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Gostua, also known as stone settlement is located in South-East Serbia in the area of
the Nature Park Stara planina, and it represents a unique mountain village, also enlisted as
a national cultural property.
Its outstanding values were pointed out in legislative documents concerning cultural heritage
protection and preservation, and urban and spatial planning in Republic of Serbia.
This paper gives an insight of 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 1970s, 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 by the Serbian authorities.
For the preservation of the unique landscape and architecture the Institute for Cultural
Heritage Preservation Ni (ICHPN) started a research project in the year 2011, and made the
set of documents and actions for its protection in the terms of the Law.

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 new concept of the tourism in the rural areas 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 main objective of this paper 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
Gostua Project. Beside research, systematic approach was used in recording and
documentation, as well as in assessement of all processed informationand 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 around the
world, esspecialy within the ICOMOS World Rural Landscape Initiative (Scazzoci, 2013.).


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 Gostua. 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(Fig.1).

Fig.1. The Natures Park Stara planina wild horses and waterfalls
The village of Gostua, also called the stone settlementis situated in the canyon at the point
where the thre mountain rivers join together. It consists of more than 300 buildings of
different use dating from the second part of XIX century to the 70s 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 (Aranelovi, MomiloviPetronijevi, 2013).
Houses from the village of Gostua represents a reflection of natural, social, cultural,
historical and economic circumstances and available technology of a time. The fundamental
characteristic of a village architecture is its spontaneous development (Momilovi-

Petronijvi, Vasi, Bjeli, 2012). 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 (Fig.2). All land cannot be given the same
priority for protection, or for planning and management. Even with the modern, powerful, allpervasive approach to environmental management of sustainability in land and resourceuse,
some focus of effort or activity and thus some selection of territory is inevitable. The concept
of threatened, valued landscapes is based on an approach which uses both objective and
value judgements at different stages of the decision-making process (Green, Vos, 2001).

Fig.2. The Nature Park Stara planina and artificial Lake Zavoj


All land cannot be given the same priority for protection, or for planning and management.
Even with the modern, powerful, all-pervasive approach to environmental management of
sustainability in land and resourceuse, some focus of effort or activity and thus some
selection of territory is inevitable. It is necessary to use both objective and value judgements
at different stages of the decision-making process (Green, Vos, 2001).

Values and valuing processes play an enormous role in understanding the heritage, and this
process of valuing is neither singular nor objective, and it begins even before the object
becomes heritage (Avrami, Mason, De la Torre).
Besides the exceptional natural surroundings and use of natural materials in construction, as
mentioned before, Gostua it self is unique for several reasons:

it hasthe 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

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 degreeas 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
breedingand temporary housing with incorporated small dairiesand barns.

The special values of the site are the view points and view corridors, available
because of the specific terrain configuration and village location and the consistency in
the way of building preserved for the period of almost 100 years as well (Table 1, Fig.3).

Fig.3. The village of Gostua and its surroundings


The existance of the village and the continuity of settlement in
this area, can be traced back several centuries.
Existing architectural structures have more than a hundred years.
Very near to the village unexplored archeological site is situated,
which can provide integrated picture of life in the region for a
longer period of time.
A unique symbiosis of nature and manmade structures, with the
full utilization of the natural potentials and configuration of the
Already existing materials and construction system, fully meet the
requirements of modern sustainable architecture.
Specific functional architectural and urban concept.
The current level of the preservation of the village and local
residents provides many opportunities for ethnological and
various other studies of tangible and intangible heritage.
Preservation and popularization of the village Gostua, would
ensure that the next generation can learn about that the traditional
architecture and life in the past times, through direct experience.
Nature Park of Stara Planina is an area of well preserved natural
values with mostly preserved natural ecosystems and picturesque
Gostua represents unique "stone settlment".
Currently the village has a population of 70-80 permanent
residents. In the resent past the population reached a small growth
together with the development of the rural tourism.

Table 1. Values and Significance of Gostua

4.1 Starting Point
Discovery the site in the year 2010 by one of the authors od this paper happened by chance,
while exploring the area of the Lake Zavoj, a well known touristic point, situated on less than
1km distance from Gostua, and 25km from the center of the borough Pirot. Together with a
few colleagues from the Institute (ICHPN) the proposal for the Research project was
prepared and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia supported this financially in
the years 2012. and 2013. at the same time creating an opportunity for the development of the
project in other logical directions by involving the most important stakeholders.

