Serbian history can be best met through her church, monasteries and temples. Serbian temples carry the story of Serbian endowment. The most beautifull and the oldest temples were built by the powerfull Serbian rulers, and some of them spent their last years of life like monks. Enowements are left by nobles, monks, and ordinary citizens too. On the walls of Serbian churches are beautifull specimens of preserved medieval world of painting. Locations where the sacrant building were built are various; some of them were built outside the settlements, some alone and hidden in dense forests, some are situated at inaccessible rocks. Next to them were raising the dining room, living quarters and the treasury, and was surrounded by stone walls. However, the Serbian monasteries have not been historically isolated from the world. They have always been places where people gathered, so that today the monastery’s gates open for all visitors of goodwill. On some locations there are plenty of them into a small space (Ovčar-Kablarska Gorge, Valley through Ibar)… Within Serbia, there are 212 monasteries, of which 54 were declared monuments and on the World Heritage List of UNESCO have been included: Stari Ras with Sopoćani, Studenica and monasteries on Kosovo and Metohija – Dečani, Gračanica, Pećka Patrijaršija and Bogorodica Ljeviška.
Monasteries of Serbia
The architecture of mediaeval Serbian monasteries is particularly varied. During the 13th and into the 14th century some of the most striking churches were built, whose proportions and decorative facade and sculptural work suggest Romanesque influence (Studenica, Banjska, Dečani, Gradac, Arilje, Mileševa, Sopoćani and others). These are referred to as belonging to the Raška School. The first half of the 14th century during the reign of King Milutin saw the construction of works of exceptional architecture and artwork, such as Gračanica.
The period after 1371. saw the rise of a characteristic architectural style called the Morava School in the Morava river valley, with its multicolored facades and decorative relief work, (e.g. Ravanica, Lazarica, Ljubostinja and Kalenić).
Mediaeval monasteries and churches are not just features on the landscape of Serbia, they are features of the soul of Serbia, as well as being art galleries in a very real sense. The frescoes and icons in Serbia’s churches are a significant part of Serbia’s cultural, historical and national wealth.
Valley of kings
In the valley of the rivers Ibar and Raška, from Kraljevo southwards to below Novi Pazar, the mediaeval Serbian state was born. That is why some call it Dolina Kraljeva (‘Valley of the Kings’) while others call it Dolina Jorgovana (‘The Lilac Valley’). In any event, this valley is home to some of the most valuable Serbian medieval monasteries.
Monastery Studenica is one of the reachest and biggest monasteries of Serbian ortodox church. It is situated 57 km from Kraljevo, and it was founded by Stefan Nemanja at 1190.year. Monastery is famous for its collection of frescoes from XII and XIV century.
Mileševa is a Serbian Orthodox monastery located near Prijepolje, in southwest part of Serbia. It was founded by King Vladislav, in the years between 1234 and 1236. The church has frescoes by the most skillful artists of that time, including one of the most famous in Serbian culture, the “White Angel”, which depicts an angel on Christ’s grave.
The Sopoćani monastery an endowment of King Stefan Uroš I of Serbia, was built in the second half of the 13th century, near the source of the Raška River in the region of Ras, the centre of the Serbian medieval state. The church was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and completed around 1265, with interior decorated shortly thereafter.
The Žiča monastery is considered the “mother of all churches”, with its characteristic red facade. It is the place where its benefactor, Stefan Prvovenčani (’the First-Crowned’) was crowned the first Serbian king of the Nemanjić dynasty. Legend has it that six more kings were to be crowned here and that for each a door would be opened and then bricked up, hence the poetic name, Žiča of the seven doors.
The tragic defeat of the Serbian armies by the Turks at the Battle of Marica in 1371 had two long-term consequences for the fate and future of the Serbian state and its people. The northern regions of the former kingdom, which especially in the time of the first Nemanjić rulers were neglected regions, in the time of Prince Lazar and Despot Stefan Lazarević became exceptionally important. They became the center of Moravian Serbia and of the Despotate, where despite a lack of prior strong tradition or cultural movements a new school of art was born, which in the originality of its expression went far beyond the relatively constrained borders of the rejuvenated state.
Morava churches Lazarica, Ravanica, Ljubostinja and Kalenić represents a new type of church bulding, where an important place went to decorative sculpture. On the portals and windows, there are rosettes and bows in alternating strips, fantastic animals and human figures. Moravian decoration is a completely novel proof of creative power of the time.
The Morava school of architecture, the last great epoch in mediaeval Serbian art, lasted from 1371 to 1427. However, its reverberations can be traced all the way to Serbia’s loss of independence in 1459, when artistic activity was extinguished, and its last expression disappeared.
Fruška Gora monasteries
In the area 50 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide on the Srem Fruška Gora mountain is located sixteen Serbian Orthodox monasteries. their masonry was initiated after the great migration of Serbs 1690. when the Serbs then crossed into Hungary and in those areas they have found refuge from Turkish persecution. For the mountain, it is often said that it is the Serbian Holy Mountain because on its slopes housed a large number of monasteries and there was founded the spiritual center of the Serbs in exile. The monasteries are: Krušedol, Grgetek, Velika Remeta, Mala Remeta, Novo Hopovo, Staro Hopovo, Vrdnik, Jazak, Rakovac, Beočin, Bešenovo, Šišatovac, Petkovica, Kuveždin, Divša and Privina Glava.
Ovčar and Kablar monasteries
In the West Morava River Gorge, on steep slopes of Kablar and Ovčar mountain, is located community known as the Serbian monastery of Mount Athos. They were built in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Retreating before the Turkish invaders, Serbian monks found a deserted place far from the world and started building monasteries. According to tradition, on this small space there was a complex of more than forty monasteries, and today is only ten: Blagoveštenje, Vavedenje, Vaznesenje, Ilinje, Jovanje, Nikolje, Preobraženje, Sretenje, Uspenje and Holy Trinity monastery.
Treasures were created simultaneously with the establishment of monasteries as patrons for centuries and many pilgrims contribute those valuable artistic and liturgical objects. In the showcases of the monastery treasury, visitors can still see relics of the monastery, gospels, gold crosses, church embroidery, studded with silver icons and many other treasures. The most famous serbian manuscript, Miroslav’s gospel made around 1180. year at the court of Prince Miroslav, decorated with elaborate, vignettes and initials of Romanesque style.