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Expedition for Documentation of Medieval Balkan Churches and Their Frescos

Location: Sofia and Western Bulgaria, Bulgaria

May 17, 2014 to June 7, 2014

Session dates: 
Core Field School Project: 17 – 31 May 2014; Extended Field School Project: 17 May to 7 June, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, April 10, 2014

Deadline Type: 
Exact date

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

Program Type

Field school



Balkan Heritage Field School/Foundation (BH) - Bulgaria, New Bulgarian University (NBU) - Bulgaria

Project Director:

Ivan Vasilev, Balkan Heritage

Project Description

The decline of Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires in the fourteenth century, rise and fall of Serbian Kingdom (an Empire between 1346-1371), Ottoman conquest  of South-eastern Europe and the apogee of Ottoman power between the second half of the fourteenth and the end of seventeenth century highlight the Balkan Late Medieval Period. Churches and chapels that will be visited and studied were built during these turbulent times in one of the few Balkan areas where the traditions of all the major Balkan Late Medieval Art Schools and Guilds (those of Constantinople, Tarnovo, Ohrid, Thessaloniki, the Athos Holy Mountain, Epirus, Creta and the Danubain principalities) met. What we see today from the once flourishing medieval Orthodox art in the area are just small chapels and churches that survived the “disastrous” Ottoman invasion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Many of these monuments are characterized by humble architecture and often hide exquisite frescoes behind their unattractive exterior. Most of them have been abandoned long ago. There is visible damage due to both hostile acts of Muslims (in the period of Ottoman domination: fifteenth to nineteenth century.) and/or weather conditions ruining them after they were abandoned.

This project aims to support the documentation of medieval frescoes preserved in abandoned churches and chapels in remote areas of Western Bulgaria. Their number has permanently decreased due to the lack of effort to preserve and protect them from weather damage. For the last five years the “Fresco-Hunting” Photo Expedition has been upgrading the existing database of drawn and photographic records of eleven churches and chapels in Western Bulgaria. The task of the expedition envisioned for 2014 is to enhance the database created during the previous seasons by documenting frescoes and their condition as well as collecting new data on history, architecture, artifacts and environment of the ecclesiastical buildings they belong to. 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.

The field school project is comprised of two parts:

1. Standard Field School Project (17 - 31 May, 2014):

  • Fieldwork that entails the creation of both graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastic edifices and frescos (two to three churches will be 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). Optional course in Illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software);
  • Excursions/guided tours of Sofia and the Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

2. Extended Field School Project Stage (1 - 7 June, 2014):

  • Study-visits to several Late Medieval Orthodox chapels and churches;
  • Fieldwork, that entails creation of both graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastic edifices and frescos (Optional. depends on workload);
  • Workshops for Graphic Documentation (drawn and photographic records);
  • Course in Orthophotograhy;
  • Workshops for processing of digital images and development of digital archives;
  • Guided visit to the ancient city of Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Note, the fieldwork will involve travel to the church sites (app. 60-80 km away from Bankya)! Transport will be arranged by BH Field School.

The project will admit participants to:

  • the Standard Field School Project from 17 to 31 May, 2014
  • the Extended Field School Project = Standard project + Extended Project Stage from 17 May to 7 June, 2014. Participants, who attend the Extended Project may negotiate participation in further Balkan Heritage publications.

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.
New Bulgarian University grants 6 credits to students for participation in the Standard Field School Project and 9 credits for participation in the Extended Field School Project. Transcripts are available upon request for an additional tuition fee!

The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might exacerbate during the intensive outdoor activities. All participants are expected to bring individual digital cameras. The participants are encouraged to bring a laptop having at least 5 GB free disk space, a mouse and an USB flash drive.


Period(s) of Occupation: Late Medieval period (14th to 17th centuries)

An expedition for documentation of medieval frescoes preserved in abandoned churches and chapels of Western Bulgaria. Beside the fieldwork activities, lectures,workshops and trainings in: South East European Medieval History, Orthodox iconography, introduction to the Documental Photography and fresco conservation and restoration, graphic documentation (drawn and photographic record) and illustration (both drawing and using graphic software) of architectural features and frescos as well as guided tours to Sofia, Boyana Church and the Rila monastery (UNESCO world heritage sites) will be provided. Students could obtain up to 9 academic credits upon request.

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 1 session (two weeks)

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 
Prior knowledge of basic and/or digital photography is recommended.

Room and Board Arrangements

Full-board (including meals) accommodation in two- and three bedded hotel rooms with WC&showers will be provided. Requests for vegetarian food can also be accepted.

Early bird admission fee for the Standard Project / Extended Project is 1259/1889 EUR (app.1599/ 2429 USD) by JANUARY 31st, 2014. Regular Admission fee for the Core Project/Extended Project 1399/2099 EUR (app.1799/ 2699 USD. Check current exchange rates!) including 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. Other discounts off the regular admission fee are available in case of: 1) AIA membership; 2) Participation in more than 1 BH project or project session in 2014; 3) Small Groups (two or three people, who participate in a BH project in 2014); 4) Larger Groups (four or more people, who participate in a BH project in 2014).

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
New Bulgarian University, Bulgaria
Number of credits offered New Bulgarian University grants to students 6 credits for participation in one project session (Core Field School Project) and 9 credits for participation in two sessions (Extended Project). Transcripts are available upon request for an additional tuition fee!
€345/515 for 6/9 credits (for students outside EU). Participants who don't need academic credits, won't be expected to pay for the tuition fee.


Contact Information
Ms. Anna Parmakova - Admissions / Balkan Heritage Field School
204 Sveta Troitsa St.
Stara Zagora, BG-6004
Phone: +359 878 441 251
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

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.