Bulgaria and Serbia

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

Period: Medieval and Late Medieval
Code: MCBAL.EXP 17
Session: 13 May - 27 May, 2017
Academic credits available: 6
Admission fee starting from: 1286 EUR (approx.1440 USD)

The Project and the Course

General Information  

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 frescoes 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 digital photography and other methods of documenting heritage monuments. 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 medieval culture (especially Byzantine or Orthodox Christian art and architecture), digital photography, cultural heritage preservation, and travel.

Major field school topics & activities:

  • Byzantine and Christian Orthodox architecture, arts and iconography during the late medieval (14th - 17th centuries) period
  • Documentation of the architecture and frescos of late medieval churches
  • Photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), in collaboration with Queen's University, Canada
  • Study trips and photo-excursions to significant heritage sites in western Bulgaria and eastern Serbia

The sites: Participants will study, receive training, and work on the documentation of up to two 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 in a hotel in Bankya, a small spa town within the Sofia Metropolitan Area, Bulgaria. We will travel to the church sites on working days to conduct our fieldwork which are located 50 - 100 km (31 - 62 miles) from Bankya. Travel arrangements to and from the sites will be organized by the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS).

BHF partners in this project: New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria), Sofia Photography School (Bulgaria), Queen's University,(Canada)    

Directors: Ivan Vasilev (PhD candidate in Archaeology, New Bulgarian University), president of the Balkan Heritage Foundation; Dr. Vassil Tenekedjiev (PhD in Archaeology), Varna Regional Museum of History and adjunct professor of archaeology, New Bulgarian University.    

Dates: 13 - 27 May, 2017

Application deadline: 20 April, 2017   

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 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.


  • Participants are expected to bring a laptop having at least 5 GB free disk space, a mouse and a USB flash drive. Bringing a personal DSLR camera is not required, but is recommended -- there is no better way of gaining new digital photography skills than exploring the capacities of your own camera. 
  • 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.   
  • Participants should bring clothes and toiletries suitable for warm and sunny weather, but should also prepare for rainy, windy and chilly days.    
  • Participants are also expected to prepare for the field school by reading the BHFS handbook that will be sent by e-mail before the beginning of the project.    
  • All participants will be asked to release the copyright on all graphic materials they create and contribute to during the expedition (which may include maps, drawings, photographic images, etc.) to the Balkan Heritage Foundation for non-commercial use.   

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 and the Field School

THE EXPEDITION: The "Fresco-Hunting" Photo Research Expedition to Medieval Balkan Churches provides a unique opportunity to students and volunteers to take part in an expedition for the 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 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 nine years, Bulgarian, Macedonian, US, Canadian and Japanese specialists and 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 eleven churches and chapels in western Bulgaria. We aim to publish a corpus of these medieval frescoes 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 partly conserved. Articles about two of them (Zimevitsa and Golesh) are now in print. Unfortunately, many more remain in desperate condition, awaiting either better times or continued deterioration.


ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT: The decline of Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires (14th - 15th centuries), the rise and fall of the Serbian Kingdom (and Empire from 1346 to 1371), the Ottoman conquest of southeastern Europe and the height of Ottoman power (second half of the 14th century to the end of the 17th century) highlight the Late Medieval period in the Balkans. 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 the traditions of all the major Balkan Late Medieval art schools and guilds (those of Constantinople, Tarnovo, Ohrid, Thessaloniki, Mount Athos, Epirus, and Crete) met. What we see today from the once-flourishing 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 following social and political upheavals. Many of these monuments are characterized by humble architecture and often hide exquisite frescoes 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 2017, the project envisions to enhance the database created during the previous seasons by documenting the architecture and frescoes (and their condition) of one or two medieval Christian Orthodox chapels or 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 photography excursion to several medieval ecclesiastic 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:

  • Fieldwork that entails the creation of both graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastical edifices and frescoes (in up to two churches) will be in the focus of study
  • An educational programme including specialized lectures in Southeastern European medieval history, Orthodox iconography, documentary photography, fresco conservation and restoration, photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)
  • Workshops for graphic documentation (drawn and photographic) and in processing digital images and developing digital archives
  • Free, optional course in illustrating architectural features and frescos using graphic software
  • Study visits to prospective sites in western Bulgaria to assess their condition and potential to be included in future expeditions  
  • Excursions and guided tours of SofiaRila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bulgaria, the Momchilov Grad Fortress in Pirot, as well as the 14th-century monasteries of Poganovo and Temsko in Serbia (Please refer to the Field School Agenda.)

All participants will receive:

  • E-Project handbook (in PDF version by e-mail)
  • Balkan Heritage Field School Certificate specifying the fieldwork hours, educational modules, and sites visited
  • T-shirt

The Program


  • Practicing basic documentation techniques: visual inspection, measurment using laser/tape and dumpy level, scale-drawing, sketching, digital photography, etc.
  • Creating textual, graphic and photographic records
  • (Preliminary) interpretation and identification of architectural styles and construction techniques, as well as fresco iconography, techniques and styles


  • History of Bulgaria and the Central Balkans in the Middle Ages -- live at the National History Museum
  • Architecture of Orthodox Churches -- live in Sofia
  • Medieval and Late Medieval Churches in Western Bulgaria
  • Iconographic Program of Orthodox Churches
  • Themes and Characters in Orthodox Iconography
  • Orthodox Icon and Iconostasis -- live in the Gallery for Medieval Bulgarian Art, Sofia
  • Basic Field Methods and Practices for the Documentation of Architecture and Frescos
  • Stages in the Development of a Wall-paintings Conservation and Restoration Project
  • Graphic and Photographic Documentation for fieldwork
  • Introduction to Documentary Photography
  • Introduction to Photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)
  • History of Sofia -- live in Sofia
  • History and Art of Boyana Church -- live in Boyana Church
  • Life in the Orthodox Monastery -- live in the Rila Monastery
  • History of the Rila Monastery -- live in the Rila Monastery  


