Project type: Field school & research expedition
Field school & expedition founded: 2008
The sites: Participants will study, receive training, and work on the documentation of four to six medieval Christian Orthodox chapels or small churches in western Bulgaria. Participants will also have the opportunity to visit several other churches and medieval sites nearby in western Bulgaria.
Project venue and accommodation: Participants and staff stay at Hotel Zheravna in Bankya, a small SPA town in the Sofia Metropolitan area. On field work days, we will travel to the church sites which are located approx. 50 - 75 km (31 - 46 miles) from Bankya. Travel arrangements will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS).
About the project: 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.
The field school is designed for students and young specialists in heritage, archaeology and conservation as well as artists, but we also welcome anyone interested in:
BHF partners in this project:
Ivan Vasilev, president of the Balkan Heritage Foundation and archaeologist
Field school session available: 25 May - 8 June, 2024
Application deadline: 25 April, 2024
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 DSLR cameras. For those who don’t, BHFS can offer the opportunity to take part in an additional, tailored online course about digital photography basics by Sofia Photography School prior to the field school. The cost of this training is not included in the reimbursement payment of the field school.
Special considerations: The project is not recommended for individuals with special illnesses that might be exacerbated during the intensive outdoor activities.
Note: Citizens of the EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand do not need an entry visa for Bulgaria. Citizens of countries not mentioned above should check in advance whether they will need entry visas for one or both countries. The cost of any visas shall be covered directly by the students.
|Click here to watch testimonials of our former students. |
Click here to read "Fresco Hunting in Bulgaria" by Georgia Gene Berryhill (Ph.D. in Art History), Fulbright senior specialist in Bulgaria (2010).
The decline of the Byzantine Empire, the rise and fall of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the Serbian Kingdom and Empire, the Ottoman conquest of Southeastern Europe and the height of Ottoman power highlight the Late Medieval period in the Balkans from 13th to 17th centuries. The churches and chapels which will be visited and studied during the field school were built during these turbulent times in one of the few Balkan areas where many Balkan late medieval builders and artisan guilds crossed their roads. What we see today from the medieval Orthodox art in the area are the small chapels and churches that survived the Ottoman invasion in the 14th and 15th centuries and the wars as well as social and political upheavals of the following centuries. Many of these monuments are characterized by humble architecture and often hide exquisite frescos behind their unattractive exterior. Most of them were abandoned long ago, and there is visible damage due to both vandalism (during the period of the Ottoman Empire by either hostile Muslims or superstitious Christians, and nowadays by looters and vandals) and/or decay due to weather and lack of maintenance following their abandonment.
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.
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:
All participants will receive:
Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm.
8.00 pm - Welcome dinner.
9.30 am - Introduction, Orientation
1:30 pm - Lunch
3.00 pm - Lectures
7.30 - 8.30 pm - Dinner
Afternoon: Sofia Downtown Walking Tour with visits to the City Cathedral
Working days - Fieldwork at the sites (approx. 7-8 hours per day).
Guided visit to the Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) -This is the largest and oldest surviving Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. It was established in 10th century by St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila).
Working days - Fieldwork at the sites (approx. 7-8 hours per day).
Time for processing, archiving and reporting.
Presentation of preliminary project results.
Check-out. Departure* by 11:30 am.
*Taxis can be arranged at any time upon request. Their price varies between 20 and 25 EUR and is not included in the project cost.
Raykovska, M., G. Bevan and I. Vasilev. The Integration of Different Computational Photographic Modalities in High-Accuracy 3D Building Models: The Case of the Church of St. Petka, Bulgaria – In: Virtual Archaeology (Methods and Benefits) Proceedings of the Second International Conference held at the State Hermitage Museum 1-3 June, 2015, Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Publishers, 2015; pp. 139-157
Iconography and Wall Paintings
Understanding the Histogram
Understanding How a 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
Nearest Air Terminal: Sofia (SOF)
Where to go? Please arrive on 25 May 2024 at at the Best Western Premier Sofia Airport Hotel, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Visa requirements: Citizens of EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria. Citizens of all other countries may need a visa. The Balkan Heritage Foundation can send an official invitation letter that should be used at the relevant embassy to secure a visa to the program. For further details please visit our visa information page.
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.
Free time: Sofia offers many opportunities for good entertainment, spa, sports, sightseeing and shopping. For more information see: http://www.sofia-guide.com. Hiking, horse riding, and spas are possible leisure activities easily accessible in Bankya.
Trips: Guided visits of Sofia, including the Downtown, Boyana Church (UNESCO World Heritage Site) as well as Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Bulgaria, are organized for all field school participants and covered by the reimbursement payment.
Insurance: The reimbursement payment does not cover medical costs. It is mandatory to arrange your own insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. The insurance must cover as a minimum the following risks: medical treatment in case of an accident or disease, specifically covering COVID-19 as well as costs related to evacuation and repatriation.
Weather: A moderate continental climate influenced by the surrounding mountains dominates in Sofia and the area of the expedition. Springtime is traditionally refreshing and rainy (12-25 C, 56-77 F), but the weather in May-early June can be unpredictable -- it may be cool or be surprisingly hot (up to 30-35 C; 86 – 95 F).
What to bring?
All field schools are conducted as non-profit projects by the Balkan Heritage Foundation, Bulgaria. Their costs, including students' costs related to participation in the field school are covered by the reimbursement payments made by field school students.
BHFS project reimbursement payment covers: Educational and fieldwork activities, pick-up shuttle on arrival, full-board accommodation (hotel + 3 meals per day), tools, materials, project handbook or readings, issue of Certificate of Attendance, administrative costs, travel related to the fieldwork and the excursions included in the field school program plus relevant entrance fees.
BHFS project reimbursement payment does not include: travel costs to Sofia and from Bankya or costs of any activities not included in the field school program; medical products and services and any expenses related to medical quarantine (food delivery, accommodation, etc.).
The costs in USD are approximate. Please check the current exchange rates!
Early Bird Cost - until January 31, 2024:
Early Bird cost for a two-week project session is 1899 EUR/ approx.1899 USD
Regular Cost - after March 1 , 2024:
The Regular Cost for a two-week project session is 2099 EUR / approx. 2099 USD
Reimbursement Transfer Options:
For further information contact Admissions Office at: [email protected]!
* 5% DISCOUNT OFF the regular cost available for:
* 10% DISCOUNT OFF the regular cost available for:
* 12% DISCOUNT OFF the regular cost available for:
* 15% DISCOUNT OFF the regular cost is available for:
NOTE, 5% OF EVERY COST FOR THIS PROJECT DIRECTLY SUPPORTS THE BALKAN HERITAGE PROTECTION FUND'S ACTIVITIES!
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 of 400 EUR for EU students and 600 EUR for Non-EU students.
Participants in the field school who do not need academic credit units are not expected to pay for them.