The Revival of the Stone Village

Story Natural
Elena Vasic Petrovic

The Stone Village-Gostusa in south-east Serbia changed its status from completely forgoten to a superstar thanks to numeruos activities in research and conservation. This place had more than 300 authentic vernacular buildings placed in an outstanding natural ambiance of Stara Planina Nature Park when the research project started in 2012. The research study won the Europa Nostra Award and EU Grand-Prix in 2016 and the story continues to grow untill present days. The ehxibition about the Village visited numeruos towns and institutions in the region. The papers based on the project's results were presented all over the world. Last year within the Europen Year of Cultural Heritage framework in cooperation with the European Heritage Volunteers organisation, 17 young people from Australia to UK and Russia, helped conservation of vernacular buildings belonging to the most vunerable residents, old people but also they did the conservation of the local church (Adopt a House-hold in Gostusa project). One of them stated: "Staying here is like time-travel", and the others liked food, local people, nature...

Gostusa's outstanding values were pointed out in legislative documents concerning cultural heritage protection and preservation, and urban and spatial planning in Republic of Serbia. This story gives an insight to the extraordinary connection between the nature and architecture that managed to survive in its original form for more than one hundred years. The peaceful coexistence of man and nature brought back to life the values that were forgotten for decades, and the thought that this simple symbiosis can ensure sustainability for the future. The village was almost abandoned in the 1970’s, and after almost four decades the only logical solution seemed to be “going back to the origins”. In order to protect the natural and cultural heritage, and the unique environment, but also the intangible heritage many actions were undertaken within the Gostusa Conservation Project. For the preservation of the unique landscape and architecture the Institute for Cultural Heritage Preservation Niš (ICHPN) started a research project in the year 2012, and made the set of documents and actions for its protection in the terms of the Law and the Architect Aleksandar Radovic Foundation proceeded with the further activities. The inherent values of the natural materials and manmade structures, together with the plenty of natural resources, but also the vicinity of the larger settlements, the lake, ski-center, etc. makes this place so special in every possible way. The specific functional and architectural concept of the village is very interesting. It consists of the residential area placed in a narrow canyon of three small mountain rivers, and satellite settlements that create the network of small independent units at a distance of 300 to 500 meters in relation to the central settlement, and all together constitute a unique living organism, changing in function together with the change of seasons. Architecture of residential and economy units is always adapted to the terrain and the natural resources. Stone dominates as a building material, and it is used widely from the foundation to the top and the roofing. The project presented a new concept for tourism in the rural areas tht gives so many different possibilities for sustainable development especially in places like this. Preserving the built heritage is one of the ways that ensures the better quality of the touristic offer of the region as well as its authenticity together with all the other values. The nature park “Stara planina”(Old mountain) is situated on mountain massif of the same name, which is 550km long, ranging from Eastern Serbia, throughout whole Bulgaria, to the Black Sea coast. Bulgarian name for the massif is “Balkan”, after which the whole Balkan Peninsula was named. A part of “Stara Planina” situated in Serbia, belongs to four municipalities, the biggest of them, called Pirot has many mountain villages of extraordinary traditional architecture, one of the largest and best preserved is “Gostuša”. The surroundings of the village comprises of beautiful landscapes with plateaus, fields of wild berries, thick forests, but also steep slopes, wondrous waterfalls, pure mountain rivers and fish-rich lakes, all together enjoing the moderate continental climate with a five mounth snow period per year. “Stara planina” has specific flora and fauna, rich in medical herbs and mushrooms, and is a habitat of rare and endangared species of both kinds. The village of Gostuša, also called the “stone settlement” is situated in the canyon at the point where the threе mountain rivers join together. It consists of more than 300 buildings of different use dating from the second part of XIX century to the 70’s of the XX century. During this period of time the form of construction was very little changed and also the materialization of objects stayed the same. The physical isolation of this area contributed to a development of specific construction with the use of only natural materials. By this means our ancestor builders managed to make their own settlements as incorporated part of the landscape forming the unbreakable bond between them. This brings it in conection with the term "cultural landscape" which by definition embraces a diversity of manifestations of the interaction between humankind and its natural environment. Besides the exceptional natural surroundings and use of natural materials in construction, as mentioned before, Gostuša it self is unique for several reasons: - it has the great ambiental value, that combines “works of nature and of man” and it certainly illustrates the forming and evolution of human society and settlement over time, - the village and its buildings did not suffer any serious contemporary intervention, so this makes it a unique example of completely preserved site, - the outstanding landscape is preserved to a large degree as well, and - in terms of the spatial organization it has a unique concept of the “core and satellites”, where the core represents the permanent settlement, and the satellites utilize livestock breeding and temporary housing with incorporated small dairies and barns. The intangible aspects were also a part of the research and workshops activities. The unique pottery is made there and it's connected to a very strong religous and social aspects of the society. The local community is very vivacious and active. 