The Wild Flower Europe project is an EU project recognising the part played by rural communities and the natural environment in European culture involving Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. The programme works with partner organisations in those countries. Among other initiatives, the five countries involved in this project have developed programmes in which local people from all walks of life have contributed their time and skills in creating flower-themed fabric patches all of a similar size, that go together to create a patchwork artwork. Some of the patches are painted, some are needlework, or felted, and there may be other creative techniques used as well. An example is below, this from Bulgaria, the feltwork exhibiting the most subtle shading imaginable. Click the image for a larger version of the picture.
Next on the list for these countries, represented by a variety of organisations, including biodiversity, tourism and other groupings, is to set up community history archives. As the North Highland Initiative is one of the UK's constituent organisations, and Assynt falls within their area, I was asked to lead a series of presentations and demonstrations to provide ideas and a way forward for the other groups in the project. A short report on the event is at the WFE web site, here.
I would very happy to assist any other groups looking to understand the possibilities presented by community digital history archives with similar workshops, so do contact me if you have this in mind.
While the schedule at the Atlantic Hotel in Sofia was tight, we did get a few hours on Sunday afternoon, when one of the local Bulgarian delegation, Rossen Vassilev, showed us some of the historic and architectural sites of the city. Sofia is a city with a long history, existing before any other European capital except Athens. It is located in such a position that it has been influenced by many of the significant European historical periods, such as the Ottoman Empire and of course, the Roman empire. It struck me that the Roman period appears to be viewed rather less through rose-coloured spectacles than we view the Roman period in Britain; they are under no illusions that it was an occupation. But we managed to see the astonishing St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, inside which was the first time I have seen Eastern Orthodox icons "in the flesh," so to speak. The power of the art took me by surprise. The constant stream of people coming to the Cathedral to pray or light candles was a reminder that the Cathedral is not merely a tourist attraction but a key part of Sofians' lives. Photography inside the cathedral is quite rightly discouraged, but the outside in the evening light was stunning.
The Rotunda church of St George was another surprise. This church has been here since the 4th century, and recent work on it has uncovered numerous layers to the frescoes. It was a pity our time was limited.
And our guide, Rossen, explained aspects of the recent past as well as some of the changes occurring right now in this lovely city.
A recent new hotel development uncovered part of a Roman era circular Colloseum-like structure. Obviously, the hotel plans had to be altered to accommodate the archaeology, but the Bulgarians took this as an opportunity rather than a setback, and created a feature of the archaeology, incorporating it into the hotel, named the Serdica Arena, Serdica being the Roman name for Sofia.
Meanwhile, back at the workshop, some excellent friendships were clear among folk from very varying cultures and backgrounds, but whose knowledge, dynamism and determination to contribute positively to their own communities was a common thread. I am proud to have been one of their number for a short time.