Project type: Field school & research expedition
Field school & expedition founded: 2008
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, western Bulgaria and eastern Serbia. 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. An optional workshop for illustration of architectural features and frescos using graphic software corresponding to the latest trends in digital humanities supplements the program.
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:
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 and in eastern Serbia.
Project venue and accommodation: Participants and staff stay the first two days at the L'Opera Guest House, Sofia, then move to Erma Spa Hotel in Tran, a small town at the western border of Bulgaria. On field work days, we will travel to the church sites which are located approx. 50 - 75 km (31 - 46 miles) from Tran. Travel arrangements to Tran and back to Sofia as well as to and from the sites will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS).
BHF partners in this project: New Bulgarian University, Sofia Photography School (Bulgaria).
Directors: Ivan Vasilev, president of the Balkan Heritage Foundation and archaeologist and Dr. Vassil Tenekedjiev, archaeologist
Dates: 23 May - 6 June, 2020
Application deadline: Until the places are filled, or 10 April, 2020
Minimum length of stay: Two weeks
Minimum age: 18
Number of field school places available: 7
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 admission fee 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 and Serbia. 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 is not included in the price of the field school.
|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 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 and eastern Serbia. 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 twelve years, specialists from Bulgaria, Republic of 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.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT: 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 FIELD SCHOOL: In 2020, the project envisions to supplement 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 near Tran and collect 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 photography excursion to several medieval ecclesiastical monuments will also take place. The students will be able to identify parallels and make comparisons between the churches and their murals across the border in Serbia and those that they will be working to document in Bulgaria.
The Field School is comprised of:
All participants will receive:
Arrival and check-in by 7:30 pm
Orientation. Lectures. Workshops*. Tours of Sofia.
Trip to Tran. Check-in.
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).
Fieldwork at the sites (approx. 7-8 hours per day)
Photo excursion to eastern Serbia
Time for processing, archiving and reporting.
Presentation of preliminary project results.
Check-out. Departure to Sofia at 9:00 am.
A drop-off to Sofia airport and Downtown is scheduled for 9:00 am departure and is free of charge. The trip will take approx. 90 to 120 min.
Taxis can be arranged at any other time upon request for an additional fee of 70 EUR.
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
Camera Exposure and Metering
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 23 May 2020 at L'Opera Guest House, 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 and Serbia. 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*: For first four days of the field school, participants will stay at L'Opera Guest House in rooms with shared bathrooms in historic Downtown Sofia. Then the project team and students will move to the small town of Tran in western Bulgarian borderland area. They will stay there for the remainder of the field school in comfortable rooms with two to three beds (bathrooms with shower and WC, TV, wi-fi) in the Erma Spa Hotel, which also provides free access to the SPA center. All participants will be given a free ride back to Sofia Downtown and airport on 6 June. The departure is scheduled for 9:00 am. The trip will take approx. 90 to 120 min.
Meals: Three meals per day are covered by the admission fee. 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 fee of 350 EUR.
*Subject to change. May be substituted with similar level accommodation.
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 Tran.
Trips: Guided visits of Sofia, including the Downtown, National Museum of History, Boyana Church (UNESCO World Heritage Site) as well as Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Bulgaria and Eastern Serbia: Palja and Vlasina Lake, are organized for all field school participants and included in the admission fee.
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?
In order to participate in this educational project the BHFS expects all participants to reimburse their related costs, i.e. B&B accommodation (hotel + breakfast per day), tools, materials, excursions/sightseeing tours/entrance fees and other administrative costs. All participants are invited to support the project realization through donations. Information about all related costs will be published as soon as the WHO organization announces the end of the Covid 19 global pandemic.
Admission Fee Transfer Options:
- Bank transfer
- On-line transfers via the Balkan Heritage virtual POS Terminal. VISA, MASTERCARD & MAESTRO cards are accepted
- TransferWise money transfer
For further information contact Admissions Office at [email protected]
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. For details, Regulations for obtaining Transcripts of Records.
For non-EU students: 6 academic credits = 450 EUR (approx. 490 USD)
For EU students: 6 academic credits = 300 EUR (approx. 330 USD)