Bulgaria | Thracians & Churches

Roman theatre of Phillippopolis
Roman theatre of Phillippopolis
Rila monastery, an exuberant painted church in the Rila Mountains and home to masterpieces of iconography
Rila monastery, an exuberant painted church in the Rila Mountains and home to masterpieces of iconography
Varna Monastery
Varna Monastery
Traditional houses in Plovdiv
Traditional houses in Plovdiv
Half-human, half-plant caryatids at Sveshtari Thracian tomb
Half-human, half-plant caryatids at Sveshtari Thracian tomb
Elaborate silver and gold sheep-headed rhyton (drinking vessel), 4th century BC
Elaborate silver and gold sheep-headed rhyton (drinking vessel), 4th century BC
Quadriga of horses from the painted ceiling of the Tomb at Kazanluk
Quadriga of horses from the painted ceiling of the Tomb at Kazanluk

Bulgaria is, in archaeological terms, one of the richest countries in Europe. The previous ten years have been, almost literally, a golden age for Bulgarian archaeology, with spectacular sites and priceless finds coming to light. Hidden in the hills and forests are some of Europe’s oldest Neolithic settlements, Thracian tombs, replete with grave goods and exuberantly painted Medieval churches.
At the edge of Europe, in ancient times, Bulgaria was located at the apex of great civilisations. From the south and west Philip of Macedon and Roman Emperor Trajan founded cities here. From the east came Byzantine traders and Ottoman raiders. Dr Katya Melamed introduces the many ages of Bulgaria, from the Black Sea to the Rila Mountains, from the Neolithic to the Iron Curtain.

  • Spectacularly varied history and landscapes introduced by a Bulgarian archaeologist who has excavated all over the country
  • From the Neolithic houses of Stara Zagora, through Roman Plovdiv, to the exuberantly painted churches high in the Rila mountains
  • Visits to no fewer than six UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Themes

  • Medieval
  • Historic Churches
  • Cultural Excursion
  • Ancient Greek
  • Prehistory
  • Romans

Practicalities

  • Special Access
  • Low Single Supplement
  • All Inclusive

Itinerary 2017

Day 1

Arrive in Sofia and transfer to Plovdiv.

Day 2

We spend our first day on foot exploring the sites of Plovdiv, founded by Philip of Macedon. Intense Roman activity on this site means that little is left of the early city, but a great deal of the Roman one includes the forum, stadium, fortress and amphitheatre.

Day 3

Drive north to the sleepy village of Hisarya, famed for its hot water mineral spring. We continue to ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ after pausing for a picnic at the site of Kazanlak Mound.

We hope once again for special permission to enter the Kazanlak tomb, which we have obtained on all our previous tours of Bulgaria. The tomb is decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Day 4

We visit the tomb of Aleksandrovo, dating from the 4th century BC. Continue this afternoon to Stara Zagora. This seemingly ordinary Bulgarian town hides extraordinary Neolithic houses under the city streets. The dwellings are complete with shelves, pots and hearths.

Day 5

We begin the day at the huge settlement mound of Karanovo. This ‘tell’ represents successive phases of occupation from the 6th to the 2nd millennium BC. We then drive east to Nessebar on the Black Sea Coast. Founded by the Thracians, the town later became a thriving Greek trading colony. We visit the old town to view churches and walls. Continue to Varna.

Day 6

We spend the morning in the superb History Museum in Varna housing intricately worked gold found at nearby Copper Age burial sites. After lunch we explore this coastal city including the Roman Baths and Marine Garden.

Day 7

Today, we visit the majestic Madara Horseman rock relief. Dating from the 8th century AD, the horseman rides triumphant, a vanquished lion at his feet. We continue to the Sveshtari Thracian tomb. Here, multi-coloured reliefs depict surreal half human, half plant-like figures.

Day 8

We spend all day in Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Medieval Bulgarian tsars. The town is dramatically situated on a gorge over the river. We explore the large Medieval castle dominating the city, and some early monasteries.

Day 9

We drive to the ancient site of Nicopolis ad Istrum. A thriving Roman colony, the town was abandoned in the 5th century AD and eventually replaced by a much more modest Byzantine settlement. We continue to the preserved ‘museum villages’ of Arbanassi and Etar.

Day 10

We view the collections of the National Museum of History in Sofia before visiting Boyana Church with its remarkable 13th century frescoes. We continue along the walls of ancient Serdica (Sofia), to see St George’s Rotunda and St Sofia Basilica.

