ICON PROJECT. Icon Painting Workshop

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IMPORTANT! Concerning Coronavirus disease (COVID 19).

In order to protect our participants and team and to comply with the requirement of 15 days quarantine in 2021, all offered field schools and workshops are situated high in the mountain in isolated, environmentally friendly places.

The groups are with a limited number of participants - 5 to 6 persons at most. All of them will not have other contacts for all period of stay. The planned excursions and other trips in the weekends will be held only in case of change the situation with COVID 19.

The members of the team will undergo voluntary isolation and quarantine 15 days before the start of the program. Everyone will take the required tests.

In addition, we will use only homemade food, produced in place - vegetables from local gardens, milk and cheese from local producers, homemade bread, etc. The places we use are located in protected area under the regalement of "Natura 2000" - an European network of strictly protected nature reserves.

ICON PROJECT. Icon Painting Workshop

TYPE: Historical Art Workshop
PERIOD: Middle ages - 15th - 16th century
DATES: 6 June - 19 June & 20 June - 3 July, 2021
PARTICIPATION FEE: €2525 for two weeks

Project scope

Icon project

This project is devoted to the medieval technique for drawing icons. In the medieval church "St. Nicholas" in Buklovets (municipality of Svoge) were kept several depictions of saints, situated on the Iconostasis. In 1996 the icons were moved to the National Museum of Orthodox art in Sofia with an idea to be preserved from the aggressive moisture in the church building and to be restored. Unfortunately, till the present day, the icons still remain unrestored and they were not given back to the church.

As the legal requirements in Bulgaria don't allow pieces of art or other artifacts to be taken out from the museums, the original icons from Bukovets will be never given back to the church. This way the church will lose forever its authentic look, the original Orthodox spirit, and history.

The main goal of this project is to make copies of the medieval icons which will be donated to the church. The students and volunteers will work with the originals and will be trained in the painting technique used in the 15 and 16 century. Each of the participants will receive their own small certified replica of an icon.

The course includes as well several visits to Medieval churches in the region, Orthodox service in a functioning church, lectures on Orthodox culture, art, history, and theology. The participants will become familiar with the work of restorers, will visit one of the biggest restoration studios in Bulgaria (in the National Ethnographical Museum in Sofia) and will meet many experts in the field of art, conservation and restoration of medieval artifacts and Orthodox culture.

The icons

St. Archangel Michael

86 x 49 x 3 cm

Distemper on wood, split in two parts in the middle

16-17 century

The icon is badly damaged


67 x 44.5 x 3 cm

Distemper on wood, split into two parts

16-17 century

Relatively preserved

Jesus Christ the Almighty

61.6 x 44 x 4 cm

Distemper. On one board, split into three

16-17 century

The icon is badly damaged

Iconostasis frieze "Holy Virgin"

58,6 x 19,5 cm

16-17 century

Iconostasis frieze "Pantokrator"

61 x 54,5 cm

16-17 century

Historical context

The medieval Kingdom of Bulgaria is conquered by the Ottomans in 1396. The last Bulgarian Patriarch Evtimii was exiled by the Turks in 1393, and the Bulgarian Patriarchate was reduced to a Metropolis. Part of the medieval churches and monasteries are plundered, destroyed and burned, and more representative of them, such as "St. Sofia" in Ohrid, "St. 40 Martyrs" in Tarnovo, "St. Sofia" in Sofia are turned into mosques. According to written sources, only between the towns Kostenets and Asenovgrad 216 churches and 33 monasteries were destroyed at that time.

New stone churches were forbidden in the 16th century. Bulgarians have the right to build only wooden or low semi-underground temples without bells and domes. However, the western Bulgarian lands, including the area around Sofia (the base area of the current workshop), had a special historical development during this period. There are many reasons for this. First, these lands are less affected by the Turkish invasion. These lands are further away from the medieval capitals of Bulgaria (Tarnovo and Vidin) and for this reason, they managed to preserve their Christian culture to some extent. Western Bulgarian lands are situated closer to Serbia, which until the mid-15th century retained its independence. After the Turkish conquest of Bulgaria, many Bulgarian priests and writers fled to Serbia and carried a large number of books and works of art.

Thus, many churches and monasteries were built or rebuilt in the western Bulgarian lands during the reign of Sultan Mohammed II (1451-1481), who is known for his religious tolerance. The most famous of them are Rila Monastery (1469), Dragalevsky Monastery (1476), and Kremikovsky Monastery (before 1493). In Svoge region, such kind of church is "The nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary" in Milanovo, where it is found an inscription for its construction from 1492.

