Recent Opportunities

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Workshop on Vernacular Balkan Architecture: Rhodope Mountains


Dates: 14 - 28 July 2018 

Southeastern Europe, also known as the Balkans, has been a crossroads 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 onward, 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 aesthetics 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.

Today, the Rhodope Mountains mark the border between Bulgaria and Greece, but have also 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 interwoven 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 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 southeast 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   




SAH 2018 St Paul Conference

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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
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