Medieval monasteries on the West Black Sea coast

1. State of research

No particular α study on the medieval monasteries along the western coast of the Black Sea has been made so far. Perhaps a reason might be the insufficient literary evidence and the small number of surviving sites that can be identified as monasteries. With this respect, it is interesting to note that one virtually lacks any written sources for monasteries founded between the Danube delta and Haemus, while there is enough such evidence for the coastal area south of Haemus (Stara planina) down to the Bosporus. In the same time, the northern part of the coast provides a higher number of extensively excavated or well-preserved sites that have been safely identified as monasteries. Therefore, what one can achieve in presenting the material evidence for monasticism on the West Black Sea coast is a fragmentary yet a rather dynamic and intriguing picture.

2. Monasteries from the 4th - 6th c.

2.1. St Nicholas monastery (Midye)

The only known monastery of that period on the West Black Sea coast is a rock-cut complex. It is situated 2.5 km northwest of Midye (in present-day Turkish Thrace, ancient Mediea) and is presently known as St Nicholas monastery. Most probably it was founded in the time of Justinian I (r. 525-565). The core of the monastic complex was a single-nave church, carved out of the rock, with five pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling. The carefully executed capitals in the interior decoration served as a chronological indicator. One may note also the chancel screen carved out of the rock as well as the synthronon arranged in the apse. The church was flanked by two chapels—the southern one was also a rock-cut structure, while the northern one was masonry. Other rooms had been carved out of the rock above and beneath the narthex of the main church. Steps to the west of the narthex led to a holy fountain (hagiasma)accommodated in a four-column vaulted room carved out of the rock.1

3. Monasteries from the 9th - 11th c.

3.1. Monastery of Karaačteke (surroundings of ancient Odessos/Varna)

The conversion of the Bulgarians into Christianity in the second half of the 9th c. revived the religious building activity along the western coast of the Black Sea. The earliest monastery of that period attested there so far is situated in the hinterland of ancient Odessos that became known as Varna since the late 7th c. onwards.2 More precisely, the monastery is located on a high terrace of the southern slopes of the Frangensko plateau, a locality presently known with its Turkish toponym of Karaačteke[The Shrine of the Black Elms] (Fig. 1). Perhaps the exact location had been chosen for two practical reasons—the relatively slight inclination of the terrain to the south in contrast to other terraces and the availability of a fed water source, exploited already in Roman times.3

Yet the availability of water could not have been the only reason for the foundation of a monastery on a particular place. The rural surroundings of ancient Odessos/Varna, where the monastery of Karaačteke itself was situated, were one of the most densely inhabited regions of Bulgaria throughout the 8th - 10th c.4 All those settlements with their semi-subterranean dwellings and peasant population, however, certainly did not have the potential for founding one of the most interesting architectural complexes in Bulgarian monastic architecture from the 9th - 10th c.

The monastery of Karaačteke is not completely excavated but the structures unearthed until now provide enough evidence for its elaborate layout, architecture and construction. Throughout all construction phases the north-south slope of the terrace and the instability of the sandy terrain were the main factors that the builders had to contend with. The church was established in the flattest, southern part of the terrace yet on a stone platform that assured additionally the stability of the construction. Furthermore, the communication with the buildings situated higher to the north of it was accomplished by means of massive stone staircases. As evident from the layout of the excavated area of about 10 000 m2 and the common opus mixtum used in the construction of the church and the buildings northwest of it, the setting of the complex originally ran along the east-west axis.5 Despite tracing a surrounding wall also to the north and east, the reconstruction of the complex of Karaačteke as an entirely walled enclosure remains hypothetical since the excavations have not yet attested a circuit wall to the west and south.

The church of Karaačteke resembles the Athonite triconch church type yet it had a single-apsed sanctuary and an interior apse-like curve of the western arm of the naos. In fact, one is presented with a somewhat unique combination of a pseudo-quatrefoil and a four-column type. The closest comparable examples are the church of the monastery of the Mother of God Eleousa (Veljusa) near Stroumitsa (AD 1080) and Panagia Kamariotissa on the island of Chalki (11th c.). Other peculiar features of the church are the L-shaped and curved dome supports,6 the U-shaped gallery-portico,7 and the rich interior decoration that consisted of marble architectural decoration, polychrome ceramic tiles, and wall paintings.8 Thus, the combination of a number of peculiar architectural and decorative features in the church of Karaačteke makes it exceptional and implies that the commission and the execution had been made by persons with high architectural culture and building experience.

The same conclusion refers to the rest of the buildings attested in the monastery of Karaačteke. As has been attested in the course of the excavations, the building northwest of the church survived a serious reconstruction which might have changed its function. Thus, according to its initial plan of an elongated building with seven rooms opened to a corridor flanked by an arcade, the building can be identified as a residential building. Yet the plan of the building after the reconstruction appears to be somewhat unique not only in the architecture of the monastic complex itself, but also in the medieval architecture in Bulgaria in general: two rows of rooms each arranged opposite to each and opened to a large vaulted corridor. The building certainly had an upper floor as evident from the solid vaulted ceiling of the ground floor and the staircase arranged at the southwestern entrance. The considerable number of styluses and hasps of book covers found in the debris suggests that it might have served as a scriptorium (Fig. 2). In contrast to it, the elongated building with a double arcade on its south façade situated to the northeast of the church recalls residential buildings with superimposed galleries, doxata,known in Greek and Serbian monasteries from the 11th to the 16th c.

