Medieval Serbia had a very turbulent history; however, in the political, economic, and cultural sense, it held a prominent place in the Europe of that time. The state reached the pinnacle of its development during the reign of the Nemanjić dynasty, when numerous monasteries and developed cities arose, representing an essential feature of the Serbian national identity. Their remains bear witness to the achievements of civilization in the region and are among the most beautiful examples of medieval architecture.
Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
Sixteen kilometres southwest of Raška, on a hill at the entrance of Novi Pazar, lies the oldest monument of Medieval church architecture in Serbia. Research has established that the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, or Peter’s Church, was built on the ancient cult site as a rotunda (sacral building on a central circular base) with a dome. Historical sources mention it as the Raška episcopal seat since the 10th century, while the layers of frescoes follow the chronology of architectural changes in the church - the oldest date from the 9th century, and the later and best preserved ones are from the end of the 13th century. Peter’s Church was the site of the most important events during the first years of the reign of Nemanjić, such as the re-baptism of Stefan Nemanja in accordance with the Orthodox rite; a council on which it was decided to eliminate the bogomil heresy and the surrender of the throne to Stefan, later the First-Crowned king. A large necropolis with specific monumental stone tombstones of special value was formed around the temple. As part of the whole Stari Ras, including Sopoćani, the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From Pagan Shrine to the Orthodox Church
According to the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, the church was built by the “king Belu with his Romans” after the victory over Raška Župan Ljutomir. However, during the archaeological excavations, a crypt with Greek vases, silver dishes, amber beads and gold jewellery from the 5th century BC was discovered, and in the north-western part of the church, a Roman altar was found. Therefore, it is considered that pagan temple, early Christian temple and Medieval church alternated at this place.
At the place where the roads from the west and south to the east met, within the Medieval Stari Ras, above contemporary Novi Pazar, stands the monastery Đurđevi stupovi. It was built by Stefan Nemanja, founder of the dynasty Nemanjić and creator of the Medieval Serbian state. Built in 1171, and painted four years later, the monastery Đurđevi stupovi is one of the oldest Serbian monasteries. After the Austro-Turkish war in 1689, the last 16 monks who formed a fraternity were forced to flee to the north from Turks. Over the next two hundred years, the monastery was left exposed to wars, until the second half of the 20th century, when the researches and restoration began. As part of the whole Stari Ras, including Sopoćani, it was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
According to the written testimony of Nemanja’s son, later King Stefan the First-Crowned, during his captivity in a cave, Stefan Nemanja vowed to build a temple and dedicate it to St. George. There are many folk tales about Stefan Nemanja. He was a great conqueror and warrior, which is why the ignorant people had a belief that he was Dragon-Like man, that he had ala inside and that he was therefore voracious. According to legend, for lunch, he ate a roasted ox which had a roasted ram inside, and the ram had a roasted chicken with a fried egg in it. Once, when he was at dinner at the home of his son St. Sava, the ala showed out of his mouth, Sava grabbed her and threw her into the sea.
The impressive remains of the Stara Pavlica, mysterious monastery whose time of origin is not precisely determined, are ten kilometres north of Raška. It is assumed that the monastery dates from pre-Nemanjić period, and it was first mentioned in a gift charter of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja to monastery Studenica. The analysis of the architectural concept referred to the comparison with similar buildings in Greece, which were built in 11th and 12th century. The church was painted twice, and the representations of the Evangelists, the Crucifixion and several individual figures have remained from a younger layer from 13th century. The frescoes have largely faded, while better preserved fragments indicate that they were of high quality.
Temple on the Rock Dedicated to an Unknown Saint
Stara Pavlica stands alone, high on the rock above the railway line that runs through the valley of the Ibar River. The later historical testimonies state the fact that the church was built in honour of St. Peter, but it is still an enigma to which saint and the holiday it was dedicated. During the construction of the railway line in thirties of the 20th century, it suffered significant damage, and today it is partially restored.
The Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja erected his largest and most important endowment, the Studenica Monastery, about fifty kilometres from Kraljevo, in the period between 1183 and 1196, with the intention of being buried in the Church of the Virgin. After renouncing the throne and handing over power to his son Stefan, Stefan Nemanja became a monk and took the name Simeon, and later went to the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, where he died. His youngest son, Sava, took care of the finishing touches on Studenica. He chose top painters and made a plan of frescoes for his father’s church. He also transferred his father’s relics to the monastery, where they remain today. Under the guardianship of St. Sava, Studenica became the political, cultural, and spiritual centre of Medieval Serbia. The monastery complex consists of four churches: the Church of the Virgin, the King’s Church, the Church of St. Nicholas, and another church whose foundation alone has been preserved. Architecturally speaking, the Church of the Virgin represents a harmonious mixture of the Romanesque and Byzantine styles. This combination later developed into the unique Raška style, and the most important Serbian Medieval monasteries were constructed thusly. Studenica is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Studenica Typikon and Hermitage of Saint Sava
At Studenica, Sava wrote the Studenica Typikon, the rules of monastic life in the monastery, which also represents the first independent literary work written in the Serbian language. About ten kilometres from Studenica, on the slopes of Radočelo Mountain, is the Hermitage of Saint Sava. According to legend, the Hermitage was made after Sava returned to his homeland from Hilandar in order to reconcile his feuding brothers, Stefan and Vukan. It is believed that it was here where Sava wrote his famous “Life of St. Simeon” and organized a copying school.
As a seventeen-year old, Rastko Nemanjić left the palace of his father, Stefan Nemanja, and devoted himself to monastic life upon Mount Athos. At the beginning of the 13th century, he returned to Serbia with the relics of St. Simeon the Myrrh at a moment when his country was shaken by a conflict between his brothers Stefan, who was a grand prince, and Vukan, the oldest brother and unrecognized ruler. He managed to reconcile the feuding brothers and helped Stefan build Žiča as a monastic settlement. The selected spot is equidistant to Constantinople and Rome, symbolizing Serbia as a crossroads between Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West. The main monastery church was built in the Raška style. After gaining church independence, Žiča became the seat of the autocephalous Serbian archbishopric in 1219. There, bishops were enthroned and starting with Stefan the First-Crowned, Žiča became the traditional coronation church of Serbian kings. According to legend, for every coronation, a new door was made in the wall, so that the monastery came to be known as Seven-Doored Žiča. At the end of the 13th century, the monastery was damaged in an attack of Tatars, but was renovated by King Milutin ten years later. It is situated only six kilometres from Kraljevo, in Mataruška Banja.
Stefan in the West, Sava in the East
The sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, and the division of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted almost the entire 13th century, changed the balance of religious forces: on the one side, there were countries that belonged to the Byzantine circle and on the other, the countries of the Latins. It was in these circumstances that the Serbian Grand Prince Stefan took pragmatic steps towards obtaining the crown. The first step was his marriage to a Venetian princess, Anna Dandolo. This was followed by unsuccessful efforts to obtain a royal wreath from Pope Innocent III; but persistence paid off in 1217. Sava sent to Rome his disciple Methodius, who received from Pope Honorius III the blessing for Stefan’s coronation. At the assembly in the Žiča monastery, Sava crowned his brother Stefan with the crown brought from Rome and Stefan became the first Serbian king – the First-Crowned. However, two years later, Sava went to Nicaea, and managed to obtain the act of independence of the Serbian Church from the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch. As a result, Serbia decisively shifted its orbit, politically and religiously, from West to East.
Following the example of his grandfather Nemanja, who founded Studenica, and his father, Stefan the First-Crowned, who founded Žiča, King Stefan Vladislav built the Mileševa monastery as his mausoleum in the first half of the 13th century. In Mileševa, located not far from Prijepolje, the relics of Vladislav’s uncle, Saint Sava, one of the most venerated of Serbian saints, were interred in 1235. The Turks transferred the relics to Vračar in Belgrade in the 16th century and burned them in an attempt to break the occupied Serbian spirit. Tvrtko I Kotromanić, nephew of Emperor Dušan, was crowned king of the Serbs in Mileševa in 1377, and Stefan Vukčić Kosača proclaimed himself “Duke (Herzog) of Saint Sava” there as well, after which the area of Herzegovina got its name. The frescoes at Mileševa are among the best European achievements of the Middle Ages, particularly the famous White Angel, part of the Myrrhbearers at Christ’s Tomb composition.