Day 11

We head into the beautiful foothills of the Rila mountains, to visit Rila Monastery. This iconic (in the literal sense!) masterpiece is one of Bulgaria’s most famous and most beautiful sites.

Day 12

We visit Sofia’s National Institute of Archaeology before our flight home.

Itinerary 2018

Day 1

Arrive in Sofia and transfer to Plovdiv.

Day 2

We spend our first day on foot exploring the sites of Plovdiv, founded by Philip of Macedon. Intense Roman activity on this site means that little is left of the early city, but a great deal of the Roman one includes the forum, stadium, fortress and amphitheatre.

Day 3

Drive north to the sleepy village of Hisarya, famed for its hot water mineral spring. We continue to ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ after pausing for a picnic at the site of Kazanlak Mound.

We hope once again for special permission to enter the Kazanlak tomb, which we have obtained on all our previous tours of Bulgaria. The tomb is decorated with beautiful frescoes.

Day 4

We visit the tomb of Aleksandrovo, dating from the 4th century BC. Continue this afternoon to Stara Zagora. This seemingly ordinary Bulgarian town hides extraordinary Neolithic houses under the city streets. The dwellings are complete with shelves, pots and hearths.

Day 5

We begin the day at the huge settlement mound of Karanovo. This ‘tell’ represents successive phases of occupation from the 6th to the 2nd millennium BC. We then drive east to Nessebar on the Black Sea Coast. Founded by the Thracians, the town later became a thriving Greek trading colony. We visit the old town to view churches and walls. Continue to Varna.

Day 6

We spend the morning in the superb History Museum in Varna housing intricately worked gold found at nearby Copper Age burial sites. After lunch we explore this coastal city including the Roman Baths and Marine Garden.

Day 7

Today, we visit the majestic Madara Horseman rock relief. Dating from the 8th century AD, the horseman rides triumphant, a vanquished lion at his feet. We continue to the Sveshtari Thracian tomb. Here, multi-coloured reliefs depict surreal half human, half plant-like figures.

Day 8

We spend all day in Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Medieval Bulgarian tsars. The town is dramatically situated on a gorge over the river. We explore the large Medieval castle dominating the city, and some early monasteries.

Day 9

We drive to the ancient site of Nicopolis ad Istrum. A thriving Roman colony, the town was abandoned in the 5th century AD and eventually replaced by a much more modest Byzantine settlement. We continue to the preserved ‘museum villages’ of Arbanassi and Etar.

Day 10

We view the collections of the National Museum of History in Sofia before visiting Boyana Church with its remarkable 13th century frescoes. We continue along the walls of ancient Serdica (Sofia), to see St George’s Rotunda and St Sofia Basilica.

Day 11

We head into the beautiful foothills of the Rila mountains, to visit Rila Monastery. This iconic (in the literal sense!) masterpiece is one of Bulgaria’s most famous and most beautiful sites.

Day 12

We visit Sofia’s National Institute of Archaeology before our flight home.

What's Included

  1. Tour Manager
  2. Local Travel - Private a/c coach
  3. Meals - All meals included - dinners with wine
  4. Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
  5. Field Notes
  6. Hotels - 3 nights in a modern hotel near the Maritsa River in Plovdiv, 1 night in a hotel in central Stara Zagora with views of the Black Sea, 2 nights in a central hotel with good views and modern rooms in Varna, 2 nights in a comfortable, rustic hotel in Veliko Tarnovo, 3 nights in a 4* hotel in central Sofia
  7. Flights - Scheduled return flights London to Sofia

Hotel Info

3 nights in a modern hotel near the Maritsa River in Plovdiv
1 night in a hotel in central Stara Zagora with views of the Black Sea
2 nights in a central hotel with good views and modern rooms in Varna
2 nights in a comfortable, rustic hotel in Veliko Tarnovo
3 nights in a 4* hotel in central Sofia

Useful Information

For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.

Book now

2017 Tour Details

Sat 7th October - Wed 18th October

Available

£2,595

ex. flights: £2,345

sgl supp: £245

BUL17A

Led By: Dr Katya Melamed

2018 Tour Details

Sat 6th October - Tue 16th October

Available

£2,595

ex. flights: £2,350

sgl supp: £250

BUL18A

Led By: Dr Katya Melamed

Guide Lecturer

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