Workshop on Vernacular Balkan Architecture: Rhodope Mountains

Period: Late Medieval/Early Modern (17th-19th century)
Code: VARCH.WRK 17
Session: 29 July - 12 August, 2017
Academic credits available: 6
Admission fee starting from: 1214 EUR (approx.1305 USD)

The Project and the Course

General Information

Project type: Field school & historic preservation project   

Field school started: 2016

About the project: The Workshop on Vernacular Balkan Architecture welcomes students and volunteers to take part in a project for the documentation & conservation & experimental construction of traditional Balkan residential houses dating mainly to 17th - 19th c. in the historic village of Dolen, Rhodope Mountains. The learning experience on environmental friendly techniques and practices from the past is to be supplemented by the unique historic and natural ambiance of the mountainous village and visits to many more historic towns & villages and archaeological & natural sites. The field school is targeted for students and young specialists in architecture, engineering and historic preservation as well as artists, but we also welcome anyone interested in traditional masonry, travel and environmental friendly practices of living from the past.    

Major field school topics & activities:   

  • Introduction to the history and typology of traditional Balkan house architecture & building techniques   
  • Training in surveying and recording of traditional houses   
  • Participation in an experimental construction project exploiting traditional masonry techniques and natural materials (earth, stone, wood)   
  • Study trips to historic towns & villages and archaeological & natural sites in the Rhodopes and the Pirin Mountains (UNESCO world heritage site) and an optional tour to Greece

The sites: A couple of traditional late medieval/ early modern (17th - 19th c.) houses in Dolen, Bulgaria.   

Project venue and accommodation: Participants study, receive training, work and stay in the historic village of Dolen amidst the picturesque Rhodope mountains in Southern Bulgaria. Accommodation takes place at the local guest house The Gates. The village is located 240 km (150 mi) south from Sofia and just 86 km (50 mi) north from Kavala on the Mediterranean coast, Greece.

BHF partners in this project: Meshtra Association for Traditional Knowledge and Crafts and New Bulgarian University (Bulgaria)  

Director: Ivan Kolev (MA in Architecture, University for Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia). Senior researcher, Bulgarian National Institute for Immovable Cultural Heritage; Guest lecturer in the University for Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy in Sofia & New Bulgarian University.

Dates: 29 July – 12 August, 2017

Application deadline: 25 June, 2017

Minimum length of stay: Two weeks

Minimum age: 18

Number of field school places available: 9

Project language: English

Experience required: No.


  • The admission fee does not cover any insurance. It is strongly advised to make arrangements for your own insurance before your trip to Bulgaria. EU citizens have access to Bulgarian medical services in the same way as Bulgarian citizens, they only need do provide valid proof of their health insurance in their home-country: insurance card, certificate, etc.   
  • Participants are advised to bring clothes and cosmetics adapted to warm and sunny weather, but should also keep in mind the possibility of 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 field school is not recommended for participants suffering from any special condition that might be exacerbated during intensive outdoor activities. Note: Citizens of the EU, EEA, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are not required a visa for entering Bulgaria and Greece. Citizens of other countries are advised to check in advance whether they will need entry visas for one or both countries. Visa expenses are not included in the field school’s admission fee!

The Historical Context

South-Eastern Europe called also the Balkans has been a crossroad of human migration and a pivot point of civilizations since the dawn of time. Here central and eastern Europe have met the Mediterranean and western Asia for many millennia, sometimes resulting in conflict, but above all bringing together a unique blending of cultures, religions, languages, folklore, traditions and crafts. Traditional architecture in Bulgaria is part of the common Balkan heritage. More preserved in the mountain areas, it’s characterized by its harmonic connection with nature, fascinating interior features and picturesque settlement configurations. Bulgarian traditional architecture stems from ancient Thracian and Roman tradition, and has evolved through the centuries within the Byzantine, medieval Bulgarian and later the Ottoman world, coming in contact with many influences in these vast and diverse empires. From the Middle ages onwards, itinerant Bulgarian builders and craftsmen have crisscrossed the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, spreading their work throughout three continents, but also gathering and exchanging knowledge and techniques as far as Italy to the west, Armenia to the east, Vienna to the north and Egypt to the south. Closely and sustainably interacting with nature, combining functional simplicity, comfort of use and delicate and harmonious esthetics perfected through the ages, Bulgarian traditional architecture is not only interesting to discover and study, but also very compatible with modern building practices tending toward a sustainable, ecological way of life.