Legend of the Guardians of Christ’s Cape
The history of the Mileševa Monastery is tied to a fraternity of former Serbian knights called the “Guardians of the Spear of St. George.” According to legend, these knights guarded the cape of Jesus Christ. During the Crusades, the Knights Templar came to three such Serbian knights guarding the cape in a small church on Crna Stena and attempted to take it away. One hundred Knights Templar attacked just three Guardians of the Spear of St. George. When the last Serbian knight lost his life, the Templars thought they had the victory, but a miracle happened: the White Angel appeared pointing to the cape as it disappeared into the rock. Precisely at the point of this unusual event, Serbian King Vladislav built Mileševa.
The Sopoćani monastery is located about fifteen kilometres from Novi Pazar, near the Raška River spring, in the centre of what was the Medieval Serbian state. Among the high mountains and rocky cliffs, not far from the old capital town of Ras, it was raised by King Stefan Uroš I. It is named after the Old Slavic word “sopot”, which means spring. The third son of Stefan the First-Crowned left behind a legacy that overshadowed all previously constructed Serbian churches, both in its beauty and greatness. In the eighth decade of the 13th century, the king chose the best artists from Constantinople for the painting of the nave and altar. It is unknown who these great artists were, but that does not detract from the assessment that the unique Sopoćani frescoes belong among the masterpieces of European painting – chiefly, the magnificent Dormition of the Mother of God, painted on a surface larger than 30 square meters. Despite the destruction of the church in the late 17th century, and more than 250 years during which Sopoćani was abandoned, the frescoеs have withstood the ravages of time. Sopoćani is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Conservators Studying Sopoćani Lime
Concerning Sopoćani, professionals engaged in restoration and conservation of works of art have given special attention to the materials from which the original structure was made. A seminar on the testing of lime as a historical material was held, followed by a workshop. From nearby quarries, a limestone similar to the one used for construction of Sopoćani was chosen, which was baked in accordance to traditional ways and then extinguished in order to obtain the lime most similar to the Medieval type, and which is used in ongoing works for the protection of the murals.
The Gradac Monastery is the endowment of Queen Helen of Anjou and her husband Uroš I Nemanjić. It was built between 1277 and 1282, during the reign of their son, King Dragutin. It is located above the Gradac River, on the edge of the forested slopes of Golija Mountain, twenty kilometres northwest of Raška. Helen was buried in Gradac, where she rested until the 17th century, upon which her mortal remains were taken by monks fleeing the Turkish invasion. The monastery was abandoned for centuries and the church largely destroyed, standing without roofs and ceilings, resulting in the original frescoes being badly damaged. After the church was restored and monastic quarters built, Gradac was revived in 1982. Today it is a nunnery, where part of the program of the famous “Days of Lilacs” event is held in memory of Helen of Anjou. Gradac is a specific combination of three styles: Gothic, Romanesque, and Serbo-Byzantine, although essentially it follows the mainstream of Raška Serbian architecture. It is interesting that on the walls of the main church, a black line resembling a crack can be spotted. It is lead placed during renovation in order to visually divide the original structure from that which was restored.
The legend of the Valley of Lilacs
There is some confusion regarding the origin of Queen Helen - some believe she is from the West, from the family of Anjou, whilst others link her to the Byzantine royal family of the Angels. Legend says that out of love for Helen, before her arrival in Raška, King Uroš ordered that the route she would take in the Ibar River Valley from Kraljevo to Raška, be planted with all kinds of lilacs. Hence, the famous Valley of Lilacs near Gradac.
