Bulgaria, Serbia and Republic of Macedonia

''Fresco-Hunting'' Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches

Period: Medieval and Late Medieval
Code: MCBAL.EXP 16
Session 1: 14 May - 28 May, 2016
Session 2: 14 May - 4 June, 2016
Academic credits available: up to 9
Admission fee starting from: 1259 EUR (app.1329 USD)

The Project and the Course

General Information  

Project Type: field school & expedition for documentation of cultural heritage. There are two project versions available for participants: Standard and Extended. The standard project is suitable for students, young specialists and people with interests in medieval, Christian Orthodox architecture and art as well as documentation of architectural monuments and frescos that involves architectural and iconographic drawing as well as digital photography and travel. The extended project is suitable for those who want to expand their skills in digital photography, illustration and travel even more.     

Click here to read the article "Fresco Hunting in Bulgaria" by Georgia Gene Berryhill, Ph.D. in Art History, Fulbright senior specialist in Bulgaria (2010)!

Site/s: two to three medieval Christian Orthodox chapels and small churches located in Western Bulgaria in the standard project and many more located in both Western Bulgaria and Eastern Serbia during the extended project. They are located within 50 to 100 km (31 to 62 miles) away from the project’s hotel in Bankya, Sofia. The daily travel arrangements to and from these sites will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School.       

Period in the Project's Focus: Late Medieval Period (fourteenth to seventeenth century): Late Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Early Ottoman.

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).

DirectorsIvan Vasilev (MA in Archaeology), president of the Balkan Heritage Foundation; adjunct professor, NBU. Expedition director and Dr. Vassil Tenekedjiev (PhD in Archaeology),Varna Regional Museum of Histor.Expedition vice director.

Collaborative Universities & Institutions: the Balkan Heritage Foundation; New Bulgarian University and Sofia Photography School, Bulgaria

Dates: Standard Project:16 - 30 May, 2015; Extended Project: 16 May - 6 June, 2015

Application Deadline: 25 April, 2015   

Minimum Length of Stay: Two weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Number of Field School Places Available: 8

Project Language: English

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, the BHFS could 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.

Special Requirements: The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities. Participantsare expected to bring a laptop having at least 5 GB free disk space, a mouse and an USB flash drive. Bringing a personal DSLR camera is recommended but not mandatory. Anyway there is no better way of gaining new skills in Digital Photography than exploring capacities of your own camera. All participants will be asked to release the copyright on all graphic materials they create/ work on during the expedition (maps, drawings, photographic images etc.) to the Balkan Heritage Foundation for non-commercial use.   

Note, citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand don't need entry visa for both Bulgaria and Serbia! Citizens of countries not mentioned above should check in advance, whether they will need entry visa for both countries!

The Expedition and the Field School

THE EXPEDITION: "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 seven years Bulgarian, Macedonian, US, Canadian and Japanese specialists and students from all over the world participating in the "Fresco-Hunting" Photo Expedition upgraded the existing database of drawn and photographic records of eleven churches and chapels in Western Bulgaria. Our aims are 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. Our work raised the public awareness and some ecclesiastic edifices were partly conservated. Articles about two of them (Zimevitsa and Golesh) are now in print. Unfortunately many more remain in desperate condition awaiting either better times or slow deterioration.    


ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT: 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 Ottoman invasion in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the following social and political cataclysms. 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 vandalization(once in the period of the Ottoman Empire caused by either hostile Muslims or superstitious Christians, nowadays caused by looters and vandals) and/or weather conditions ruining them after they were abandoned.


THE FIELD SCHOOL In 2015 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 region in focus is geographically and culturally very close to present-day Eastern Serbia, where a photo-excursion to a couple of medieval eccelsiastic monuments will take place. The students will be able to find paralels and make comparisons with the churches and their mural paintings across the border.


1. The Standard Field School Project (16 - 30 May, 2015) 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 course in Illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software);

  • 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 (refer to the Field School Agenda!).

2. The Extended Field School Project (16 May - 6 June, 2015) is comprised of:

  • All the elements of the Standard Project mentioned above during the first two project weeks;   
  • Introduction to Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a powerful technique to expose minute surface details by dynamic relighting;
  • Study-trips to prospective sites in Western Bulgaria assessing their current condition and potential to be included in the expedition’s agenda;
  • Photo-excursions to medieval eccelsiastic monuments in Eastern Serbia.         


Optional tour of Istanbul (Turkey) is available for all students after the field school (6-10 June, 2015).      


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.  