Thus, the elegant building technique, the peculiar architectural types of the buildings as well as the architectural decoration, paralleled in prestigious foundations in the capital of Preslav and elsewhere on the territory of the Byzantine Empire, suggest that the provincial monastery of Karaačteke was not a local initiative; rather, its foundation was commissioned by some higher figure of the State administration. Indeed, the seal of Prince Boris-Michael found there suggests not only the approximate date of the foundation of the monastery, the late 9th c., but also suggests that the ruler might be the most probable patron of the foundation. Furthermore, it can be assumed that the founder of had brought the holy patron of the monastery, the Mother of God.9 The Byzantine anonymous follis (class A, AD 969-1025) found in the stone courses of the wall of the northeastern building indicates the time of the last serious reconstruction work there. It is not unlikely that this building activity was undertaken by the Byzantine authorities who in the middle of the eleventh century established in Varna a strategia rather than by the neighboring rural population.10 Though not definite and precise, the approximate dating of the fresco decoration of the church to the 11th - 12th c. provides rather suggestive evidence in support to such a hypothesis. However, the middle of the 11th c. was a turning point for the complex of Karaačteke too. Most likely, the collapse of the settlement network in the region due to the attacks by the Pechenegs in AD 1048 and the Uzi in AD 1064 led to the abandonment of the complex.11 Light dwellings, some of which reused marble spolia from the church and other buildings in their construction, illustrate shift in the style of habitation at the site since the second half of the eleventh century onward. In the 12th - 14th c., the area east of the church was occupied by a lay cemetery, while the dwellings were predominantly arranged west of the church.

3.2. The rock-cut monastery at Basarabi

One more monastery of the time of the First Bulgarian Empire has been attested in the northern part of the West Black Sea coast yet farther from the coastline. This is the rock-cut monastery arranged in the chalk massif, known as to Tebeşir (‘chalk’ in Turkish) Hill near the village of Basarabi 15 km to the west of Constanţa (present-day Romania). The northern and northwestern slopes of the hill shaped the core of the medieval quarry, which spread over an area of about 200 m by 40 m.
12 In fact, the quarry and monastic complex carved there belonged to the most densely inhabited area in Dobrudža, the valley of the Carasu River.13

The rock-cut structures carved out in the Tebeşir Hill comprise two spatially defined groups (Fig. 3). The first group includes structures, located in the northern slope of the hill, specifically, at its eastern end, which has been designated as sector B. Only about 25 m southwest of the sector B is located another group of rock-cut structures designated as sector E . Here are attested six rooms and five galleries.

All together six churches of a diminutive size had been arranged in the complex of Basarabi. Four of them are located in the northwestern area of the Tebeşir Hill (sector B), and two, in its southwestern part (sector E).14 Five out of the churches, B 1-4 (Fig. 4) and E-5, are single-nave buildings with single apses, while the layout of church E-3 resembles a basilica-type (Fig. 5). A common feature of all the churches is their slightly vaulted ceiling. However, their interiors are far from uniform. Two churches, B-3 and E-5, have only a naos and a sanctuary, three others, B-1, B-2, and B-4, are divided into narthex, naos, and sanctuary, while church E-3 has one more room—an exonarthex.

Another distinctive group of rock-cut rooms is comprised by the rooms used for burial purposes. In contrast to the churches, the variety in the burial structures is considerably higher and one can distinguish four types: burial chambers, tombs adjacent to churches, funerary chapels, and galleries-catacombs. The number of the rock-cut dwellings in the Basarabi complex is considerably smaller than that of the churches and the burial structures — altogether four dwellings were attested in the two sectors. Two of them were turned later in burial chambers.15

The establishment of the Basarabi monastery can be generally dated to the first quarter of the 10th c.16Most likely the rock-cut complex was abandoned as a result of the collapse of the settlement network at the Lower Danube due to the raids of Russians and Pechenegs in the late tenth century.

The rock-cut complex was not a simple hermitage but a monastic complex the core of which was comprised by two hermitages centered on churches B-1 and E-3 respectively. The preferable single-nave type of the churches, their diminutive size, and the transformation of cells into burial chambers might be seen as indications for anchorite practice. Yet the function of church B-4 as the main church of the complex implies rather a lavriotic mode of life in the Basarabi complex. However, the lay patronage played an important role in the development of the monastery. Namely the lay patronage was the main reason for the establishment of a distinctive commemorative zone (E) in the monastery. There one finds the most secure claim for a lay commission in the rock-cut monastery of Basarabi as a whole, and these are the subsidiary funerary chapel E-5 and the two graves of women placed in the galleries related to the chapel. 17