Our Lady of Ljeviš
Our Lady of Ljeviš Church is located in Prizren, a city with a huge historical heritage, extending even into the ancient period. Our Lady of Ljeviš was built by King Milutin at the beginning of the 14th century, modifying an earlier Christian church. The oldest preserved frescoes – depictions of the Marriage at Cana, the Healing of the Blind, and the Virgin Eleusa with Christ the Feeder - originate from the third decade of the 13th century. Other frescoes were painted between 1308 and 1314, work of the Greek masters Eutychios and Michael Astrapas. Our Lady of Ljeviš is the first preserved monument of the court painting workshop of King Milutin. In addition to traditional depictions of great holidays, the Passion of Christ, miracles, and parables, there are also portraits of saints and Serbian historical figures, such as Stefan Nemanja, Saint Sava, and King Milutin. In the 18th century, during Turkish rule, Our Lady of Ljeviš was converted into a mosque and the frescoes covered with a layer of plaster. It was not until 1950s’, with research and conservation work that the frescoes found themselves again before the public eye. Along with the monasteries of Dečani, Gračanica, and the Patriarchate of Peć, Our Lady of Ljeviš was entered into the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
Plato and Plutarch in the Frescoes of the Monastery
Michael Astrapas’ fresco painting was the foremost example of interest in classical antiquity of the time. The walls of Our Lady of Ljeviš show representations of the ancient philosopher Plato, the classical historian Plutarch, a prophetess known as a sibyl, personifications of the muses, the Sun, the Moon, and other similar motifs. In Nomokanon, a collection of civil and ecclesiastical regulations drawn up by Saint Sava, considered the first Serbian constitution, the Classical heritage is defined as pagan and therefore heretical. In the stylistic changes brought about by Palaiologian Renaissance, however, Milutin’s court had a different stance, as evidenced in Our Lady of Ljeviš.
The Banjska Monastery is located near the Banjska River, the right tributary of the Ibar River near Zvečan, on the route of the ancient cobbled road connecting Constantinople and Dubrovnik. It was built around 1315 as the endowment of one of the most important rulers of the Nemanjić dynasty, King Stefan Uroš II Milutin. Milutin planned the Church of St. Stefan in Banjska to be his burial place and he was indeed buried there. However, after the Battle of Kosovo, his body was transferred to the nearby medieval mining village of Trepča, and later to the Bulgarian city of Sofia, where it is still located. The preserved founder’s Charter of Banjska testifies that King Milutin gave to the monastery a huge manor of 75 villages and 8 katuns (temporary mountain resorts), as well as ponds, beehives, and mills. The main source of pride at Banjska was its famous “Banjska gold,” mentioned in the annals and folk poems of the time. Banjska gold was thin gold leaf used for coating the back of frescoes, with the Studenica, Mileševa and Sopoćani monasteries as models. Unfortunately, only a few faded fragments of this have been preserved. The construction of the monastery was led by Danilo II, the Banjska abbot and later Serbian archbishop, also a close associate and confidant of the king. As for its building style, Banjska belongs to the Raška school and the main exterior decoration was a coloured hewn stone in yellow, purple, and grey. Its interior was once decorated by a seated figure of the Virgin with infant Christ in her lap, made in the manner in which the artists of Ras interpreted western Romanesque and Gothic styles. The figure is now kept in a nearby church, Sokolica, and parts of the stone facade decoration are being kept in the National Museum in Belgrade. In 2004, works began on the restoration of Banjska, once again the spiritual centre of Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija.
A Shrine in the Collective Memory of the Nation
It is recorded that Banjska was destroyed during the 16th century by order of the Sultan because Christians fleeing Turkish slavery gathered there. Banjska was converted into a mosque in the 17th century, and remained so until its liberation during the Balkan wars in 1912-13. Although Banjska was in ruins for centuries, people have never stopped visiting its walls, doubtless because of an awareness that this is an important holy object to be preserved.
