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Fresco Hunting in Bulgaria

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This article provides information covering the results of a photography-archaeology trip I took to Bulgaria to shoot late medieval frescoes, made possible by a Fulbright grant and the Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS). The purpose of the expedition was to record frescoes for preservation and restoration while creating public awareness, an important aspect, as these treasures are crumbling into ruin with every rainfall. Regional styles in visual culture were evident within the orthodox iconography, such as unusual depictions of female martyrs. The monasteries and churches that house the frescoes were built during the Ottoman era when Muslim forces oppressed Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Therefore, the structures are small and often located in remote regions. Access to the sites has been restricted due to the communist regime (1944–1989), and at times due to the challenging terrain. As part of public awareness, this work has been integrated with European popular culture through different avenues. One path taken by a generation of enterprising professionals, many who came into adulthood after communism fell, was to embrace new freedoms afforded them since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Through university associations, a group of young archaeologists and art historians came together and formed the BHFS to help preserve Bulgaria's vast treasury of artefacts, dating back to the Thracians, the founders of European culture. With these colleagues, I was able to connect with contemporary Eastern European culture first-hand, and was enriched by combinations of old and new in unique and surprising ways.
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Keywords: Balkan Heritage Field School (BHFS); European popular culture; Fulbright; archaeology; female martyrs; iconography; late medieval; photography

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Maryland

Publication date: 29 February 2012

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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