Special Interests - Crossroad of religions
ORTHODOX CHURCHES & MONASTERIES
Medieval Serbian rulers built many fine monasteries throughout Serbia, often located in the most majestic terrain – some even hidden in the mountains. In the past, Serbian monasteries were often the only refuge of Serbian spirituality, a testament to the Orthodox religion throughout the centuries. These architectural beauties tell the story of the last ten centuries of Serbian history. If your special interest lies in history, art, or religion, make sure you do not miss this.
Church of St. Peter & Paul - The oldest church in Serbia, built in the 9th or 10th century, was the seat of the bishops of Raska, one of the early leaders of the medieval Serbian state. It retained its function until as late as 1807. The original structure has an unusual shape, a circular plan with a central cupola and three radial apses. This design traces its inspiration from the edifices built earlier in Armenia and Georgia, and arrived here through common Byzantine rule.
Monastery Studenica- UNESCO - This monastery was founded by Stefan Nemanja as his principal endowment in the central part of his new state. The monastery complex consists of three churches enclosed by protective walls. The oldest and the most important church among them, dedicated to Virgin Mary, was constructed between 1183-1196. This church is a paragon in Serbian architecture, as it is an example of a burial church that has been followed by all the rulers of the Nemanjic dynasty. Successfully combining Byzantine concepts of church space and the Romanesque treatment of the exterior, it brought to life the new independent style typical of medieval Serbia. The oldest preserved frescos are from 1208 and the most praised among them is the monumental composition of The Crucifixion.
Monastery Sopocani- UNESCO - Built in 1260 by King Uros I and dedicated to The Holy Trinity, this monastery served as a mausoleum for the king and his family and is located very close to the Serbian capital at the time, Ras. Although from the outside it looks like a basilica with three naves, it is actually a single nave edifice whose side chapels were incorporated in. This tall church gives a new sense of grandeur and size that was to be followed in the future. In the nave are the oldest frescos dated from 1273-1274. These frescos are considered to be the peak of not only Serbian but of all European painting of the time.
Monastery Mileseva - The main endowment of King Vladislav, built before 1228, served as his royal mausoleum church and it is one of the jewels of the period of the Nemanjic dynasty. This church is far and widely renowned due to its extraordinary paintings. This church boasts the most widely known Serbian fresco, the White Angel from the scene of the Holy Chrism Bears at the Tomb of Christ. This fresco is regarded as a masterpiece of late medieval painting.
Monastery Gradac - The endowment of Queen Helena D’ Anjou, wife of King Uros I and one of the first very powerful and influential women in Serbian history. Building took place between 1276 and 1279, following the models of Zica and Studenica Monasteries. The main church dedicated to the Virgin Mary is magnificent, having one nave and one cupola in the late Romanesque style. Queen Helena took special care of her monastery and also kept here a school for girls and noblemen.
Monastery Zica - A joint endowment of King Stefan the first crowned and his brother St. Sava in 1208. The monastery served as a first seat of Serbian autonomous archbishopric and Stefan was crowned here as the first king of the Nemanjic dynasty. The next eight rulers of this dynasty followed his example. The monastery church is dedicated to the Ascension of our Lord and it can be recognized for its bright red color, symbolizing the blood of martyrs.
Monastery Manasija - This monastery was built between 1407 and 1418 by despot Stefan Lazarevic, who is also buried there. It represents the last of the grand endowments of medieval Serbian rulers. The monastery stands protected by massive walls, with eleven towers and trenches, and is the most well preserved medieval fortifications in the country. This fortified area still contains the ruins of the old Refectory, the reconstructed monastic residence with a valuable private library, and the Church of the Holy Trinity with its exceptionally fine fresco paintings.
Monastery Ravanica - This was founded by the Serbian Prince Lazar in the second half of the 14th century. This is the most typical example of what is called the Morava School of Serbian medieval architecture. The monastery's five-domed Church of the Ascension displays rather badly damaged but very fine frescos. A transparent coffin in the church contains relics of the great and highly devoted Prince Lazar, who was killed in the battle of Kosovo in 1389 and soon afterwards declared a saint.
Monastery Ljubostinja -Founded by Prince Lazar's wife, Princess Milica, in 1388, The Church of the Virgin Mary is considered to be one of the most elegant architectonic monuments of medieval Serbia. The domed building, situated in a very pleasant environment, displays the form of an inscribed cross combined with a trefoil. This is a rare case where in a Serbian monastery the names of both the chief builder and painter have been preserved.