Gračanica was a monastery built by King Milutin between 1317 and 1321. He dedicated it to the Dormition of the Holy Virgin. Gračanica is located in the village of the same name, approximately ten kilometres from Priština. It was built on an old pagan site, as well as the remains of two previous churches. As the endowment of King Milutin and his wife Simonida, and episcopal seat of the Serbian church, Gračanica was given rich gifts and property. The monastery church is painted with the most beautiful frescoes of Milutin’s court school, distinguished by richness of detail, vivid colours, and the dynamic positions of its figures. Among the many Christological cycles, the family tree of the Nemanjić dynasty is shown too, not to mention portraits of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs. Damage by fires was recorded in 1379 and 1383, but Gračanica survived, and its monks participated in intensive artistic and spiritual activities. Moreover, during the mid-16th century, a Serbian printing shop operated in Gračanica. At the time of the Great Migration, Gračanica was abandoned, and after the World War II served as a nunnery. Only a few representative old icons have remained from the originally large treasury collection. Along with the monasteries of Dečani and the Patriarchate of Peć, as well as Our Lady of Ljeviš Church, Gračanica is registered in the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Fresco of Simonida as Poetic Inspiration
Simonida was the only daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II, sent by her father as a guarantee of peace with Serbia when she was just five years old as bride to the ageing Serbian King Milutin. She was remembered as a beauty, and her likeness is shown on a fresco in Gračanica. The fresco was seriously damaged by Turkish invaders, however, and the famous Serbian poet Milan Rakić described the beauty of the young queen in his poem Simonida: “Your eyes were gouged out, oh beautiful image”.
Visoki Dečani is a monastery located southwest of the town of Peć, near the Dečanska Bistrica River, below the Prokletije mountain range. Visoki Dečani is the joint endowment of King Stefan Uroš III Nemanjić and his son Dušan, later Emperor. History of Visoki Dečani records the fact that Saint Sava appeared in front of Stefan Dečanski, showing him the place to raise what was to be his legacy. The works were supervised by Archbishop Danilo II, who brought together a number of skilled artists and masons, the head of whom was a Catholic monk, Fra Vita from Kotor. After the death of King Stefan, his work was continued by Stefan Uroš IV Dušan, who completed Visoki Dečani in 1335. The temple belongs to the Raška style of Serbian architecture, while the title of “High” (Visoki) was due to the fact that the church’s dome is 28 meters high - the biggest Serbian medieval building, in fact. Dečani has been entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
A Miracle That Chassed off Invaders and “Alien” Frescoes
The relics of St. Jelena Dečanska, daughter of King Milutin, and sister of Stefan Dečanski, are buried in Visoki Dečani, and reside there today. Legend has it that a flame rose from her grave, stopping a Turkish army trying to convert Visoki Dečani into a mosque in 1692. A modern sci-fi conspiracy theory is related to the frescoes as well. The painters presented the Sun and the Moon in an unusual way in order to personify the sadness at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Contemporary imaginative individuals have interpreted this stylization as the arrival of aliens, something experts reject.
The Patriarchate of Peć
The Patriarchate of Peć is a monastery complex near Peć, at the entrance of the Pećka Bistrica River in the Rugova Gorge. It consists of four churches built in the period between the 13th and 14th centuries. The seat of the Serbian Archbishopric was moved here from Žiča at the end of the 13th century and turned into a Patriarchate in 1346, thanks to Emperor Dušan. After the fall of Smederevo and death of Patriarch Arsenije II in the second half of the 15th century, the patriarchate was abolished and its area subordinated to the Archbishopric of Ohrid. The Turkish Vizier Mehmed Pasha Sokolović, a Serb from eastern Bosnia taken into Turkish captivity through the Tribute in Blood, had a great role in the renewal of the Patriarchate of Peć in 1557. He appointed his relative, Makarije Sokolović, to the throne of the restored Serbian Patriarchate. The restoration of the Patriarchate of Peć, the spiritual and cultural centre of the Serbian regions under Turkish rule, had enormous significance for the revival of construction, painting and literary activities, restoration and construction of churches. At the end of the 17th century, during the Austro-Turkish war, the Patriarchate was significantly damaged. Many Serbs left these lands, including the patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević. In 1776, the Turks subordinated the monastery to the Constantinople Patriarchate. The oldest frescoes date from the 13th century and are among the most beautiful in Serbian painting at that time. The entire history of medieval wall painting styles can be seen on the walls of Peć churches. Copies of priceless artistic value, manuscripts, icons, and works of applied art from the 14th to the 19th century are kept in this rich treasury. The Patriarchate of Peć is registered in the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.
750-Year-Old Tree as Witness of Great Historical Turning Points
Not far from the entrance to the churches of the complex of the Patriarchate of Peć, there is a tree, “Šam-dud”, planted by Archbishop Sava II, son of Stefan the First-Crowned, somewhere between 1263 and 1272. According to historical evidence, when Patriarch Arsenije III Čarnojević led the great migration of Serbs to the northern regions in 1690, it was under that tree that a council was held before departure.