The Rhodope Mountains mark today’s border between Bulgaria and Greece, but has acted as an interface as well as a boundary throughout the ages. Here, in Orpheus’ homeland, all the influences that have swept the Balkans over the centuries have accumulated and interweaved rather than wiping away one another, giving birth to a unique amalgamation of architectural traditions and techniques, but also of cultures and beliefs. Here, coexisting with their modern lifestyle, the sturdy mountain people still preserve knowledge and ways of life that have long been forgotten elsewhere. The village of Dolen, an architectural reserve with remarkable authenticity, is a particularly interesting illustration of the rich, multi-layered history of the Rhodopes and the Balkans in general. Within the tiny boundaries of this village, one can discover key elements and processes that have shaped the Bulgarian and Balkan traditional architecture, approach traditions and folklore still carrying the echo of ancient times and feel the magic of the Rhodope Mountains.   

The Field School

The Field School is comprised of:

  • Fieldwork in surveying & recording of vernacular architecture - in the course of the Workshop participants will have the opportunity to work on the analytical architectural documentation of Rhodopean architecture in the village of Dolen. They will be able to acquire skills in architectural documentation, material and historical research and analysis.
  • Specialized lectures on South-East European late medieval history, architectural typology, traditional building techniques and natural materials
  • Study visits to significant historical and natural sites in the Rhodopes and the Pirin mountains      
  • Workshops in conservation and restoration of vernacular architecture - Building techniques and the specific use of materials in the Balkans have been developed by generations of craftsmen. Large bands of builders (called “tayfi”) used to travel across the Ottoman Empire, trading their craft. These groups applied their knowledge wherever they went, but they had to also conform to the wishes of their clients. Still, improving structural efficiency and spatial functionality were the main vectors of development for the building principles. During the workshops supervised by local craftsmen, specialized in the restoration of traditional architecture participants will be able to try working with different traditional building techniques and materials, characteristic to the region – wood, stone and clay   

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


  • Clay brick walls. Practice with different building techniques used for structural and decorative elements
  • Carpentry. Practice with traditional wood joints and other structural and decorative elements
  • Stone paving, stone masonry walls and roof slates. Practice with different masonry techniques


  • Cultural Heritage. International and Regional Practices
  • History of the Tchetch region (West Rhodopes). Genesis of Dolen and Its Significance
  • Traditional Architecture. Architectural Typology
  • Architectural Documentation. Goals, Methods and tools
  • Intangible heritage. Definition, specifics in the region
  • Traditional building techniques. Extraction, processing and use of materials
  • Stone masonry walls and stone roofing in the village of Dolen. Traditional and contemporary use

Guided Tours:

  • Tour of historic villages of Kovachevitsa and Delchevo in the Pirin Mountains (UNESCO world natural heritage site). The villages share the same architectural and historical background as Dolen, and are the best preserved historic settlements in the region. Both are important for our practice, as the participants can observe and analyze different social approaches to the preservation of architecture undertaken by each community and their contemporary result. All three villages are protected by Bulgaria’s Cultural heritage law, and the expeditions present a good opportunity to learn more about the real impact of the preservation system in Bulgaria.   
  • Tour of the ancient Philippi and the Aegean coastal town of Kavala, Greece (optional - participation to the excursion is open to everyone for an additional fee)
  • Lectures take place normally in the guest house
  • Instructions and training take place at the project’s site

The Agenda


29 July, 2017

By 7.30 pm - Arrival and check-in at The Gates Guest House, Dolen, Blagoevgrad District, Bulgaria

8.00 - 9.30 pm - Traditional Bulgarian welcome dinner   

A shuttle or taxi pick-up may be arranged from the Sofia airport upon request.

30 July, 2017

Morning: Orientation

Afternoon: Lectures 

Work days: 31 July, 1-4 and 7-10 August, 2017

8.00 am - 12.30 pm - Fieldwork at the sites   

12.30 pm - 3.00 pm - Lunch and siesta   

3.00 - 4.00 pm - Lectures and instructions     

4.00 - 7.30 pm -  Fieldwork at the sites   

8.00 - 9.00 pm - Dinner

5 August, 2017

Tour of historic villages of Delchevo located in the Pirin Mountains (UNESCO world natural heritage site) and Kovachevitsa – architectural preservation areas. 

