A New Look for the Boyana Church

Partners: Balkan Heritage Foundation, National History Museum

Period of the Project: 2021-2022

Funded by: National Fund for Culture, Bulgaria

The Site: The Church of Saint Nicholas and Saint Panteleimon in Boyana district of Sofia (for short Boyana Church), Bulgaria, is famous for its medieval Byzantine-style frescoes. It is a cultural monument under UNESCO protection, inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979. Nowadays the building is comprised of three structures built in the same line (axis) and dating from different periods.

The oldest and easternmost edifice, known as the Old Church, is a cross-domed temple built and decorated with wall paintings between the 10th and 12th centuries. In the 13th century, the church was extended westwards by adding a two-story building: a narthex on the ground floor and an upper-floor chapel with a dome. Since then the Old Church has become a naos of the enlarged temple.

In 1259 the entire interior of the church was decorated with new frescoes that covered the old ones in the naos. These wall paintings follow the principles of Eastern Orthodox iconography and are executed with great craftsmanship and attention to detail. Special mentions deserve the 18 images of St. Nicholas’ life for their iconographic variety, the first ever-recorded image of Bulgarian patron St. Ivan Rilski (John of Rila), the depictions of the Bulgarian nobles: sevastokrator Kaloyan and his wife Desislava (church donors) and the Bulgarian imperial family at the time: Tsar Konstantin-Asen Tih and Tzaritsa Irina for their realistic portraits.

In the middle of the 19th century, a two-storied antechamber was added on the western side of the building. The Boyana Church operated until 1954. The restoration of the edifice started in the middle of the 20th century and was completed in 2006 following a fundraising campaign initiated by the National History Museum. The monument is nowadays open for visitors as a branch of the National  History Museum.

The Project: The main goal of the project titled “A new face for the Boyana church” is the creation of a new digital profile of the monument, which is poorly presented in the digital space in contrast with its significance and status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. In order to bring the site up to date with the standards for cultural heritage presentation and communication, the project envisions the implementation of a photographic project of the interior, the creation of a new website, visual identity and social media channels of the Boyana Church. Other dissemination and communication activities will include the upload of new images to the EUROPEANA database and an open doors event to improve communication with the local community and presentation of the project’s results. Through 360-degree panoramas and an extensive HD photo gallery the website will enable virtual access to the church, incl. the chapel (temporarily closed for conservation) for visitors from around the globe. Researchers will be facilitated through an updated list of publications dedicated to the monument available on the site.

Photos: Anton Chalakov, Miglena Raykovska