Master Conservation Plan of the archaeological site of Stobi, Republic of North Macedonia

Partners: Balkan Heritage Foundation, the National Institution Stobi

Project Duration: 2019 – 2021

Funded by: The J.M. Kaplan Fund

The Site: The Archaeological site of Stobi is the premier ancient (Roman and Late Antique) site in the Republic of North Macedonia. It is a complex monumental ensemble with both architectural and archaeological heritage of outstanding historical, cultural and economic significance and has been declared a National Monument of Culture (1950). Stobi was the largest city (28 ha within the city walls) in the northern parts of the Roman province of Macedonia. It was placed at the intersection of the two main ancient roads, which was the main impetus for its development. From a small town in the 2nd c. BCE, it grew into a municipium where emperor Vespasian established an imperial mint. The city flourished through most of the 1st, 2nd and the early 3rd centuries CE and, in the Late Antiquity (4th to early 7th c. CE) was a provincial capital and a bishop seat.

Since 1918, 15% of the territory of the archaeological site has been excavated. 23 buildings of public and residential character have been completely or partially unearthed and are now on display for site visitors. Among them are a theater, numerous religious temples (pagan, Christian and Jewish, including the oldest Christian church discovered in North Macedonia), lavishly decorated public and residential buildings as well as residential and commercial neighborhoods.

The Project: Through this project, the Balkan Heritage Foundation (BHF) has designed a Master Conservation Plan (MCP) for the archaeological site of Stobi. The project was based on a close collaboration between the BHF, the National Institution Stobi (NI Stobi) – the governmental entity responsible for management, conservation and preservation of the site, a team of specialists from Queen’s University, Canada as well as an international pool of experts, who were selected upon the project’s inception. The MCP is expected to provide a general framework for long- and short-term preservation activities for the site, and a solid base for its sustainable development, management and maintenance for the next decade.
NI Stobi is the main and direct beneficiary of the project outcomes. Broadly speaking, R. of N. Macedonia including the Ministry of Culture, the local community as well as heritage organizations and professionals from neighboring countries  will certainly also benefit from the pioneering endeavor conducted in Stobi.

The project for the Master Conservation Plan was implemented in three phases as outlined below.

  • In the first phase the project team  gathered relevant information about the site: publications, condition reports and risk assessments. The team  reviewed existing documentation about previous conservation activities and priority assessments in order to identify key areas that needed to be addressed by the MCP. A compiled report including summaries for each building has been created and translated into English which was then used as an introduction to the site’s condition and issues for the external experts (conservators, architects, site managers, etc.) from R. of N. Macedonia and beyond who were invited to work on site to generate recommendations for the MCP. These recommendations  identified specific detailed studies and projects that were completed over the course of the grant period, addressing issues ranging from conservation challenges of site elements (monuments, specific artifact collections, facilities, geological considerations, etc.) to visitor management. Also during this phase, the expert team had to prioritize the tasks for the next phase.

  • During phase two the project team had to oversee the compilation of these studies into a plan intended to guide conservation on site. Documentation and condition assessments of structures were completed as required. Proposals for a new conservation laboratory and proper storage facilities were also designed during this phase. Condition assessments of the pottery, glass and metal collection were created and prioritized. And, a geological stability monitoring regime has been implemented. Designs of conservation project proposals for priority buildings according to determined priorities were completed as well. The results of this phase were discussed at a second round table involving project team members and the expert team.

  • The final phase saw, under the guidance of the expert team, the completion of both recommendations for the site’s management, maintenance, sustainable development (incl. visitor management), and a relevant fundraising strategy. On September 30, 2021 the BHF  and NI Stobi officially presented the MCP funded by the J.M. Kaplan Fund with a grant of 100 000 USD. The event, which took place at the Stobi Winery also marked the 11th anniversary of successful partnership between the two institutions. It was attended by the minister of culture of the R. of N. Macedonia, the ambassadors of the USA, Austria and Italy, the deputy ambassador of Bulgaria, North Macedonian public officials, as well as representatives of cultural heritage institutions, as well as two of the BHF founders.