On the territory of Kosovo:
Patriarchy in Pec UNESCO - The complex has four churches, built between 1220 and 1330. The oldest, dedicated to the Holy Apostles, was built in the mid 13th century, while the last one, devoted to St. Nicholas, dates back to the first half of the 14th century. The Patriarchate of Pec plays a major role in the Church and State history of Serbia starting from the second half of 13th century. After Monastery Zica had been devastated by attack, due to safety reasons the Archbishopric moved to Pec.
Monastery Visoki Decani UNESCO - The most monumental building in medieval Serbia is the church devoted to Christ the Pantocrator at Dečani Monastery. King Stefan Dečanski initiated its building 1327, while his son, the famous Emperor Stefan Dušan, completed the work of his father eight years later. Dečani church boasts the richest and most well preserved sculpture in the Romanesque-Gothic style, a lavish portal, and decorative windows. It bears witness to the regal origins of the Nemanjić’s and the rulers’ families of the founders. The monastery also contains an exceptional treasury, which is a safekeeping of precious old icons and other objects of superb value.
Monastery Gracanica UNESCO The monastery, an endowment of King Milutin, was built in the early 14th century (1315 – 1321) and the main church was devoted to Annunciation. Its architectural structure represents the apex of Serbian building that followed in the spirit of Byzantine tradition. This monastery stands apart as a work of harmonious proportions and extraordinary beauty. This masterpiece is a five-domed edifice with unparallel terraced roof surfaces on a rectangular base. Inside, fresco paintings done by Milutin’s famous court painters Mihaila and Eustachius were finished by 1321.
Monastery Virgin Mary of Ljevis UNESCO The older church, which existed at the same place, was thoroughly rebuilt by the order of King Milutin in 1306-1307. Craftsmen and builders managed to adapt the architectural composition of the new church to the old one. Thus was created one of the most beautiful Serbian medieval churches, which was not constructed according to another church, but presented an original architectural design. It presents a combination of the original three-nave basilica, and Milutin's five-dome cross-shaped church with the external vestibule and two level belfry above. The central dome rests upon four pillars, while the small domes are placed diagonally at the very corners. The southern side space is covered with a cross-shaped ceiling, while the northern one is covered with quarter-logs. The external vestibule, which was originally entirely open on the ground floor, is covered with a cross-shaped arch ceiling. The church was built from alternate layers of brick and limestone. The surface of the facade is vivid with double and triple windows and niches. Various ceramic-plastic elements are used for decorating the facade. Two layers of frescoes were preserved in the church. The church was severely damaged and burned on 17 Mar 2004 by Albanian extremists.
OTHER RELIGIONS IN SERBIA
Standing at the crossroad of the migration of various nations and on the path of many armies, within the territory of Serbia we can encounter other religious influences, which are very noticeable today.
Catholicism in Vojvodina - The northern Serbian province of Vojvodina had quite a different history from the rest of country. The rivers Sava and Danube for many centuries represented the border between Catholic and Islam influence. Following the fall of Serbian Despot domains in 1459, Serbian noblemen and people found refuge in this region. During the times of the Habsburgs this served as a frontier towards the Ottoman Empire. Vojvodina’s beautiful cities are ornamented with buildings dating from the days of the Habsburg Monarchy, whose influence is also very visible on many of its Catholic cathedrals.
Islamic Heritage in Sandzak – When Islam reached these territories, Serbian inhabitants were partly Islamized, while the other part retreated to villages. The Serbian towns, especially their suburbs, acquired “Turkish” character. In the 16th or 17th century, Belgrade alone had more than 200 mosques in the city, 600 public drinking fountains, a bazaar with more than 3500 shops, and 20 caravansarais. In the southwestern area of Serbia known as Sandzak you can still see, explore and enjoy five centuries of Ottoman influence, best visible in the streets of Novi Pazar, the regions capital.
Serbia as a refuge – Jews in the Serbian culture - Serbs and Jews met each other here in the Balkans, and in their hardships encouraged each other. One group fled from the stakes of the Spanish inquisition, the others fled from Germans. Here in Serbia they attempted to adjust to a new way of life. The greatest migration of Jews to Serbia happened in 1492, when many of them were forced to leave Spain and find their home all over Europe. Some of these made it all away to Serbia, and most of those stayed in Belgrade.