Ravanica is a monastery near the town of Ćuprija, built by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović in the 1370s. The frescoes were painted just a few years before the Battle of Kosovo, in which this ruler was killed. The church of the monastery is fortified by a solid defensive wall with seven towers. As one of the most important cultural monuments in Serbia, Ravanica testifies to the history of the persecution of the Serbian people after the crucial battle that occurred on 28 June 1389. According to its aesthetic features, Ravanica represents the beginning of the Morava style of Serbian church architecture. New features can be observed in the choice of topics and cycles on the preserved frescoes, as well as transparency and changes in the modelling, which would later become the standard in church paintings of temples in Morava style. The relics of its founder, Prince Lazar, are kept in the church.
The Greatest Hero of Serbian Epic Poetry Buried In Ravanica?
During recent archaeological research, it was found that within the Ravanica church there was another tomb, unknown until recently, in the immediate vicinity of the place where Lazar’s sarcophagus is located. It is unclear why the unknown squire was buried near Prince Lazar with a sword, and there are assumptions that this is the eternal resting place of the legendary epic hero Miloš Obilić.
The Manasija monastery, also known as Resava, is located in the immediate vicinity of Despotovac in the Pomoravlje District. It is one of the most beautiful monuments of Serbian medieval culture and the most important building in the Morava style. It was built by Despot Stefan Lazarević, son of Prince Lazar, in the first decades of the 15th century, and it quickly became a cultural centre of the former Despotate. The monastery complex is completely surrounded by thick walls that served for defence. The fortress was strengthened with 11 towers, the largest of which is the Despot Tower. Although only a small part of the frescoes in the monastery church survived, the frescoes of Manasija are among the biggest achievements of medieval painting. The most interesting is the composition on the west wall of the church, on which Despot Stefan holds a charter in one hand and a model of the temple in the other. In 1456, the monastery was destroyed in a fire, the same year the successor to Stefan Lazarević, Despot Đurađ Branković, died. The Turks used this to take Manasija, which quickly led to the fall of the whole country under Ottoman rule. In the early 1480s, Manasija became a Turkish fortress which was inhabited by approximately 70 soldiers, but it is interesting that the two monks kept living in the monastery. Over time, with the movement of the borders to the north, Manasija lost its defensive character for the Turks.
Despot Stefan, a Warrior and a Writer
During reconstruction at the beginning of the 21st century, human remains, which the latest and most reliable research methods have identified as those of Despot Stefan Lazarević, were discovered in the monastery church. Despot Stefan Lazarević is one of the most prominent personalities not only of the political, but also the literary life of Medieval Serbia. He fought in many battlefields, from Angora to Rovin, and he had the opportunity to get to know the life and cultural riches of other countries on his numerous trips. He spoke and wrote in the Serbian recension of Church Slavonic, and he also knew Greek and Latin. He was a translator and writer. His “Letter of Love” (Slovo ljubve) – his most important work – is characterized by elements of the Renaissance and a secular view of the world, and his whole reign had a new spirit, which gave birth to the beginnings of humanism in Serbian culture.
Bogdan, prominent treasurer of Prince Stefan Lazarević, built this monastery during the second decade of the 15th century. Kalenić is located near Rekovac in Pomoravlje District. The architecture of Kalenić belongs to the Morava style, and it is an interesting fact that this is one of the few Serbian medieval monasteries which has carved not only animal but also human figures above the window frames. Its frescoes are among the top achievements of the first half of the 15th century. It is first mentioned in 1476-1478, in the tax lists made by the Turkish invaders, as the Monastery of the Immaculate in Levač. The relics of one of the most important rulers of the Nemanjić dynasty, Stefan the First-Crowned, were kept in the Kalenić in the period from 1815 to 1839, when they were transferred to Studenica.