4.2 The Concept

The project is composed of reconnaissance, research, mapping, recording, geopositioning,
systematization and digitalization of the recorded documents, preparing the proposal for the

inscription in the list of cultural monuments of Serbia, publishing, promotion and action
planning. In two campaigns more than twenty experts and students spent around two mounths
working in the field, and then a team of three architects for additional one year completing
the work in the office. The project manager was an architect conservator Elena Vasi
Petrovi, the experts group consisted of architects, ethnologist, archaeologist, photographer
and historian and they worked together with a group of students from the Faculty of Civil
Engineering and Architecture from Ni (Vasi Petrovi, 2015).

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
3. Holisticapproachprovidedinprotectionofculturalandnaturalheritage.
4. Prepared proposal for inscription in cultural heritage list of Republic of Serbia.
5. Protectionprovided through documentation, and legislative acts. Exactly 256
conservation and valorization Forms done for all buildings in the village (Fig.4),
technical records (over 400 architectural drawings, digitized) and photo
documentation for more than 300 diferent buildings and areas (over 2000 in total), 15
spatian planning graphic analysis. All documentation is categorized according to
types of objects - residential houses; facilities (barn, outbuilding, storage stables with
hay storages, water mills, sawmills andwool processing buildings, power plants and
kazanice facilities for producing brandy); public facilities - church, school, local
office, bridges, graveyards, etc. (Fig.7) (Vasi Petrovi, 2015).
6. Finished and printed materials Research and Conservation Project Study of Gostua
(Fig.5), and Flyers.
7. Development of spatial planning and urban studies of the village (Fig.6).
8. Exhibitions for the European Heritage Days in Pirot and Society of Conservators of
Serbia Conference at Fruka Gora.
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 developmentplans.
10. Morethan20professionalsandstudentstookapartinrealizationofthisProject.

Fig.4. Architectural conservation forms

Fig.5. Printed Study of Gostua village Research and Conservation Project

Fig.6.Maps of the village Gostua, urban study protected areas

and valorization of built heritage

Fig.7. Stone structures of Gostua

11. The process of continuousawareness rising, education, understanding, responsibility

risingand 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 Gostuastarted.
14. Several rural tourist householdsregistered.
15. Documents developed for application for the funding of the Project.
16. Help provided to the local community with the Project of church conservationproject
and with conservation of households for the ruraltourism (Fig.8).

4.4 Assessment
Assessment of all that has been done and recorded within the field work lead us to the
following conclusions: the main characteristic is the perfect resemblance of nature and
manmade structures, reflected in the landscape and in the specific parts of the buildings
stone roof slabs and stone walls, and other stone structures, the main problem is a tendency of
the people who are coming back to the village to change the type of roofing by replacing the
stone with ceramic roof tiles, but also a tendency to build with alien materials and in strange
forms (Fig.5).
The main strength of the village is the fact that the concept of sustainability can be applied
easily, especially because it was based in its originson this principle. Also, some institutions
are recognized the value of the village as a whole integrative cultural and natural heritage, as
well as agricultural and tourism potential. Long-term strategies must be sustainable because
buildings and structures are unique, irreplaceableresources (Ashurst, 2007).
The main weakness is low number of permanent inhabitants.Gostua has been experiencing
the phenomenon of depopulation for decades, followed by the reduction of the typical rural
activities, which led to alarge degradation of number of facilities, but also to loose oftheir
original purpose, which resulted in lack of maintenance and sometimes a complete
disappearance (Table 2.).
Rehabilitation of the village has an opportunity with the integrative approach and the launch
of development policies (Agnoletti, 2007). 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



*Preserved landscape of outstanding natural beauty Nature Park Stara planina

*Cultural heritage,
cultural and rural landscape features
*Developed touristic points located nearby
- the Lake Zavoj,
Ski-center Babin Zub,
four large waterfalls, etc.
*Authenticy of the village still preserved
*The original concept of life
and livestock breeding
still existing and functioning
*The richness of medical herbs
and other food available in the immediate
*The craftsman for stone
and wood available at the site

*Low inhabitants number

*Unfavorable age structure
of the population and poor economic status
of the majority of the residents
*Lack of awareness
about the importance of heritage
*Locals do not want to preserve the stone roofs
*Poor traffic connection with surroundings
*Lack of public infrastructure
(health center, hospital, school, post office, shops ...)
*Lack of long-term planning directed towards
sustainability of economic,
sociological, cultural
and social context
*It is not recognized as a priority
in all development plans



