PEATS Bulgaria – Medieval Cherven Fortress


Dates: 12th July – 12th August 2018
Number of UK Participants: 6
Duration: 32 days

We are once again sending a group to Bulgaria. The placement will focus on the ongoing excavations at the impressive medieval Cherven Fortress. The host of the placement is the Regional Museum of Rousse.

Cherven was one of the biggest towns of Bulgaria in the period of 12th-14th century, inhabited by Thracians and Byzantines. During it’s occupation, it had been a bishop’s residence and a craft centre. The medieval town is situated on a high hill in the canyon of the river Cherni Lom, 35 km south from Rousse. There are different historical and archaeological sites in the surrounding landscape – prehistoric, ancient and medieval fortresses, settlements, necropolises. The most impressive are the numerous Christian rock hewn monasteries. Medieval frescos are preserved in some of them. The most well-known among them is a rocky church near Ivanovo village. Its frescos are included in the list of the world cultural heritage, protected by UNESCO. Archaeological excavations have been going since 1910. The central part of the town has been completely explored where have been found out a big castle, fourteen churches, residential quarters, craft workshops, street network, underground passages for water-supply, etc. Cherven is one of the important Bulgarian archaeological centres.

Our previous archaeology placements at Cherven have been a great success. Finds have included a great deal of pottery and the remains of small scale craft workshops and kiln bases outside of the fortifications. Past participants discovered and excavated medieval graves close to one of the church sites in the Cherven complex, leading to the first re-burial ceremony of archaeologically excavated human remains in Bulgaria. The placement continued with the excavations surrounding ‘church number 11’ in the Cherven complex and uncovered the foundations of buildings and human remains.

During years of 2007 and 2008, the research aims were directed to the central part of the citadel. The findings and archaeological structures show that during the 15th century, this territory is densely build-up area. A living neighborhood and artisan workshops existed here. Blacksmith’s workshop with furnace (kiln) was discovered. This territory was inhabited during Thracian period and the early Ottoman period.

The 2009 and 2010 seasons focused in the same area as 2009 revealed more questions than answers, so 2010 was focused on continuing on with the work from 2009. The excavations focused on the saddle of the Inner Town. The structures and findings from these 2 seasons backed up the theory that the area of the saddle was tightly built up and was inhabited in the middle-late 14th Century, which has proven to be the most intensive development period of Medieval Cherven. However, there could be earlier development as much of the building material shows signs of being reused. A necropolis was also discovered during these 2 seasons.

The 2011 season focused on a building that turned out to be an unknown church. In previous years, there had been finds associated with a church discovered but the building itself was only located in 2011. The church showed signs of being restored after destruction, as where the walls were preserved, the earlier wall is made up of orderly cretaceous squares with mortar cement and oiled joints. The later walls are constructed with broken rocks and mortared with mud cement. The reason for destruction is not known, but it may have happened naturally as the surviving earlier walls have several large cracks.

The necropolis has also been the focus of a season. Several human skeletons were found and all had been buried in standard Christian practice, all on their backs with their hands crossed over their stomachs. The skeletons are very close together with some parts missing, which suggests that they were disturbed in later burials. This could explain the large amount of human bone found in the surrounding soil. The necropolis seems to have been used for a generally short period of time but intensively.

The summer of 2012 concentrated on the northern edge of a basin within the inner city of medieval Cherven. Previous excavations conducted in this area have shown that the settlement can be tentatively subdivided into two parts. The western area consists of a dense residential housing area where craftsman lived and worked, indicated by structures discovered from the second half of 14th century. The eastern area consists of a small necropolis dating to the end of the 12th – 13th century, adjoined by a small church built at the beginning of the same period. This seasons excavations supported that the archaeological stratigraphy in the basin is significantly impaired. Architectural structures have been destroyed, and large stone buildings have been removed and their materials possibly used for construction in the modern village of Cherven. When cleaning the site for past agricultural use the remaining stones were arranged near the rocky border of the western part of Chervenski hill.

Rediscovered findings suggest that the study area was inhabited during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (12th – 14th century), parts of the building, and one of the ceramic fragments show that life continued here in the early Ottoman period (15th-16th century.) (from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 report)

The 2013 season was the study of a large building which had been partially revealed in 2012. There were 2 layers revealed in the study area, but it was quickly determined that the stratigraphy had been heavily disturbed by landslides and displacement. Artifacts found in one of the layers included pottery and iron fragments dating between the 13th – 16th centuries. The other layer had been formed by destruction rubble and overlaid a level dating to the 14th Century. Artefacts such as copper pieces, copper accessories and large quantities of copper sheet fragments indicate that this building was a copper adorment workshop (taken from the 2013 report.)

The 2014 season concluded that the medieval necropolis is concentrated immediately to the western side of Church 13, where the large number of burials have cut earlier burials, fragmenting and disturbing the bones. In a few cases, the bones from earlier graves had been placed together. There is no evidence that the necropolis continued to the north of the church. There is a high percentage of child burials in the area and there are burials under Church 13, which confirms that the church is later than the necropolis. (taken from 2014 report)

The 2017 season concentrated on Church 16, next to the middle fortification wall within the area of the western hill of the Cherven height. A sector was excavated which includes the churches narthex, part of the naos, fragment of a wall attached on the outside, and four burials. The church structures are located underneath a layer over 1.5 m thick, made of construction ruins and are in an advanced stage of demolition, but allow the determination of the main architectural characteristics of the temple and the presumption of its approximate dating. The partial excavation of the church does not allow the determination of its overall dimensions. Three external entrances were revealed within the studied area.

In separate sections on the walls of the narthex and nave were revealed preserved fragments of church decoration, whose physical state is poor. The frescoes are placed over white coating (probably Stucco), and the discovered incised contour lines on their front surface suggests that they are made by the “wet fresco” or mixed technique.

Along the outer side of the northern wall, immediately next to the northwestern corner of the church, was unearthed partially a grave incised into the rock, with funeral by the Christian ritual without inventory. Another three graves, located in parallel to one another, incised into the rock, were also partially revealed in the southwestern corner of the nave.

The current stage of research does not allow the determination of the time, when the church ceased to function. The registered traces of fire suggest the possibility for it to be associated with the conquest of the town by the Ottoman Turks in 1388. (taken from 2017 report)

The 2018 season will see work continue in what is a very interesting site.

As with most archaeological sites, expect a degree of physical work. As with all our placements, participants are joining partner excavations. These are not UK led excavations. The group will be learning different methods and techniques that are used for this particular site, so must expect differences in how the site is run.


The Erasmus + grant will cover return flights, accommodation, food (3 meals a day, extra food and drink will be funded for by participants), airport transfers and supervision. Participants will have to make sure they have their EHI card and take money for personal purchases and excursions.

If you are interested in this placement, then the application form is available to download on the PEATS Archaeology main page.

For past participant feedback, please refer to the Participants Reports page.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission

This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.