The strongest evidence for a lay patronage in the Basarabi monastery, however, is provided by the main monastic church, B-4. Besides its dimensions and elaborate interior, which would have hardly been executed without the skills of trained masons, the main argument for a lay patronage is a Cyrillic inscription incised on one of the pillars between the narthex and the nave stating that “Toupai carved out of stone the church of George” (Fig. 6).18

Thus, the Basarabi complex, which inherited the crucial location of the quarry in the dense settlement network in North Dobrudža, turned into the most significant rock-cut monastery in the hinterland of the north part of the West Black Sea coast in the 10th c. known so far. Furthermore, the monastery became a pilgrimage site as evident from the inscriptions informing for various visits to the monastery19 as well as from the so-called ‘boot’-graffiti (Fig. 7) scratched, as argued elsewhere, as personal signs of worship by a distinctive group of pilgrims who passed through the northeast part of the Bulgarian kingdom sometimes in the tenth century.20

No data for monasteries active in the 9th - 11th c. in the greater coastal centers to the south of Haemus, such as Mesembria (mod. Nesebăr, Bulgaria), Anchialos (mod. Pomorie, Bulgaria), and Sozopolis (mod. Sozopol, Bulgaria), is available until know. In light of the epigraphic evidence, the only active monastic site in that period appeared to have been the rock-cut monastery of St Nicholas in the vicinity of Midye. More precisely, two painted inscriptions in Greek on the interior of the apse are dated to the 8th - 9th c.,21 one graffito-inscription in the narthex is dated to the 9th - 11th c., while another graffito incised there bears the date AD 1092/1093.22

4. Monasteries from the 12th - 15th c.

4.1. The rock-cut monastery of Aladža

The only surviving monastery in the northern part of the West Black Sea coast that was active between the 12th and the 15th c. was the rock-cut monastery of Aladža situated in the outskirts of the Frangensko plateau 12 km northeast of the modern city of Varna. It is located only 3.5 km far off the coast. The rooms of the complex are carved in a vertical hardly accessible rocky wall 8-12 m in height (Fig. 8). Most likely the monastery was founded in the 12th - 13th c. and was active until the Ottoman conquest of the area in the middle of the 15th c.

Aladža monastery is one of the few rock-cut monasteries where one can clearly recognize the elements of a coenobitic house—a main monastery church (katholikon), a chapel, a funerary chapel, a crypt, a kitchen, a refectory (trapeza), monastic cells, and service rooms. The main church is the largest and the most carefully executed room in the complex arranged on a higher level than the rest. It has a rectangular layout and flat ceiling. The liturgical arrangement of the interior consists of an arched sanctuary niche in the eastern wall, a prothesis niche in the northern wall, an altar and a bench for the monks craved out of the rock. Shallow conches were shaped in the north and south wall. Two layers of mural paintings have been attested on the interior.

Step cut through the pavement of the naos of the church led to a lower level of the terrace where six monastic cells were cut in the rock in a row along a corridor (Fig. 9). A peculiar feature in all of them is the niche shaped in the eastern wall that might have accommodated icons and censors.

The kitchen and the refectory were arranged at the end of the same corridor. They were divided by a frame-built wall. The kitchen has been identified thanks to a large chimney and the cupboards cut into the rock. A small niche on the eastern wall of the refectory substituted for the apse reserved for the abbot the arrangement of the masonry refectories.

The crypt was located on the lowest level of the rock-cut complex. Three out of the five tombs cut into the floor have been attributed to the medieval period. The arrangement of such a small number of tombs indicates that the monastic community followed the burial practice according to which the remains of the deceased were moved to common tombs for 7 to 10 years after the burial. A funerary chapel was arranged above the crypt reproducing through carving a triconch layout similarly to the main church.

One more chapel was arranged at the highest level of the complex, almost 20 m in height. It was accessible by means of a wooden staircase starting from the platform in front of the crypt. The chapel was partly carved out of the rock and partly masonry. It has a rectangular nave with a flat ceiling terminating to the east into a vaulted sanctuary niche. A spacious room furnished with a bench preceded the chapel and perhaps served as a narthex. Both the narthex and chapel were painted with frescoes that survived in a relatively good condition. On the basis of their stylistic characteristics and parallels they are dated to the late 13th - early 14th c.

In the course of the study of the rock-cut monastery in 1987-1988 two remote cells have been found 800 m east of the main church. Apparently, at a certain moment the monastic community followed a lavriotic practice combining a coenobitic and anchoretic mode of life.

The so-called “Catacombs” arranged on three levels are situated 500 m to the west of the main church. The ceramic material found there dated to the 4th - 6th c. and 12th- 14th c. Among the more indicative finds is a fragmented glass float light and metal fragments from a polycandilion dated to the 6th - 7th c.24 It is generally considered that the “Catacombs” must have been related to the basilica of the 5th - 6th c. built on the plateau above the rock-cut monastery. The ceramic fragments from the 12th - 14th c. found in the “Catacombs” indicate that they might have been used in the medieval period either.