In one medieval historical source (The Life of Pimen Zografski) it is said that in the vicinity of Sofia Pimen built 300 churches and 15 monasteries. Probably the number of new Christian centers is exaggerated, but this source shows the situation in the area in question and points out how interesting could the researches in this region.

The new and rebuilt churches of the 15th-17th century were in accordance with the requirements of the Ottoman law. They are small and modest buildings, with an unobtrusive look, low, with no domes, no bell towers and no decoration on the outside. The churches of that time are with a single nave and located in difficult to reach places. Instead of the outside, now the whole decoration of the temples focuses on the interior. The churches of that time are completely covered with frescoes, and the altars and iconostases are richly decorated with carvings and icons. In the absence of their own state, the Bulgarians themselves had to donate their own funds for the construction and decoration of these Christian temples. All churches of that time were built with voluntary donations only. For Bulgarians, the imposition of foreign domination and foreign religion was a kind of ordeal by which the Lord tests them. This way, they succeed to preserve Bulgarian Christian culture for 500 years, as well as their belonging to European civilization.

The church St. Nicholas in Bukovets

St. Nicholas in Bukovets
St. Nicholas in Bukovets

The church is located in the cemetery of the central neighborhood of the village. The local people called it “the Latin Church”. According to the legend the church is built in 12 century by Crusaders who had had a military camp in locality “Kreta” not far from the village.

The church is one nave, one apse and is slightly dug into the ground without a dome and belfry built recently. The thickness of the walls is 70 cm ending on its top with a beautiful arch. The roof is covered with stone slabs.

There is a story that during the Ottoman rule the local villagers buried the church under the ground to hide it from the eyes of the Turks and thus protect it from looting and destruction. Perhaps this act is connected with the decree from 1737 of the 24th sultan of the Turkish Empire Mahmud I "The wicked" which has ordered the destruction of all Christian religious places.

The church in Bukovec is finally unearthed and restored in 1981 in connection with the celebration of 1300 anniversary of Bulgaria.

St. Nicholas in Bukovets
St. Nicholas in Bukovets
St. Nicholas in Bukovets

Course description

The aim of the course is to provide step by step knowledge about the ancient tradition of Christian art. The big advantage of the course is the opportunity to work with the original icons and reproduce the technic in which they were made. Thus, the students will have a unique chance to understand better the way of thinking of the ancient people, the details of the artistic manner, and Christian philosophy. Furthermore, this could be the first step to develop professional skills for the conservation and restoration of old artifacts.

Students will be given a detailed guide about all aspects of iconography. This will include drawing from the original design, the use of clay and gold leaf for gilding the halo, rules for the use of colors and lights. They will learn to understand the symbolism of colours and painting with tempera, the use of geometry, anatomy and composition.

Each person will be given to reproduce one of the original icons. The tutor will work individually with every student and will supervise every person depends on his/her skills. The course will be taught in English and is suitable for beginners as well as experienced iconographers.

The practice of crafting an icon will be enhanced by the study of the theological world view from which the practice emerged. The course includes as well visits of the nearby churches and monasteries built in 16-17 century with well-preserved wall paintings and icons. Theoretical lectures on Orthodox theology and rituals will be given by the local priest Mr Rosen Andonov.

Conservation of an icon

The team

Conservation of an icon


Master iconographer


Ilia Borisov (artistic name ILIYA BORISOV – OTTEZ) graduate Fine Arts Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria, and specialized Conservation and Restoration. Currently, he is working for the National Ethnographic Museum. He has a long time experience in different fields of preservation of the Medieval churches, including the restoration of frescos, icons, wood carving. He is also a gifted artist and owner of an Art Gallery in the Bulgarian town of Blagoevgrad.


Rosen Andonov - Parish priest in Svoge area. Will give lectures on Orthodox Christianity, organize visits to the nearby Medieval churches and a trip to Sofia.


Raia Ivanova - Interpreter and expert in alternative methods in History and Archaeology.


Krassimira Todorova - Curator in Svoge museum collection. Archaeologist Svoge Heritage Program.



