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"Fresco-Hunting" Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches 2014 (Bulgaria/Serbia)

Location: Bankya, Sofia, Bulgaria

May 17, 2014 to June 7, 2014

Session dates: 
Standard Project: 17 – 31 May, 2014; Extended Project: 17 May – 7 June, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Flyer: bhfs_brochure_2014.pdf

Discount for AIA members: 
5% discount off the regular admission fee

Program Type

Field school


Balkan Heritage Foundation; New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria and Conservation Of Sculptures, Monuments And Objects (CSMO)

Project Director:

Ivan Vasilev (President of the Balkan Heritage Foundation, Visiting Professor, Medieval Art and Heritage Preservation, NBU) and George A. Bevan (PhD) - Assistant Professor, Department of Classics, Queen's University, Canada

Project Description

“Fresco-Hunting” Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches provides a unique opportunity to students and volunteers to take part in an expedition for documentation of abandoned medieval churches/chapels and their frescoes in Western Bulgaria and to visit many other Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries, museums and archaeological sites in Sofia, Western Bulgaria and Eastern Serbia.

The number of monuments in the project focus has been permanently decreasing due to the lack of effort to preserve and protect them  from weather damage and vandalization.  During the last six years the “Fresco-Hunting” Photo Expedition upgraded the existing database of drawn and photographic records of eleven churches and chapels in Western Bulgaria. The objective is: the publication of a ‘Corpus of Medieval Frescoes from Western Bulgaria’ and development of further projects to support the sites in danger through conservation,restoration, development/improvement of the site's management and fund-raising.

In 2014 the expedition envisions to enhance the database created during the previous seasons by documenting architecture and frescoes (and their condition) of two to three medieval Christian Orthodox chapels and small churches in Western Bulgaria and collecting new data on their history, artifacts and environment. The target region is geographically and culturally very close to present-day Eastern Serbia, where a photo-excursion will take place. The students will be able to find paralels and make comparisons with ecclesiastic monuments across the border.

Project Venue: a hotel in Bankya, a small SPA town in the Sofia Metropolitan Area, Bulgaria. The fieldwork during the work days will involve travel to the church sites (app. 60-80 km away from Bankya) and the transport will be arranged by the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS).

The Field School Project has two versions: Standard (17-31 May, 2014) and Extended (17 May - 7 June, 2014).

The STANDARD PROJECT is suitable for students, young specialists and people with interests in european medieval studies, orthodox architecture and art, fresco restoration and conservation as well as photography.

The EXTENDED PROJECT is suitable also for those with interest in digital photography and documentation of artifacts and architecture and have some familiarity with the basic principles of photography, digital slr cameras and those who are comfortable with learning new computer programs.

The Standard Field School Project (17 - 31 May, 2014) is comprised of:

  • Fieldwork that entails the creation of both graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastic edifices and frescos (two to three churches will be in the focus of study);
  • Educational course - specialized lectures in South East European Medieval History, Orthodox iconography, introduction to Documental Photography, Fresco Conservation and Restoration as well as Workshops for Graphic Documentation (drawn and photographic record) and Processing of Digital Images and Development of Digital Archives. Free optional courses in Illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software) and Orthophotograhy are available to all participants;
  • Excursions/guided tours of Sofia and the Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bulgaria and the following 14th-century sites in Serbia: Poganovo Monastery, Sveti Nikola church in Stanichene, Momchilov Grad Fortress in Pirot .

The Extended Field School Project (17 May - 7 June, 2014) is comprised of:

  • All elements of the Standard Project mentioned above during the first two project weeks;
  • Workshop on Advanced Digital Photographic Documentation of Artifacts and Architecture (RTI And Photogrammetry) during the third project week. This workshop will instruct students on the use of the latest techniques in Computational Photography to document a Medieval church in Western Bulgaria. The instruction will focus on the use of flexible, non-destructive and low-cost documentation techniques to capture 3D data using digital cameras. These techniques will include Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a powerful technique to expose minute surface details by dynamic relighting, and close-range photogrammetry, which uses overlapping images to create true 3D models or architectural features. Discussed as well will be image processing techniques to enhance faded images, the creation of image mosaics, as well as best-practices for technical photography. The practical goal of this 2014 workshop is to document the faintly visible graffiti on the church frescos, produce drawings of them, and finally to incorporate them into the project record. The students will learn the basics of good technical photography, and the theory of both RTI and photogrammetry. They will, by the end of the course, be able to set-up, shoot and post-process RTI images. They will also be able to take these images to create 2D drawn records of graffiti and inscriptions. The students should also be able to plan and execute close-range photogrammetry projects, including the creation and manipulation of colour point-clouds and the generation of orthophotos. 

All participants will receive:

  • Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail and a hard copy on arrival);
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited.

Period(s) of Occupation: Late Medieval period (fourteenth to seventeenth century).

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Two weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 
No (for participants in the Standard project). Participants in the Extended project are expected to have some familiarity with the basic principles of photography, digital SLR cameras and those who are comfortable with learning new computer programs.

Room and Board Arrangements

In comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV) in a hotel located in the downtown of Bankya, wich also provides free Wi-Fi. Laundry service is available. Three meals (fresh, organic Bulgarian food) per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place (except the lunch packages during the excursions) in the hotel restaurant. Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Staying an extra day at the hotel costs 33 EUR. Single rooms are available upon request for the supplement of 170 EUR (for one-week period).

Admission fee before 31 January, 2014 for the Standard/Extended Project is 1259/1889 EUR (app. 1599/2429 USD). Admission (regular) fee after 31 January, 2014 for the Standard/Extended Project is 1399/2099 EUR (app.1799/ 2699 USD). The admission fee includes educational and fieldwork activities, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project Handbook, issue of Certificate of Attendance, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and administrative costs.

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
New Bulgarian University
Number of credits offered 6 / 9 credits for participation in the Standard / Extended Field School Project.
Transcripts are available upon request for an additional tuition fee starting from 270 EUR (app. 350 USD)!


Contact Information
Ms. Anna Parmakova
204, "Sveta Troitsa" St.
Stara Zagora
+ 359 877 725 052
Recommended Bibliography: 

Chavrukov, G. Bulgarian monasteries. Septemvri Publishing House, Sofia. 1978

Cormack, Robin. Byzantine Art (Oxford History of Art). Oxford University Press. 2000

Filov, B. Early Bulgarian Art. Paul Haupt. 1919

Crampton, R. J. A. Concise History of Bulgaria (Cambridge Concise Histories) - Cambridge University Press; 2 edition (2006)

Gabov, Alexander and George Bevan. Recording the Weathering of Outdoor Stone Monuments Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI): The Case of the Guild of All Arts (Scarborough, Ontario).Journal of the Canadian Association for Conservation (J. CAC), Volume 36, 2011

Huntington, John C. Photography for Art Historical Field Research and Documentation

Mango, Cyril. History of World Architecture: Byzantine Architecture. Rizzoli International Publishing, New York. 1978

Mora. P., Laura Mora. Conservation of Wall Paintings (Butterworth - Heinemann Series in Conservation and Museology). Butterworth-Heinemann. 1984

Safran, L (Editor).  Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium. Pennsylvania State University Press. 1998

Tragido, Alfredo. Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Guide to Imagery Series). 2006

Warda Jeffrey (Editor). The AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation, AIC 2011