4.2. Monasteries in the area of the coastal mountain of Emona

In contrast to the previous period, there is sufficient data for monasteries in the southern part of the West Black Sea coast, mostly coming from the Patriarchal chancellery in Constantinople, Byzantine and Bulgarian royal charters as well as from toponymy and local memory. Thus, a considerable concentration of monasteries appeared in the area of the coastal mountain of Emona (mod. Emine), more precisely in the proximity of the fortress of Emona(St Nicholas, St Elijah near the peak of Palaiokastro and St George near the coast) and the surroundings of the village of Vlas (St Blasios, St Peter, St Andrew, and St Elijah).25 Two of the monasteries, St Nicholas and St Blasios, were under the jurisdiction of the Constantinopolitan patriarch by the 14th c. The independence of St Nicholas monastery from “any demand of the tsar, the church, or the magnates” had been confirmed in a charter issued by the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander (r. 1331-1371) in AD 1354.26 Yet in AD 1379 a charter issued by the Byzantine emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391) transferred the control over the monastery of St Blasios to the metropolitan of Mesembria.27 The reputation of the monasteries of Emona as prominent places for monastic contemplation in the second half of the 14th c. is fully demonstrated by the fact that the famous monk and spiritual leader of the hesychasm in Bulgaria, Theodosius of Turnovo, withdrew in one of them for a certain period of time.28 However, the only material remains of the monasteries in the area are associated with the present monastery of St Nicholas which is situated 1 km to the east of the village of Emine. Yet its church is dated to the 19th c. and lacks any spolia in its construction.29

4.3. Monasteries in Mesembria

Similarly to the monasteries in the area of Emona, the evidence for the monasteries in Mesembria comes out from royal charters and acts of the Patriarchal Chancellery from the 14th c. Thus, the monastery of the Mother of God Eleousa was given two charters by Tsar Ivan Alexander: according to the earliest one, he confirmed the stauropegial privileges of the monastery and thus, its independence form the metropolitan of Mesembria.
30 Тhe year of the issue is not provided yet donors inscriptions on the silver frame of an icon of the Mother of God Eleousa found in Nesebăr enable a more precise dating of the royal charter.31 Thus, the inscriptions refer to the donation of the icon itself and a number of precious liturgical items to the monastery of the Mother of God by Tsar Ivan Alexander and his son Michael Asen after the restoration of the church they attempted in AD 1341. Furthermore, the curse in the fourth inscription to anyone, “be it a patriarch, a metropolitan, or an elder, or a powerful [person]”, who dared to touch the treasures of the monastery corresponds to the charter above noted that most likely was issued by the same time. Sometimes later, however, a second charter issued by Tsar Ivan Alexander handed over to the metropolitan of Mesembria not only the control over the monastery of the Mother of God Eleousa, but also over other Mesembrian monasteries, such as the monasteries of Christ Acropolites, the Mother of God Agnosoterissa, and St Blasios.32 The four Mesembrain monasteries appeared also in several acts of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchy issued between AD 1369 and 1391. According to the earliest one, a certain Makarios was appointed a hegoumenos of the monastery of Christ Acropolites and charged with its restoration. However, in the charter from AD 1379 above noted John V Palaiologos granted the trusteeship over the monasteries of Christ Acropolites, the Mother of God Eleousa, St Blasios, and the Mother of God Hagioretissa to the metropolitan of Mesembria. The jurisdiction of the Constantinopolitan Patriarchy over the monasteries in Mesembria, however, was restored in AD 1381 and confirmed for the last time by a charter in AD 1391.33

