field training); and excursions. Balkan Heritage field school projects are accredited by the New Bulgarian University.

As a unique offer to readers of MyByzantine blog, Balkan Heritage Field School is able to offer a 10 per cent reduction in the cost of the trips if you quote the reference “MyByzantine” when you contact them.

Fresco-Hunting Photo Expedition to medieval and late medieval churches and chapels of Western Bulgaria

This region is one of the few areas in SE Europe where the traditions of all the major Balkan medieval art schools (those in Constantinople, Ohrid, Thessaloniki and Veliko Tarnovo) met. Bulgarian and foreign notables from the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires, as well as the Serbian Kingdom of the 14th century, and local Bulgarian communities under Ottoman rule (the period between the 15th and 17th centuries) built the churches and chapels to be visited and studied. Many of these monuments, characterized by humble architecture, often hide exquisite frescoes behind their sometimes plain exteriors. Many were abandoned long ago.

The goal of the expedition is to enhance the database created in previous seasons by documenting the frescoes and their condition, as well as history, architecture, artefacts and the environment of the ecclesiastical buildings they belong to.

This project serves as an excellent opportunity for students and volunteers to participate in many aspects of a scientific research program, and to appreciate and enjoy the art as well as the community spirit of the work. The fieldwork will entail database recording, geomagnetic survey, sketching, measuring, and creating a photographic record. Full details of this trip found here.

Find out more about this field trip on the video.

Early Byzantine monastery dig in Varna on the Bulgarian Black Sea – a cold case file!

The ruins of the 6th century church on Djanavar hill near Varna (ancient Odessos) belong to an Early Christian church of the Syrian type. Its plan is unique in the Balkan Peninsula. The building was probably constructed during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565 AD) and was most likely destroyed during a raid by the Slavs and Avars around 615 AD. Based on its unique architectural plan, scholars believe they can connect this church with the small, but socially and economically important Monophysite community of Syrian refugees living in sixth century Byzantine Odessos.

The church is a basilica with a central nave, terminating in an inner semicircular apse. The baptistery with a cross-shaped pool is incorporated within the northwestern part of the church. Four additional halls, decorated with mosaic floors are attached to the nave and the narthex. Well-preserved mosaics are multicolored with a large range of geometrical and floral motifs.

In the crypt, which is found under the floor of the altar, archaeologists have discovered three reliquaries; one of marble; one made of silver; and the other of gold which is also decorated with precious stones). These have been placed into one another.

During this field school project, participants will work on practical excavations, learning correct excavation and documentation techniques. There will be opportunities for excursions and to meet volunteers from all over the world. Full details of this trip found here.

Watch the video!

Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia

Heraclea is an ancient city founded by Philip II of Macedon, but played a key role during the early Byzantine period. It was a seat of mighty bishops until the end of 6th century AD. The most significant remains of this period are the Basilicas of Heraclea (Small, Great and Funeral Basilicas located in the central city area of Heraclea.). Some of the floors of these buildings are covered with mosaics with very rich floral, geometrical or figurative designs which are fine examples of the early Christian art period.

During last half century archaeologists have uncovered and restored significant monuments of Antiquity including a forum, theatre, as well as early Christian basilicas and residential buildings. The excavations that have been ongoing since the 1950s have uncovered the remains of the impressive fortification wall, streets, numerous private and public buildings, as well as a large Roman theatre that was built directly into the hillside. Nowadays the ruins of the ancient city lie at the south-western side of modern town of Bitola.

During this field school project, participants will work on practical excavations, learning correct excavation and documentation techniques. There will be opportunities for excursions and to meet volunteers from all over the world. Full details of this trip found here.

Find out more about this field trip on the video.

Stobi, Macedonia

Another ancient city that played a key role during the Early Byzantine period. For more than a century the ancient city of Stobi has been attracting scientists from all over the World to reveal its secrets. Stobi was founded during the Hellenistic period or even earlier as an important military, strategic, economic and cultural centre because of its location on the main road that lead from the River Danube to the Aegean.

The first records that mention Stobi are provided by the Roman historian Titus Livy, who tells us that during the Roman conquests in Macedonia, Stobi became an important centre for salt trading. In AD 69, the Emperor Vespasian granted Stobi the rank of municipium and the right to mint its own coins. Salt trading and the strategic position between two rivers, on the cross-road of the ancient road along the Vardar valley and branches of Via Diagonalis and Via Egnatia, brought long-term prosperity from the first to third centuries AD.

Several buildings are dated to this period: the Theatre, the first City Wall, Porta Heraclea, part of the Forum Romanorum, Casa Romana, the Synagogue and the water supply system.

In the fourth century AD Stobi became an important Christian centre and the seat of powerful bishops. In the fifth and sixth century, Stobi was the capital city of the Roman province Macedonia Secunda, but suffered from the raids of Huns, Ostrogoths, Avars and Slavs. An earthquake in 518 AD marked the end of urban living in Stobi. In later centuries there are some records for a small Slav community that settled here.

During this field school project, participants will work on practical excavations, learning correct excavation and documentation techniques. There will be opportunities for excursions and to meet volunteers from all over the world. Full details of this trip found here.

To apply for any of the above courses and receive your 10% reduction, please visit the Balkan Heritage applications page. Don’t forget to quote “myByzantine”.

If any of you do take up the opportunity to participate I am sure we would welcome the chance to hear about your experiences upon your return (or even when out in the field) so do please get in touch with me via the blog tsawford[at]btinternet.com .

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About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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One Response to Join the Byzantine digs and expeditions of Balkan Heritage in South Eastern Europe!

  1. Pingback: Fresco-Hunting Photo Expedition to medieval and late medieval churches and chapels of Western Bulgaria « Byzantine Blog

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