*Getting help from the local government

*Development of a long-term management plan
which can provide sustainable development
*Organization of restoration camps,
summer schools of architecture
and engaging volunteers
through these camps
*Educational programs
*Connecting with other heritage sites in the
*Connecting with existing events in the area of the
Nature Park Stara planina
*Promotion of hiking and biking routes
*Cross-border IPA EU projects
*Creation of web site
*Registration of
rural tourist households

*Natural threats posing a risk for the preservation

of building structure, material degradation of
buildings due to atmospheric effects, age and lack of
*Depopulation high migration rate and low
inhabitants number,
thereby rehabilitation
becomes insignificant
*Inadequate and insufficient tourist promotion
*Lack of long-term planning directed towards
sustainability of economic,
sociological, cultural
and social context
*Unmonitored tourist visits
*Economic crisis

Table 2. SWOT analysis

Fig.8. Rehabilitated Household used for rural tourism

4.5. Interpretation of Key Attributes

The protection policy of Gostua should be 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 legisitive 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 Gostua is of great importance the
development of the planned tourist infrastructure on Stara Planina thus the whole area
became more important and the village becomesa part of it, together with cultural properties,
people and their households.

Fig.9. Houses of Gostua

4.6. Goals
Basic principles and criteria on which to lean management plan and the entire system of
village rehabilitation and sustainable development are: preservation of authenticity and
integrity of immovable cultural property, a gradual rehabilitation of the village through the
backing of primary activities, and the launch of new adequate activities, creating a platform
for the formation of a scientific research and conservation center, and fund raising.
The main goals are: to increase awareness of cultural and nature heritage through
interpretation, guidance and promotion (development of interpretation approaches,
publications, web site development, branding), to create a platform for education and the
formation of a scientific research and conservation center (developing training programs,
seminars, summer schools, restoration camps, conferences), to introduce some of the options
of rural development (presenting with business opportunities and fundraising that can be
obtainedthroughout a handbook and seminars), to ensure the successful management with
encouraging a transparent comprehensive long-term planning and by linking stakeholders, to
provide total rehabilitation of the village and its surroundings with complete preservation of
historic and monuments characteristics, authenticity and integrity (Table 3.).





In addition to the existing and original purpose - agriculture and cattle

breeding,ensure other purposes that will enable the development and revival
of the village, but in a way that will not endangerthe heritage values. Possible
aletrnative purposes: culture, recreation, education and scientific research
activities, activities in the field of tourism
Ensure, through some development programs grants, the development of
cattle breeding, production of agricultural products, tourism development.

Ensure effective managementtrough transparent and comprehensive longterm planning and continual connection of all stakeholders
Encouraging Research related to the Heritage.
Ensure architectural and ethnographic research that exist in the village and its
surroundings. To ensure application of the research results during
rehabilitation process. Ensure also archeological research near the village.
Ensure conservation and revitalization, documenting and presenting of
movable and immovable heritage, in accordance with the contemporary
standards of heritage protection.
Ensure preservation of urban and landscape values and existing urban matrix.
Design trace of underground cables for all necessary installations and
transmission lines, in a way that does not jeopardize environmental values.
Make available all existing historical data, as well as legends and other
interesting facts about the village and its surroundings, for different
interpretations and using different interpretative media.
Increase interest educate and provide physical protection of architectural and
cultural value of the village, through organization of volunteer and
restoration camps, summer schools of architecture and other forms of
educational and cultural events. Ensure preservation of traditional old crafts
that are disappearing.
Increase visibility of stone village Gostua, through an innovative brand
Develop infrastructure and content which will provide the visitors an unique
experience of life in the countryside and enjoy all the benefits that the Nature
Park Stara planina offers
Provide protection of very rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the
village.Establish the organization of various conferences, camps, etc. Main
theme - the cultural heritage in the context of sustainable development.
Regulation and setting vantage points, as well as determine protection
measures that would preserve the universal values of the village.

