“Fresco-Hunting” Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches, Bulgaria 2024 (Balkan Heritage Field School)

Location: Bankya, Bulgaria

Season: May 25, 2024 to June 8, 2024

Session Dates: 25 May - 8 June, 2024

Application Deadline: April 30, 2024

Deadline Type: Rolling


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

Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF); New Bulgarian University and Sofia Photography School (Bulgaria)

Project Director:
Ivan Vasilev, president of the Balkan Heritage Foundation and archaeologist; Dr. Vassil Tenekedjiev, archaeologist, Varna Regional Museum of History; Dr. Angel Angelov, archaeologist, National Ethnographic Institute and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Miroslav Marinov, professional photographer, Sofia Photography School

Project Description:

The Expedition

The “Fresco-Hunting” Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches provides a unique opportunity for students and volunteers to take part in an expedition for the documentation of abandoned medieval churches/chapels and their frescos in western Bulgaria, and to visit many other Christian Orthodox churches and monasteries, museums and archaeological sites in Sofia, western Bulgaria. The number of these monuments has sadly been permanently decreasing due to the lack of effort to preserve and protect them from weather damage and vandalism. During the last fourteen years, specialists from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, USA, Canada and Japan as well as students from all over the world participating in the “Fresco-Hunting” Photo Expedition have expanded and upgraded the existing database of drawn and photographic records of fifteen churches and chapels in western Bulgaria. We aim to publish a complete corpus of these medieval frescos and to develop further projects to support and record the remaining endangered sites through conservation, restoration, development and/or improvement of each site’s management, and fund-raising. Our work so far has been successful in raising public awareness. And, some of the sites we documented have been protected (Balsha, Kalotina, Zimevitsa). In 2017, the Balkan Heritage Foundation issued the first e-book dedicated to one of the churches documented by the Expedition, the 17th century church St. Thedore Tyro in Zimevitsa. The work on a publication of two more churches (Balsha and Golesh) is now in progress. Unfortunately, many more churches remain in desperate condition, awaiting either better times or continued deterioration.

The Field School

In 2024, the project envisions supplementing the database created during the previous seasons by documenting the architecture and frescos (and their condition) of three to six medieval Christian Orthodox chapels or small churches in western Bulgarian borderlands and collecting new data on their history, artifacts and environment.

The Field School is comprised of:

  • Fieldwork that entails a preliminary survey of architecture, frescos and their iconographic program; creation of textual, graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastical edifices and their frescos (in up to six churches)
  • Specialized lectures in Southeastern European medieval history; Christian Orthodox architecture, arts and iconography; documentary photography; fresco conservation and restoration; methodology of project survey as well as an introduction to photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)
  • Workshops for graphic (drawn) documentation, processing and archiving of digital images plus a free optional workshop on illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software)
  • Excursions and guided tours of Sofia and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bulgaria.

Period(s) of Occupation: Late Medieval Period (13th to 17th century): Late Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Early Ottoman.

The "Fresco-Hunting" Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches provides a unique opportunity for students and volunteers to take part in an expedition to document abandoned medieval churches/chapels and their frescos in western Bulgaria, and to visit many other Christian Orthodox churches, monasteries, museums and archaeological sites in Sofia and western Bulgaria. The expedition and the field school are coordinated by the Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF). Participants receive training in survey management, digital photography, surveys of architecture and iconographic program, technical drawing, use of dumpy level, developing archives of digital images etc., introduction to Byzantine art, architecture and religious iconography as well as photogrammetry, Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) and other photographic techniques for documentation of cultural heritage.

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Full session (Two weeks)

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: All candidates are expected to have some familiarity with the basic principles of photography and digital SLR cameras. For those who don’t, BHFS can offer the opportunity to take part in a special, brief but comprehensive online course about Digital Photography Basics by Sofia Photography School prior to their arrival in Bulgaria. (The cost of this training is not included in the admission fee of the field school.)

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodation*: Except the first night the participants will stay at the Hotel Zheravna, Bankya in Sofia Metropolitan area in rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, wi-fi). All participants will be given a free pick-up from Best Western Premier Sofia Airport Hotel to Bankya. *Subject to change. May be substituted with similar level accommodation. Meals: Three meals per day are covered by the reimbursement payment. Meals usually take place in the hotel restaurant, except the brown-bag lunches (when on site and during the excursions). Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Participants will have to pay extra for additional days in the project hotels, for single room accommodation, as well as for any meals and beverages, services or products outside the project package. Single rooms are available upon request for the duration of the field school for an additional cost of 400 EUR.

Academic Credit:
New Bulgarian University grants 6 ECTS credits to students for attending this field school. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee. Participants who are not interested in academic credits don't need to pay the NBU tuition fee.

Contact Information:

Balkan Heritage Foundation

7 Tulovo St., Floor 4, Apt. 6




Phone: +359 988 250 901; +359 898 681 366 (both available on WhatsApp)

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