Recent Opportunities

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

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 ten years, specialists from Bulgaria, Republic of 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 twelve 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 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 Serbian Kingdom (and Empire from 1346 to 1371), 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 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 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 2018, the project envisions to supplement the database created during the previous seasons by documenting the architecture and frescos (and their condition) of four 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 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 preliminary survey of architecture, frescos and their iconographic program; creation of textual, graphic (drawn) and photographic records of ecclesiastical edifices and their frescos (in up to six churches)
- Specialized lectures in Southeastern European medieval history; Christian Orthodox architecture, arts and iconography; documentary photography; fresco conservation and restoration; methodology of project survey as well as introduction to photogrammetry and Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)
- Workshops for graphic (drawn) documentation and processing of digital images as well as developing archives of digital images plus free optional workshop on illustration of architectural features and frescos (using graphic software)
- Excursions and guided tours of Sofia, Rila Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bulgaria, as well as the 14th-century Momchilov Grad Fortress in Pirot and Poganovo monastery, Serbia
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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
312.573.1365
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