Table 3. Goals

4.7 Action plan

Many of the activities from the Action Plan are already successfully finished. Two of them
still to be done are: establishment of the Support Center and developing of the Education,
Research and Conservation Center (Table 4.).
The first one should be based on the administrative resources of the Municipality of Pirot.
Ones established it will became a place for coordination and help for the local population

and for the stakeholders to provide management, presentations, promotions, interpretation

and establishment of tourist facilities to improve living standard and support development of
the region. Also it should give possibility for the allocation of financial resources, take care
of tourist offer and promote the site together with the other tourist points and attractions in
the municipality. In this way the local society should became more numerous, better educated
and ready to receive tourists, provides adequate service and develop the programs and events
on their own. Joining the cultural routes and forming new ones is also an important objective.
Creating and developing of cross-border projects and introduction of the missing
infrastructure and contents is also an important role of this Centre.
The other activity to be done in the recent future is establishing of the Education, Research
and Conservation Center. The Municipality of Pirot already has experience in allocating of
the EU financial support and with the rehabilitation of the abandoned public buildings in the
villages. In Gostua village there is a possibility for the rehabilitation of two public buildings,
one is a property of the local community and the other is a large school which belongs to the
Republic of Serbia. At the same time, reconstruction and rehabilitation of this two will open
numerous possibilities for other activities which will help the village and the villagers to find
their way into the sustainable development in many different ways.

A project conceived originally to protect and preserve the cultural heritage of the village of
Gostua, also complements the protection of the Nature Park Stara Planina and attends to
raise awareness, provide a space for international, public-private and interdisciplinary
cooperation and development. Also to support and synergies between the stakeholders on
operational issues, and promote tangible actions for the good management of rural landscape,
at a political, administrative or participative level (Scazzoci, 2013.).
Cultural properties are things and creations of material and spiritual culture of general interest
which enjoy special protection by the law, and together with the surroundings of the Nature
Parks, which are areas of well-preserved natural values with mostly preserved natural
ecosystems and picturesque landscapes, designed to ensure the overall geological, biological
and landscape diversity, can meet the scientific, educational, spiritual, aesthetic, cultural,
tourism, health and recreational needs and other activities coordinated with the traditional
way of life and the principles of sustainable development (Official Gazette).




Institute for Cultural

Preservation Nis ICHPN


Research, mapping,
recording and






Institute for
Cultural Heritage
Preservation Nis
Ministry of Culture
and Information of
the Republic of
Serbia MC

-Prepared the
application for the
funding of the
- Prepared for
systematization and
- Prepared Proposal
for the cultural
heritage protection
- Prepared
publishing and
promotion material
-The Proposal for
the cultural heritage
protection finished
and sent to the
-Exhibition catalog
-Meetings and Press
-Newspaper articles
-TV special reports
works on the
village Church
-Reconstruction of
the Stone bridge
-Reconstruction of
five households for
the rural tourism
-Construction of the
approach road

Systematization and
digitalization of the
recorded documents




Preparing the
proposal for the
inscription in the
list of cultural
monuments of











Municipality of
Pirot MP / ICHPN
/ MC

Conservation works

Municipality of
Pirot MP / ICHPN


Local community
of Gostua / MP/


The World Bank WB


The World Bank


Construction works





Local community of
Gostua / MP /
Tourist organization
of Pirot / ICHPN


MP / Tourist
organization of

-Establishment of
the Support Center


Local community
of Gostusa / MP /
organization of
Pirot / ICHPN /
MC / Ministry of
Tourism / Institute
for the Protection
of Natural heritage

-Research and
Conservation camp


Local community of
Gostusa / MP /
Tourist organization
of Pirot / ICHPN

Table 4. Action Plan

Both, the village and the Nature Park, in this case are selected on the basis of their
outstanding universal value and on their representativity in terms of a clearly defined geocultural region and also for their capacity to illustrate the essential and distinct cultural
elements of this part of Serbia and of the region. They bring together the idea of the Cultural
Landscape which should reflect on specific techniques of sustainable land-use, considering
the characteristics and limits of the natural environment, and whats most important,
established in a specific spiritual relation to nature. Protection of cultural landscapes can
contribute to modern techniques of sustainable land-use and can maintain or enhance natural
values in the landscape. The continued existence of traditional forms of land-use supports
biological diversity in many regions of the world. The protection of traditional cultural
landscapes is therefore helpful in maintaining biological diversity (Guidelines, UNESCO).


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Convention, UNESCO (
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no. 36/2009, 88/2010 and Art. 2 of the Law on Cultural Heritage, no. 71/94)
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