The Program

Lectures (L), Workshops (W), Guided Tours (GT) and Field Instructions & Training (FIT):      

  • History of Bulgaria and the Central Balkans in the Middle Ages (L) - live at the National History Museum;
  • Architecture of Orthodox Churches (L) - live in Sofia;
  • Medieval and Late Medieval Churches in Western Bulgaria (L);
  • Iconographic Program of Orthodox Churches (L) - live in an Orthodox church;
  • Themes and Characters in Orthodox Iconography (L) - live in an Orthodox church;
  • Orthodox Icons. Iconostasis (L) - live in an Orthodox church;
  • Stages in Development of a Wall-paintings Conservation and Restoration Project (L);
  • Introduction to Documental Photography – Part 1 (L)
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for Documentation of Architecture and Frescos (L);
  • Introduction to the Expedition Field Journal (FIT);
  • Post-expedition work and digital archiving (W);
  • History of Sofia (GT) - live in Sofia; 
  • Field Graphic and Photographic Documentation:
    • How to Draw a Ground-plan/Elevetion-plan/Cross-section using Scale (W, FIT);
    • Documental Photography (L, FIT);
    • How to Organize a Photo Documentation Project? (W).
  • History and Art of Boyana Church (GT) - live in Boyana Church;
  • History of the Rila Monastery (GT) - live in Rila Monastery;
  • Life in the Orthodox Monastery (GT) - live in Rila Monastery;
  • Introduction to Hagiograhy (W);
  • Illustration (by using graphic software) of Architectural Features and Wall-paintings (W) - optional;   


Only for students in the Extended project:

  • Introduction to Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI);
  • Medieval History of Nishava region (L);
  • Medieval heritage of Eastern Serbia (GT);
  • Introduction to Documental Photography – Part 2 (L)


  • Fieldwork - measuring (using tape measure and dumpy level) and recording measurements, scale-drawing, sketching, tracing frescoes and inscriptions on a tracing paper and/or cellophane, taking photographs, keeping a field journal on a daily basis.
  • Lectures and Workshops will take place at the conference hall in the project’s hotel.
  • Instructions and training available at the sites. 



The Agenda


16 May, 2015

Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm

A pick-up can be arranged from the Sofia airport, train or bus stations upon request.

17-19 May, 2015

Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School, the project and the participants. Ice-breaking and orientation. LECTURES, WORKSHOPS and VISITS of Sofia, including the the National Museum ofHistory and the Boyana church (UNESCO World Heritage Site).


Lectures and workshops in the area of South East European Medieval History, Orthodox Iconography, Iintroduction to Documental photography and project methodology.

20-22 May, 2015

Fieldwork at the sites (app.7-8 hours per day).

23 May, 2015

Guided visit to the Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

The largest and oldest surviving Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, est. in tenth century by St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila).

24 May, 2015

Day off

25-27 May, 2015

Fieldwork at the sites (app.7-8 hours per day)

28-29 May, 2015

Workshops for processing of digital images and development of digital archives as well as hagiography at the hotel. Presentation of preliminary project results.

Optional courses in Illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software)

30 May, 2015

Departure for participants in the Standard Project. Check-out by 12.30 pm

Day off for participants in the Extended Project

A drop-off can be arranged to the Sofia airport, train or bus stations upon request.

31 May, 2015

Lectures and Workshops.

1-5 June, 2015

Study visits to medieval churches in Western Bulgaria.

Photo excursions in Eastern Serbia.

Photo Processing Workshops.

6 June, 2014

Departure for participants in the Extended Project. Check-out by 12.30 pm

A drop-off can be arranged to the Sofia airport, train or bus stations upon request.

Reading Background


  • 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 - https://artcosnervationcsmodotcom.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/vol36_doc1.pdf
  • Dorrell, P.G. Photography in archaeology and conservation. Cambridge University Press. 1994   
  • Huntington, John C. Photography for Art Historical Field Research and Documentation – huntingtonarchive.osu.edu/resources/downloads/DigitalPhotography.pdf   
  • Hupchick, D., Cox, Harold. Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of the Balkans. Saint Martin’s Press Inc. 2001
  • Langford, Michael. Basic Photography. Focal Press, Oxford, 2 edition (2000)
  • Mango, Cyril. History of World Architecture: Byzantine Architecture. Rizzoli International Pub­lishing, New York. 1978.
  • Mora. P., Laura Mora. Examination and Documentation. In: 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   


Iconography and Wall-paintings

Camera Exposure

Camera Exposure and Metering

Understanding the Histogram

Understanding How Camera Works

Camera Lenses: Focal Length and Aperture

Understanding How Depth of Field Works

Choosing and Using a Tripod

Color Temperature and White Balance

Light in Photography

Digital Photography

Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities    


Nearest Air Terminal: Sofia - don't forget checking the low cost flight options!

How to get there? If participants arrive at either the Sofia airport or bus/train stations, a taxi transfer to the project venue in Bankya may be arranged by request (Please, specify this in your application form!). Individual or group transfers' price may vary depending on number of passengers from 10 to 20 EUR. Otherwise, participants could use Sofia public transport (bus, subway, train) to reach Bankya. Details will be included in the Info-sheet disseminated to all participants app. a month before the project starting date.