4.4. Monasteries in the area of Sozopolis

4.4.1. The Monastery of St John Prodromos

Not surprisingly, in addition to Mesembria as an episcopal see Sozopolis was the other town with a considerable concentration of monasteries on the West Black Sea coast.
34 The most famous among them was the imperial and patriarchal monastery of St John Prodromos situated in the southern part of the island of Sveti Ivan ca. 1 km to the northwest of Sozopol (Fig. 10).35 The island itself had been mentioned under the name of Zaffarana/Zaffo in two protulans (Catalonian and Italian) form the 14th c.36 Though the history of the monastery of St John Prodromos is one of the best documented among the medieval monasteries along the West coast of the Black Sea in general, the time of is foundation is still a subject of discussion. The archaeological excavations in the period of 1985-1989 have established that the earliest church built there was a three-aisled basilica with a single-apsed sanctuary dated to the late 5th- 6th c. (Fig. 11). Whether it was related to a monastic complex is a matter of speculation since no building dated to the same period has been attested around the basilica until now. The basilica originally built in brickwork (opus latericum) underwent three major periods of reconstruction the earliest of which is dated to the 10th c. and perhaps that was the time when a monastery was founded on the island. As can be judged on the basis of a chrysobull of the emperor John V Palaiologos from AD 1363, the church was dedicated to the Mother of God Kaleosa. For reasons still unknown the monastery was abandoned until AD 1263. Then, in the course of the conquest of the coast between Agathopolis (mod. Ahtopol) and Mesembria, the Byzantine high military commander Michael Glabas Tarchaniotes restored and adorned the monastery of St John Prodromos with a new church. Indeed, impressive remains of a church ca. 5 m to the north of the Early Christian basilica are still visible in now days (Fig. 12). The layout provides an outstanding example of a triconch church the dome of which was supported by pilasters built in the corners of the naos (Fig. 13). The narthex was divided into three bays: the side bays terminated to the east into brick-vaulted semicircular niches. The sanctuary consisted of spacious presbyterium, prothesis and diakonikon intercommunicating with each other and opened to the naos. The central apse was five-sided, while the side apses were three-sided. Fragments of wall paintings on the walls and fragments of the marble cornices and altar screen provide evidence for the lavish interior decoration of the church. The walls of the nave and the narthex survived to a considerable height of 2-3 m thus demonstrating to the full the building technique of pseudo-opus mixtum cum lingo (alternating bands of stones and bricks with employment of wooden beams in the core of the walls). The picturesque appearance of the church was further stressed by the blind arches that enlivened the western and the side facades. On the basis of the peculiarities of the masonry and the exterior decoration the construction of the church is dated to the late 13th - early 14th c.37 Thus, it can be suggested that the triconch served as a katholikon of the monastery of St John Prodromos restored by Michael Glabas Tarchaniotes in AD 1263. It might have been the time of the next significant reshaping of the earlier church of the Mother of God Kaleosa as well as of the construction of the main elements of the monastic complex such as the surrounding wall, the cells along its western section and a number of buildings to the south of the churches (the trapeza and the kitchen, a large baking oven, a building with representative functions frescoed on the interior, and a deep cistern).38 In AD 1303 the monastery sheltered the former Constantinopolitan patriarch John XII Kosmas who was born in Sozopolis.39 In the second half of the 14th c. St John Prodromos was the richest and dominating monastery in the bishopric of Sozopolis since a chrysobull of John V Palaiologos issued in AD 1363 granted it the control over two other monasteries in the city—the monastery of the Holy Apostles built by the emperor’s uncle Anastasios Palaiologos and the monastery of St Kyrikos and Julitta. The monastery kept and even further enriched his possessions also throughout the 15th c. and survived until AD 1629 when it was finally deserted under the pressure of the Ottoman Turks because it served as a shelter of Cossacks-pirates.40

In addition to its well-documented history as an imperial and patriarchal monastery, St John Prodromos on the island of Sveti Ivan became known through its library and scriptorium. Until now forty-five codices from the monastic library are known to have had survived and forty out of them are kept in the library on the island of Chalki in the Sea of Marmara where they had been brought after AD 1629. The codices include liturgical books and writings of the Church fathers, all of them written in Greek. The earliest manuscripts dated between the 12th c. and the middle of the 15th c. were copied at various places as evident from the scribal notes, while the majority of the books dated between the middle of the 15th c. and the beginning of the 17th c. were copied in the scriptorium of the monastery itself.41

4.4.2. Monastery of St Kyrikos and Julitta

Another monastery in Sozopolis the history of which is more or less documented is the monastery of St Kyrikos and Julittasituated on a small island 200 m to the northwest of the town, now artificially bonded to it.
42 The earliest appearance of the monastery is in a Patriarchal charter from AD 1270 giving in its possession the metochion of St George near Poros (near mod. Burgas). The statue of St Kyrikos and Julitta as a patriarchal monastery is further demonstrated by two Patriarchal sigillia from AD 1357 and 1368 as well as by the testament of the monk Theophylaktos from AD 1391 who left all his property to the monastery. In fact, the latter is the latest document related to the monastery which most probably was finally destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in AD 1629. No material traces of the medieval monastery have been attested until now.43

4.4.3. Other monasteries in Sozopolis

Three more monasteries in Sozopolis appeared occasionally in the documents above referred to. Two of them, the Mother of God and St Nicholas, were situated on small peninsulas (i.e. Červenka and Černomorets) in the western corner of Sozopolis gulf.
44 Only one, the monastery of the Holy Apostles, certainly was situated in the town itself yet its location remains uncertain.45 All those monasteries were also destroyed by the Turks in the middle of the 17th c.46

In light of the epigraphic evidence it seems that the rock-cut monastery of St Nicholas in the vicinity of Midye had been deserted much earlier than the monasteries of Sozopolis. The latest graffito-inscription that indicates the activity of the monastery in the Late Middle Ages was found in the narthex of the main church. The inscription is an invocation that contains the name of Agallianos identified by C. Asdracha with Theodore Agallianos who was ordained a metropolitan of Medeia under the name of Theophanes around AD 1468. Thus, the latest graffito-inscription in the rock-cut monastery is dated to the period between ca. 1440/1442 and October 1474.47

5. Conclusion

Related both to Constantinople and to the territories from which the “new pagans” came constantly over the Byzantine Empire, the West Black Sea coast had never been a hostile place for monks throughout the Middle Ages.The impression of imbalanced concentration and even scarcity of monasteries between the Danube delta and the Bosporus is a result of the fragmentary literary evidence and the insufficient level of archaeological surveys. Nevertheless, one has to admit that the identified monasteries in the West Black Sea coastal area offer one of the most detailed pictures of medieval monasticism on the Balkans since there one can find both rock-cut monasteries of a lavra type and monumental coenobitic monasteries providing fascinating examples of monastic architecture. What is particularly remarkable, however, is the high-ranking patronage of the coastal monasteries. Apparently, the foundation of monasteries and their maintenance were not a spontaneous process but rather well-planned policy followed by the Bulgarian tsars, Byzantine emperors and Constantinopolitan patriarchs. As a result, most of the monasteries on the West Black Sea coast were not simple shelters for those seeking God but through their missionary and literary activity appeared as strongholds of the Christian faith in that troubled region.