6 August, 201

Guided tour through the mountainside surrounding the village of Dolen.

11 August

Presentation of project results

12 August

9.00/9.30 am - Start of the optional follow-up tour of Philippi (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Kavala, Greece. Participation to the excursion is open to everyone for an additional fee

Regular check-out by 12.00 pm.

A drop-off by taxi can be arranged to the airport in Sofia upon request

Reading Background


Stamov, S. Architecture of the Old Bulgarian Villages, 2006

Stamov, S. Legends of Wood and Stone, 2009

Torraca, G. Lectures on Materials Science for Architectural Conservation, 2009



Gunay, R. Tradition of the Turkish House and Safranbolu Houses, 1998   



Georgiev, G. Earthen architecture in Bulgaria


Bulgarian Architectural Reserves

http://bulgariatravel.org/data/doc/ENG_57- Arhitekturni_rezervati.pdf

The Cultural Corridors of Eastern Europe – information on vernacular architecture


Balkan Vernacular Architecture


ICCOMOS Principles for the recording of monuments, groups of buildings and sites (1996)



Travel & Accommodation & Practicalities

Nearest Air Terminal: Sofia (SOF) - don't forget to check the low cost flight options!Sofia (Bulgaria, 240 km/150 mi from Dolen.

How to get there? If participants arrive at either the Sofia airport or bus/train stations, a shuttle transfer to the project venue in Dolen can be arranged by request for an additional fee of 45 EUR. (Please, specify this in your application form.) 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 single rooms (shared bathrooms, free Wi-Fi) in “The Gates”- a newly opened guesthouse providing a successful fusion between traditional architecture and modern comfort. Cheap Laundry service is available once a week. The working sites are situated within 5-10 min walking distance from the guesthouse.

Meals: Three meals per day are covered by the admission fee. Meals usually take place in the guest house, 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, and for any meals and beverages, services or products outside the project package. The cost of BB accommodation for any extra days is 20 EUR per person.

Free Time & Trips

Free time: The village of Dolen is far from the busy everyday life of Bulgarian cities. You will have the possibility to explore this small village and get to know the mountain side around it. There are several significant sites within a few hours’ walk from the village, which present a good opportunity to appreciate the natural and historical value of the place. 

Extra trips and excursions: All participants will take part in the tour of the historic villages of Delchevo located in the Pirin Mountains (UNESCO world natural heritage site) and Kovachevitsa and hikes in the mountains around Dolen. The BHFS participants can take advantage of their stay in the Balkans and take part in the optional follow-up excursion to the ancient Philippi and the Aegean coastal town of Kavala, Greece on 12-13 August, 2017). Participation to the excursion is open to everyone for an additional fee. 


Technicalities & Practicalities

Insurance: The admission fee does not cover insurance. It is mandatory to arrange your own health 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: A transitional Mediterranean climate influenced by the mountains dominates in the region of Dolen and the area of the study trips. The weather in the summer is typically hot during the day (up to 30-35 C; 86 – 95 F), but cold during the night.

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 trousers are recommended because of potentially irritating plants, insects and reptiles. You may also be asked to help carry some of the project equipment.
  • Medication -- Please bring prescription medicines from your country. It is not necessary to bring non-prescription medicine since you can easily buy all basic non-prescription drugs in Bulgaria but you should bear in mind that the guest house & the village are 15 minutes drive from the closest pharmacy.   
  • Participants will not need to bring drawing or measuring supplies, nor any other tools. These will be provided by the field school.
  • We encourage you to bring your own digital camera in order to document the working process, study visits and natural sites. Don’t forget to bring an adapter/ converter to EU-type power sockets if needed for your electrical gear.
  • A positive attitude for work, fun, study and discovery!

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 March 31, 2017:

The Early bird admission fee is 1214 EUR/ approx.1305 USD


Registration after March 31, 2017:

The regular admission fee is 1349 EUR / approx.1450 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 1 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.




Workshop on Vernacular Balkan Architecture: Rhodope Mountains

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