Accommodation & Meals

Accommodation and Food: in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV) in a hotel located in the downtown of Bankya, which also provides free Wi-Fi. Laundry service is available once a week. Three meals per day are covered by the admission fee. They usually take place in the hotel restaurant except the brown-bag-lunches (when on sites and during the excursions). Requests for vegetarian food are accepted. Participants have to pay extra for additional days and single room accommodation as well as any meals & beverages, services and products outside the project package. Extra day B&B accommodation’s price for shared/single-room occupancy is 20/30 EUR. Single rooms are available upon request for the supplement of 190 EUR (for one-week period). 

Free Time & Trips

Free time: Bankya and Sofia offer a lot of opportunities for good entertainment, SPA, sports, sightseeing and shopping. For more information look at: http://cityinfoguide.net - the Sofia monthly guide for culture and entertainment! SPA treatments, hiking and horse-riding are the possible leisure activities in Bankya! Guided visits of Sofia, including the Downtown, National Museum of History, Boyana Church (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) are organized for all field school participants and covered by the admission fee. Participants in the Extended Field School Project will visit also a number of picturesque medieval monuments in Serbia including Poganovo and Temska monasteries as well as Pirot Castle.

Extra trips and excursions: The BHFS participants could take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take part in the optional excursion to Istanbul (Turkey) on 6-10 June, 2015.

Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is necessary to arrange your own insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. All EU citizens can use Bulgarian medical services, just like Bulgarian citizens, as long as they can provide evidence of their home-country health insurance with a card/certificate, etc.

Weather: Moderate continental climate influenced by surrounding mountains dominates in Sofia and the area of expedition making springtime refreshingly cool and rainy (12-25 C, 56-77 F). Accidentally lower temperatures may occur, but May could also be surprisingly hot (up to 30-35 C; 86 – 95 F).

What to bring?

  • Work shoes and clothes that will suit outdoor work keeping in mind the diverse weather
    conditions (from rainy and cool to sunny and warm)! Don’t forget both your raincoats and suntan lotion/oil. There will be no real rugged hiking to sites this year but a pair of comfortable hiking shoes and a small backpack (for your food, bottle of water, moist wipes, camera, papers etc) are required. Long pants are recommended because of the potentially harmful plants, insects and reptiles! You will also be asked to help carry /load/ unload some of the project equipment.
  • Medication - only prescription medicines you may need. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.
  • EQUIPMENT: Participants are asked to bring their individual high resolution digital photo camera. There are no specific requirements for lenses for your DSLR, but higher ISO and optical stabilization are recommended. Bear in mind that working conditions are frequently difficult - low/ no light, humid and moldy environment. The Balkan Heritage Field School has flood lights but these are only usable if there is electricity. The participants are encouraged to bring a laptop having at least 10 GB free disk space, a mouse and an USB flash drive. Operating system recommended: Windows XP or newer. Don’t forget to bring your camera USB connecting cable (esp. in case you can’t bring your laptop). You will not need to bring drawing, measuring and/or other tools - these will be provided by the field school!   
  • Don’t forget to bring also a converter to EU type electricity wall-plug if needed!
  • A good attitude for work, fun, study and discoveries ;)

The Admission Fee



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.

The price in USD is for orientation. Please check current exchange rates!.   


Early registration by January 31st, 2015:

The Early bird admission fee for the Standard Project/Extended Project is 1259/1889 EUR (app.1409/ 2119 USD  


Registration after January 31st, 2015:

The regular admission fee for the Standard Project/Extended Project is 1399/2099 EUR (app.1559/ 2359 USD.



Admission Fee Transfer Options:

- Bank transfer
- On-line transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted.

For further information contact Admissions Office at bhfs.admissions@gmail.com!


Discounts off the Regular Admission fee:


* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in more than 1 BHFS project or project session in 2015. (5% discount is valid for all projects/sessions to be attended).
  2. Membership in the Archaeological Institute of America.

* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Participation in any BHFS project/s in the past.

* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate in one project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant)

* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular admission fee is available in case of:

  1. Group Participation (three or more people, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015 (the discount is valid for each participant for all projects/ sessions to be attended).
  2. BHFS alumni, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2015.(15% discount is valid only for the second, third etc. project/session to be attended).

Note, 7% of every admission fee for this project directly supports the Balkan Heritage Protection Fund's activities!   



For more information about scholarships, low-cost flights, hotels, etc. please feel free to contact us or look at our recommended links

Academic credits   


New Bulgarian University grants 6 ECTS credits to students for attending the two-week session and 9 ECTS credits for attending the three-week session. Transcripts of Records (ToR) are available upon request for an additional tuition fee starting from 282 EUR for six ECTS credits. For details please read carefully the Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.



Bulgaria, Serbia and Republic of Macedonia

''Fresco-Hunting'' Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches

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