1. S. Eyice, N. Thierry, “Le monastère et la source de Mydie en Thrace turque”, Cahiers Archéologiques 20 (1970), pp. 47-76.

2. В. Бешевлиев, “Името Варна,” Известия на Народния Музей-Варна 17 (32) (1982), pp. 5-8.

3. For the monastery of Karaačteke, see С. Покровски, “Разкопки на Караачтеке при Варна при Варна,” Известия на Археологическия институт, 14 (1940/1942), pp. 249-252; М. Мирчев, “Разкопките в Караачтеке при Варна,” Известия на Археологическия институт, 17 (1950), pp. 286-7; К. Попконстантинов, Р. Костова, В. Плетньов, “Манастирите при Равна и Караачтеке до Варна в манастирската география на България през ІХ-Х в.,” in Българските земи през средновековието VІІ-ХVІІІ в. Международна конференция в чест на проф. Ал. Кузев. Acta Musei Varnaensis III-2. (Varna 2005), pp. 107-121.

4. Д. Димитров, “Варна и близките й околности през VІІ-ІХ в.,” Известия на Народния Музей-Варна 18 (33), pp. 55-79; В. Йотов, “Археологически приноси към историята на Варна през средновековието (1)”, Acta Musei Varnaensis II (Varna 2004), pp. 312-342.

5. Since the present southern edge of the terrace has been cut by a road in modern times, any remains of buildings which might have been found there would have been obliterated and scattered down the southern slopes. Moreover, these slopes themselves have been terraced and parceled out for vineyards and fruit orchards.

6. The only other similar example of dome piers with curved angles in medieval Bulgaria is the tenth-century church of Patlejna in Preslav. One can also refer to a very limited number of Byzantine churches dated to the 10th - 13th c.: C. Mango, “Les monuments de l’architecture du XIe siècle et leur signification historique et sociale,” Travaux et Mémoires 6 (1976), pp. 355-58.

7. S. Ćurčić, “The Twin-Domed Narthex in Palaeologean Architecture,” ZRVI 13 (1971), p. 333; C. Mango, Byzantine Architecture (London 1986), pp. 55-56.

8. For the spectroscopic analysis of the fragments of wall paintings see T. Zorba, K. M. Paraskevopoulos, D. I. Siapkas, E. Pavlidou, K. Popkonstantinov, S. Angelova, D. B. Kushev, “Study of Wall Paintings in Bulgarian Monasteries by Spectroscopic Methods,” in Physics in Culture. I. The Solid State Physics in the Study of Cultural Heritage, ed. K. M. Paraskevopoulos (Thessalonike 1999), pp. 152-165.

9. Let us recall, that the Mother of God was the holy patron of the capital of Preslav and therefore, her icon was the most precious trophy taken by the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes after the fall of the city in 971 AD: Ioannis Scylitzae Synopsis historiarum, ed. I. Thurn (CFHB 5, Berlin - New York 1973), p. 310; French translation: Jean Skylitzès, Empereurs de Constantinople, texte traduit par B. Flusin et annoté par J.-Cl. Cheynet (Réalités Byzantines 8, Paris 2003), p. 258.

10. The only known seal of a strategos of Varna is dated to the middle of the 11th c. and in light of the events which followed the Russian attack on Constantinople in AD 1043 its bearer Asotes anthypatos and patrikios had not been appointed before that date: Al.-K. Wassiliou, W. Seibt, Die Byzantinischen Bleisiegel in Österreich. 2. Zentral- und Provinzialverwaltung (Wien 2004), p. 289 (no. 304); Kostova, R., ‘“Bypassing Anchialos”: The West Black Sea Coast in Naval Campaigns 11th - 12th c. (I)’, in M. Kajmakamova et al. (eds.), Tangra. Sbornik v čest na 70 godišninata na Akad. Vasil Gjuzelev (Sofia 2006), pp. 579-597.

11. В. Тъпкова-Заимова, Долни Дунав-гранична зона на византийския Запад (Sofia 1976); P. Stephenson, Byzantium's Balkan Frontier. A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204 (Cambridge 2000), pp. 80-117.

12. I. Barnea, V. Bilciurescu, “Şantierul archeologic Basarabi (reg. Constanţa),” MCA 6 (1959), pp. 541-567; Christian Art in Romania 2, I. Barnea (ed.) (Bucharest 1981), pp. 17-20, 46-90.