4.3 Accomplishments 1. Created vision and strategic framework for the sustainable development of the village. 2. Harmonized development plans within the framework of the international principles and conventions. 3. Holistic approach provided in protection of cultural and natural heritage. 4. Prepared proposal for inscription in cultural heritage list of Republic of Serbia. 5. Protection provided through documentation, and legislative acts. Over 350 conservation and valorisation Forms done for all buildings in the village (Fig.4), technical records(over 150 architectural drawings) and photo documentation for minimum 60 diferent objects. All documentation is categorized according to types of objects - residential houses; facilities (barn, outbuilding, storage stables with hay storages, , water mills, sawmills and wool processing buildings, power plants and “kazanice” – facilities for producing brandy); public facilities - church, school, local office, bridges, graveyards, etc.(Fig.7) (Vasić Petrović, 2015).. 6. Finished and printed materials – Research and Conservation Project Study of Gostuša (Fig.5), and Flyers. 7. Development of spatial planning and urbanistic studies of the village (Fig.6). 8. Exhibitions for the European Heritage Days in Pirot and Architecture Days in Niš. 9. Raised awareness of the importance of the village by education of the local community, presence in the media and social media, implementation in local and national development plans. 10. More than 60 professionals and students took a part so far in the Project. 11. The process of continuous awareness rising, education, understanding, responsibility rising and actualization of heritage within the society launched. 12. Visibility on a national and regional level Increased. 13. The issue of an innovative brand development (visual identity and slogan) and positive perception of the Gostuša started. 14. Several rural tourist households registered. 15. Documents developed for application for the funding of the Project. 16. Help provided to the local community with the Project of church conservation and with conservation of households for the rural tourism or for the most vunerable residents within several different campaigns. Rehabilitation of the village has an opportunity with the integrative approach and the launch of development policies. The village should be considered as a living organism, similar before a great depopulation, with additional contemporary purposes. It is possible to create some development programs to accelerate the development of livestock breeding and the production of dairy and collecting of wild fruits, herbs and mushrooms. As an additional aspect of reviving the village a significant role certainly may have a volunteer and restoration camps, summer schools of architecture and other forms of educational and cultural events, which will increase the interest, educate, provide physical protection of architectural and cultural value of the village, and also develop the tourism potential. The protection policy of Gostuša was so far guided by the principles of integrity and sustainability, which means the unity of tangible and intangible, movable and immovable heritage and natural property as a basis for economic, cultural and any other development. This means the overall revitalization of the village is necessary because in addition to physical and leglisitive protection, the problems of functions in modern mode should be defined to ensure economic viability. Tourism is one of the key mechanisms for the protection of cultural heritage because it is one of the segments on which the development should be based. Yet the existence of cultural heritage is often not enough for the development of serious tourism offer. In this sense, for Gostuša is of great importance the development of the planned tourist infrastructure on Stara Planina thus the whole area became more important and the village becames a part of it, together with cultural properties, people and their households. Contact details: Elena Vasic Petrovic St.Strahinjica Bana 6/2/5, 18000 Nis, Serbia

European Dimension

The main objective of this story is to give an insight to a new sustainable concept that can possibly be developed in the rural areas of Serbia and other parts of South-East Europe for the rural settlements that belong at the same time to the natural and cultural heritage properties or “cultural landscapes”, by stating the major outcomes of our research work in “Gostuša Conservation Project”. Beside research, systematic approach was used in recording and documentation, as well as in assessement of all processed information and making action plans. All that has been done should bring this village and all its stake holders to sustainable development and action planning. At the same time we aim to present our results and achievements to the wider public due to the fact that the rural landscapes are encountering a growing interest and concern in Europe and around the world. On the other hand our educational programmes and camps are bringing together young people from all over the world to learn about heritage and help socially endangered population.