Session 1: 6 June - 19 June, 2021

Session 2: 20 June - 3 July, 2021

Sunday Afternoon Meeting the group at Sofia airport in the late afternoon. Transfer to Batula with private bus. Accommodation in Beliovi's houses and meeting the team. Welcome party.
Monday Morning Free time. Resting after the long travelling and the party.
  Afternoon Visit to the church St. Nicholas in Bukovets. Introduction to the main goals and activities of the workshop.
Tuesday - Wednesday 7.30 AM Breakfast
  8.30 AM Workshop activities.
  11.00 AM Coffee break & second breakfast
  1.30 PM Lunch
  5.00-7.00 PM Workshop activities.
  8.00 PM Dinner
Thursday Morning< Workshop activities (regular program).
  Afternoon Visit to monastery St. Petka in Svoge
Friday   Workshop activities (regular program).
Sunday Morning Hiking trail "Vasova ecopat".
    Lunch in village of Zasele.
  Afternoon Visit to church St. Theodore Tyron in Zimevitsa.
Saturday Morning Trip to Sofia and visits of famous antique churches - St. George, St. Sofia.
  Afternoon Visit to Conservation and restoration studio at the National Ethnographic Museum.
Monday - Tuesday   Workshop activities (regular program).
Wednesday Morning Workshop activities (regular program).
  Afternoon Visit to Iskretski monastery.
Thursday - Friday   Workshop activities.
Saturday   Departure

Living conditions

Icon project
Icon project
Batulya archaeological field chool

THE ACCOMMODATION of the students is in Beliovi kasti (Belio's houses). This is a small neighborhood that consisted of five houses and turned into a guest house. The complex keeps the original 18th-century view of the buildings situated in a picturesque mountain area. The Interior of the old houses is repaired and offers all the necessary facilities. The place is located 4 km away from the village of Batulya. The owners of the guest house offer two buses for transportation of the team and the students. One of them is attractive - a Rusian 80s UAZ, completely repaired and renovated.

THE FOOD in general is traditional Bulgarian. The breakfast is in place at 7.00 AM. Work begins at 8.00 AM and continues till 1.00 PM. We will have a short break at 11.00 AM for coffee or "second breakfast". At 1.30 PM the group is going for lunch. The free time is between 2.00 and 4.00 PM (taking shower, rest, etc.). Next, we continue with the work, theoretical lectures, and discussions. The dinner is at 8.00 PM.

Icon project
Icon project
Icon project

Useful to know about Bulgarian Cuisine

The Bulgarian cuisine is with an emphasis on fresh seasonal produce, and healthy, unfussy preparation methods. Influenced by the 500-year Turkish occupation and the country's proximity to Greece, Bulgarian cuisine features plenty of spices (many of which are indigenous), and predominantly chicken, pork, and veal, often baked with cheese or yogurt, and piles of fresh vegetables.

Bulgarians almost always start their meal with a simple salad accompanied by a shot (or two) of rakia, the local grape- or plum-based liquor. Meat - chicken or pork, usually chargrilled over coals or baked in an earthenware pot with vegetables - follows, with a side order of potatoes or bread. Chubritsa, a unique Bulgarian spice, usually is on the table to perk up a meal should you deem the flavors too bland.

Expenses & Discounts

The Admission fee includes accommodation, food (3 meals per day), transport from and to Sofia airport, visits to 5 Medieval churches in the area, a trip to Sofia, lectures on the Orthodox art and theology, materials (pigments, brushes, boards, drawing equipment, etc.).

Please note! A large percentage of the price is based on the value of the materials. The materials provided by the organizers are special quality designed for precise reproduction of Medieval technique of painting. They cannot be purchased by your own or be changed with other supplies in order to keep the cost low.


One session (2 weeks) € 2,525  
Early registration (till December 31, 2020) - one session € 2,398 5%
Participation in more than one "Svoge heritage program" (SHP) projects - one session € 2,398 5%
Group of three or more people - one session € 2,273 10%


To join us you should simply fill in our Application form. In the time of applying we required € 150 booking fee to be paid in advance. This amount is not refundable! Your place is considered reserved only after the payment of the fee.

After receiving your application we will proceed with your documents and will contact you within three days with further instructions. The rest of the fee is payable 4 weeks before the beginning of the workshop. This amount is fully reimbursable but in case of cancellation, you should inform us not later than one week prior beginning of the program. After this deadline, the amount is not refundable!

Any additional questions concerning application procedure and the workshop you can send to heritage.svoge@gmail.com

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Copyright © SVOGE Heritage Program
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