13. About forty settlements generally dated to the 10th c. have been attested there. Most likely the settlement density was not a result of a demographic ‘explosion,’ but indicates a transfer of a population engaged in working the quarries, which supplied the construction of the Stone Dyke: P. Diaconu, Em. Zah, “Les carrières de pierre de Pacuiul Lui Soare,” Dacia 15 (9171), pp. 303-4.

14. I. Barnea, ”Les monuments rupestres de Basarabi en Dobrudja,” Cahiers Archéologiques 13 (1962), pp. 192, 197-98; 200-201.

15. The conversion of cells into burial chambers was also a common practice in Byzantine monasticism from the 4th c. onwards: Y. Hirschfeld, The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period (New Haven - London 1992), pp. 130-133; L. Rodley, Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia (Cambridge 1985), p. 202.

16. K. Popkonstantinov, “Les inscriptions du monastère rupestre près du village Murfatlar (Basarab). État, théories et faits,” in Dobrudža. Etudes ethno-culturelles, ed. D. Angelov, (Sofia: Editions de l’Academie Bulgare des Scienes, 1987), pp. 116-120, 126-128; 144-145; K. Popkonstantinov, O. Kronsteiner, Altbulgarische Inschriften, 1 (Die Slawischen Sprachen, 36) Salzburg-Wien, 1994, p. 75; Fl. Curta, “The cave and the dyke: a rock monastery on the tenth-century frontier of Bulgaria, Studia Monastica 41/1 (1999), pp. 129-151.

17. For the interpretation of the complex, see Р. Костова, “Скалният манастир при Басараби, Северна Добруджа: някои проблеми на интерпретацията,” in Българите в Северното Причерноморие, 7, ed. П. Тодоров (V. Turnovo 2000), pp. 131-153.

18. K. Popkonstantinov, O. Kronsteiner (1994), p. 109.

19. K. Popkonstantinov, R. Kostova, “Literacy, Literature and Liturgy in the Bulgarian Monasteries of the 9th - 10th Centuries,” in Love of Learning and Devotion to God in Orthodox Monasteries. 5th International Hilandar Conference. Selected Proceedings, 1, eds. M. Jokovic and P. Matejic (Belgrade - Columbus 2006), pp. 145-64.

20. In addition to the rock-cut monastery of Basarabi, the ‘boot’-graffiti appeared also in Preslav, the monastery of Ravna, Hiršova, Capidava, Dinogetia-Garvan, and Cherson. Most probably the people who incised the images of ‘boots’ adopted this symbol during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land and particularly, to Sinai where the image of a pair of boots (or sandals) became popular as a symbol of epiphany and piety, being derived from the ‘abbreviated’ iconography of the Burning Bush episode, a typical locus sanctus picture: Kostova, R., ‘Boot-Graffiti from the Monastery of Ravna and Early Pilgrimage in Bulgaria’, Annual of the Medieval Studies Department, vol. 2, ed. M. Sebök (Budapest 1996), p. 164.

21. One of the painted inscriptions in the apse reproduces a part of Psalm 92 (93), 5, while the other one glorifies the cross being arranged around an image of that symbol: C. Asdracha, Inscriptions protobyzantines et byzantines de la Thrace Orientale et de l’île d’Imbros (IIIe-XVe siècles). Présentation et commentaire historique (Athens 2003), II: pp. 249-252.

22. The two graffito-inscriptions are invocations: C. Asdracha (2003), III: pp. 316-318.

23. For a complete account of Aladža monastery, see Г. Атанасов, Д. Чешмеджиев, “Средновековният скален манастир до Варна (Аладжа манастир)”, Известия на Народния Музей-Варна 26 (41) (1990), pp. 110-140.

24. А. Минчев, “Антично стъкло от Западното Черноморие. ІІ. Чаши”, Известия на Народния Музей-Варна 24 (39) (1988), pp. 48, 57.

25. For the fortress of Emona, see Български средновековни градове и крепости. І. Градове и крепости по Дунав и Черно море, eds. В. Гюзелев, Ал. Кузев (Varna, 1981), pp. 316-324. For the monasteries, see К. Шкорпил, Х. Шкорпил, “Черноморското крайбрежие и съседните подбалкански страни в Южна България”, Сборник Народни Умотворения ІІІ (1890), pp. 16-18.

26. “Charters of Tsar Ioan Alexander to monasteries in Nesebar and its environs, Black Sea coast, late 1350s: II. Charter for the monastery of St Nicholas on the promontory of Emona,” in The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, Seventh-Fifteenth Century. The Records of a Bygone Culture, ed. K. Petkov (Leiden - Boston 2008), p. 501-502.

27. F. Miklosich, J. Müller, Acta et diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana (Vienna 1860-1890), II: p. 37; F. Dölger, Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des oströmischen Reiches, I-V (Munich - Berlin 1924-1956), 3162; P. Soustal, Thrakien (Thrakē, Rodopē und Haimimontos)  (TIB 6, Vienna 1991), pp. 208-209.

28. “Life of Theodosius of Tarnovo, mid of the fourteenth century,” in The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, p. 287-314.