  • Post-expedition work and digital archiving
  • Organizing a Digital Photographic Database
  • Introduction to Hagiography
  • Illustration (using graphic software) of Architectural Features and Wall-paintings – optional but free

On-site instructions:

  • How to Organize My Expedition’s Field Journal
  • How to Organize My Field Graphic and Photographic Documentation Project
  • How and What to Measure Using Laser/Tape Measure and Dumpy Level
  • How to Draw Architectural Ground Plans, Elevations, and Cross-sections to Scale
  • How to Sketch an Iconographic Program
  • Digital Photography for Heritage Documentation in Action – What, How and When
  • Health and Safety


Guided Tours:

  • Sofia Downtown Walking Tour with visits to the Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral (1912) dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevski ( including the Gallery for Medieval and Renaissance Orthodox Art in its crypt; Saint Sofia Church (6th century); the remains of Roman Serdica (2nd – 6th century AD) and Saint Georgi Rotunda (300s AD)
  • National Museum of History and the Boyana church (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
  • Momchilov Grad Fortress in Pirot, Serbia and the 14th-century monasteries of Poganovo and Temsko, Serbia


  • Lectures and Workshops take place at the conference hall in the project’s hotel.
  • Instructions and training take place at the project's sites. 



The Agenda


13 May, 2017

Arrival and check-in by 7.30 pm

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

14-16 May, 2017

Presentation of the Balkan Heritage Field School, the project and the participants. Ice-breaking activities and orientation. LECTURES, WORKSHOPS and Sofia Downtown Tour.


Lectures and workshops in the area of South East European medieval history, Christian Orthodox iconography, introduction to photography for heritage documentation and project methodology.

17-19 May, 2017

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

20 May, 2017

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

This is the largest and oldest surviving Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, and was established in 10th century by St. Ivan Rilski (St. John of Rila).

21 May, 2017

Morning tour to the National Museum of History and the Boyana church (UNESCO World Heritage Site).

This is followed by free time.

22-24 May, 2017

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

Photo excursion to eastern Serbia.

25-26 May, 2017

Workshops for processing digital images and the 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).

27 May, 2017

Departure. 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
  • Dorrell, P.G. Photography in Archaeology and Conservation. Cambridge University Press. 1994   
  • Huntington, John C. Photography for Art Historical Field Research and Documentation
  • 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



  • 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 


  • 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 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

Digital Photography

Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities    


Nearest Air Terminal: Sofia (SOF) - don't forget to check 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 for an additional fee of 15 EUR. (Please, specify this in your application form.) Otherwise, there are easy and inexpensive ways for participants to reach Bankya via Sofia public transport (bus, subway, and train). Details will be included in the information sheet disseminated to all participants approximately a month before the project begins.  

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 & Meals

Accommodation: Participants will stay 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.

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 hotel, for single room accommodation, as well as for any meals and beverages, services or products outside the project package. The cost of accommodation for any extra days in shared (2 beds) room is 20 EUR per person, single-occupancy rooms cost 30 EUR per day. Single rooms are available upon request for the duration of the field school for an additional fee of 350 EUR.     

Free Time & Trips

Free time: Bankya and Sofia offer 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. Guided visits of Sofia, including the downtown, National Museum of History, Boyana Church (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Bulgaria, as well as the Poganovo and Temsko monasteries and Pirot Castle in Serbia, are organized for all field school participants and included in the admission fee.     


Technicalities & Practicalities

Weather: A moderate continental climate influenced by the surrounding mountains dominates in Sofia and the area of the expedition. Springtime is traditionally refreshingly and rainy (12-25 C, 56-77 F), but the weather in May can be unpredictable -- it may be cool or 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 sunscreen. 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, bottled water, moist wipes, camera, papers, etc) are required. Long pants are recommended because of the potentially irritating plants, insects and reptiles. You will also be asked to help carry some of the project equipment.
  • Medication -- Please bring only the prescription medicines needed. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine from your country since you can easily buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria.
  • Equipment and tools: The participants are encouraged to bring a laptop having at least 10 GB free disk space, a mouse and a USB flash drive. Operating system recommended: Windows XP or newer. Participants will not need to bring drawing or measuring supplies, nor any other tools. These will be provided by the field school.
  • For participants who want to bring their own cameras, we recommend a high-resolution digital photo camera, with a higher ISO and optical stabilization. Bear in mind that working conditions are frequently challenging: low to no light, humid and moldy environments. The Balkan Heritage Field School has flood lights but these are only usable if there is electricity. Don’t forget to bring your camera USB connecting cable (esp. in case you cannot bring your laptop).
  • Do not forget to bring also a converter to EU-type electrical sockets 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 e-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, 2017:

The Early bird admission fee is 1286 EUR (approx.1440 USD). 


Registration after January 31st, 2017:

The regular admission fee is 1429 EUR (approx.1602 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 [email protected]!


Discounts off the Regular Admission fee:


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

  1. Participation in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2017 (The 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 2017; 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 2017; the discount is valid for each participant for all projects and sessions to be attended). 
  2. BHFS alumni, who participate in more than one BHFS project or project session in 2017 (The 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 this field school. 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 and Serbia

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

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