29. TIB 6, p. 260.

30. “Charter for the monastery of the Mother of God Eleusa,” in The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, pp. 500-501.

31. “Inscriptions on the Silver Frame of the Icon of Mary Mother of God from Nesebar,” ca. 1341, in The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, pp. 430-431.

32. “Charter for the monastery Eleusa,” in The Voices of Medieval Bulgaria, p. 502.

33. В. Гюзелев, “Очерк върху историята на град Несебър в периода 1352-1453”, Годишник на Софийския университет, Философско-исторически факултет, LXIV/3 (1970), pp. 64-71.

34. For the monasteries in Sozopolis, see Б. Димитров, “Созополските средновековни манастири”, Векове 1 (1980), pp. 77-81; B. Dimitrov, “I monasteri di Sozopol nei secoli XIII-XV,” Byzantinobulgarica 7 (1981), pp. 277-282.

35. TIB 6, p. 285-286.

36. П. Коледаров, “Мореплавателни карти и други свидетелства за международното значение на Втората българска държава,” in България в света от древността до наши дни І. (Sofia, 1979), p. 293; Б. Димитров, “Българските средновековни пристанища ХІІІ-ХІV в. в светлината на два италиански портолана,” Археология 1 (1979), p. 23.

37. В. Димова, Църквите в България през ХІІІ-ХІV в. (Sofia 2008), pp. 341-343.

38. See TIB 6, pp. 285-286 and the quoted literature. In September 2008 the excavations at the site have been renewed after a 15 years break. The team headed by K. Popkonstantinov concentrated its work in the northern zone of the monastery and as a result the north gate of the complex has been unearthed. In addition, soundings in the sanctuary of the church of St John Prodromos proved the existence of a building that might be dated to the 4th - 6th c. and thus, preceded the construction of the church. The results will be presented in the Bulgarian Annual Archaeological Reports in 2009.

39. V. Laurent, “La chronologie des patriarches de Constantinople au XIII siécle (1208-1309)”, REB 18 (1960), pp. 147-148. Four years later the South part of the West Black Sea coast was put under the control of the Bulgarian tsar Theodore Svetoslav Terter who charged the famous monk-ex-patriarch to arrange a marriage for him with the daughter of Michael Palaiologos, Theodora: F. Dölger, “Einiges über Theodora, die Griechin Zarn der Bulgaren”, in Melange H. Gregoire, I (Brussels 1949), pp. 216-217.

40. The statue and the possessions of the monastery St John the Prodromos on the island of Sveti Ivan had been treated in an argyrobull issued by the emperor John VIII Paliologos in AD 1437 as well as in ten charters issued by the Patriarchal Chancellery between AD 1482 and 1626: Ι. Σακελλίων, «Ιωάννου Ε΄ καὶ Ιωάννου Ζ΄ τῶν Παλαιολόγων χρυσόβουλλον καὶ ἀργυρόβουλον περὶ τῆς κατὰ τὴν Σωζόπολιν μονῆς τοῦ Προδρόμου», Δελτίον της Ιστορικής και Εθνολογικής Εταιρείας της Ελλάδος 2 (1885), pp. 610-621; A. Papadopulos-Kerameus, «Ἡ ἐν τῷ νησίῳ Σωζοπόλεως βασιλικὴ μονὴ Ἰωάννου τοῦ Προδρόμου καὶ ἡ τύχη τῆς βιβλιοθήκης αὐτῆς», Византийский временник 7 (1900), pp. 661-695; F. Dölger, Regesten, 3093, 3096, 3473.

41. B. Dimitrov (1981), pp. 279-281.

42. TIB 6, p. 322.

43. C. Astruc, “Une acte patriarcale inédit de l’époque des Paléologues”, in Mélanges Henri Grégoire 4 (Brussels 1953), pp. 21, 29-31; F. Dölger, Regesten, 2614, 3094, 3096.

44. Only the remains of the monastery of the Mother of God are still visible: Б. Димитров (1980), p. 81; TIB 6, p. 376

45. According to B. Dimitrov, in 19th c. the medieval church was overbuilt by a chapel with same dedication which is still active: Б. Димитров (1980), p. 81.

46. Recently the existence of one more monastery in the town of Sozopol, the monastery of St John, has been argued on the basis of two documents from AD 1482 (a Patriarchal sigillion) and 1489 (a scribal note of a monk from the monastery of St John Prodromos on the island of Sveti Ivan). A four-column church excavated to the north of the present church of St George has been identified as the church of the monastery of St John. More precisely, the church was founded in the late 9th c. and after the reconstruction that followed the raid of Amedeo of Savoy in AD 1366 it became a part of a monastery that functioned until the middle of the 17th c.: Ц. Дражева, “Нови данни за средновековното църковно строителство в Созпол (ІХ-ХVІІ в.),” Известия на музеите от Югоизточна България, 20 (2003), pp. 46-52; id., “Манастирска църква с костница от Созопол,” in Приноси към българската археология, ІІІ-ІV (Sofia, 2006), pp. 79-85.

47. C. Asdracha (2003), I: No. 21.