The Beauty That Enchants
The beauty of Kalenić is widely known, but the most important are its frescoes. The main characteristic of Kalenić painting is lyrical and poetic expression, which is more emphasized than the narrative type, and which was made following the model of Constantinople art. The frescoes dedicated to the celebration of Christ’s earthly life occupy a central zone of the nave, along with a cycle of Miracles. Some scenes, such as the wedding at Cana, are among the highest achievements of Byzantine art. Although the creators of the Kalenić frescoes have not been discovered, the consensus is that a painter named Radoslav, miniaturist in the Tetraevangelion of the Spiritual Visarion (Radoslav Gospels) was the main master of the painting group that painted the temple. In a famous collection of poems, “Earth Erects,” by one of the best Serbian poets, Vasko Popa, there is a poem, “Kalenić”, in which he expresses admiration for the beauty of this monastery in his own way.
Seal of Prince Strojimir
The Golden Seal (tipar) of Prince Strojimir dates from the second half of the 9th century, the period before the rule of the Nemanjić dynasty, and represents the oldest material evidence of the existence of the Serbian state in the Middle Ages. On its front side, there is a double cross in a circle, as well as a printing in Greek: “God help Strojimir”. Strojimir was the middle son of Prince Vlastimir (830-851), the ruler who is considered the creator of the Serbian state, after whom the Vlastimirović Dynasty was named. The only surviving historical source that mentions Strojimir Vlastimirović is a document of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, “On Ruling the Empire”. It can be concluded from it that, as Vlastimir’s middle son, he should have succeeded to the Serbian throne, but his brother Mutimir made an alliance with their former enemies, the Bulgarians, and reigned instead as prince. Then Mutimir sent Strojimir and his other brothers to Bulgaria, but it is not known whether the princes ever returned to Serbia. The seal is personal, made by a Byzantine goldsmith in Athens, Thessaloniki, or Constantinople, and its very existence assumes that in former Serbia there was an administration, i.e. archives and court offices. The double cross on the seal suggests that the person who ordered it was a Christian. Some experts believe that based on the ring it can be assumed that even the ancestors of the person who ordered it were Christians, which is contrary to the belief that Serbian rulers adopted Christianity between 867 and 870. The ring at the top of the seal shows that, in addition to its basic purpose, it was also pure jewellery worn around the wrist or neck as a talisman. The seal is now kept in the Historical Museum of Serbia.
Auction and Difficulties during the Purchase
The seal, which was privately owned and whose existence was not publicly known, appeared at an auction held in Munich in 2006. The Serbian Ministry of Culture received this information only a few days before the auction, after which the Serbian consulate was entrusted to participate in the auction. However, the Bulgarian collectors offered a large sum of money for the seal to be excluded from the auction because they estimated that it had great significance to the history of Bulgaria. Through the efforts of the Serbian Vice Consul, the Serbian party managed, in the end, to buy the seal.
Monuments of Cyrillic Literacy
The Cyrillic alphabet is exclusively used, except in Serbian, in several Slavic languages and in the languages of countries formerly comprising the Soviet Union. Most of the letters of this alphabet are based on the Greek alphabet, while some characters are simplified forms of letters from the Glagolitic alphabet. The probable creators of the Cyrillic alphabet are Kliment or Konstantin Preslavski, students of Cyril and Methodius, brothers and educators from Thessaloniki who spread literacy and Christianity among the pagan Slavs. Over the following pages, we shall present the most important monuments of the Cyrillic alphabet in the Serbian nation.
The most important Serbian manuscript from the 12th century testifies to the origin of the overall Cyrillic literacy among Serbs and South Slavs in general. It is a translation of a Greek Gospel book of the Saint Sophia Church in Constantinople, and is written in the Serbian recension of Church Slavonic and orthography of Raška. The text on the last, 181st sheet, says that the book’s creation was ordered by Prince Miroslav of Hum, brother of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanja. Miroslav’s Gospel was probably intended for his endowment – the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Bijelo Polje, and it is assumed that it was written and illustrated there. Miniatures, initials, and banners of Miroslav’s Gospel belong to the most beautiful Serbian medieval literary ornaments. Elements of the Western, Roman style are especially observed in the way of drawing of motifs and application of colour. The manuscript is now kept in the National Museum in Belgrade.
Together with Miroslav’s Gospel, Vukan’s Gospel is the most important achievement of the Cyrillic literacy of the Middle Ages. It is believed that this manuscript originated near the town of Ras, and contains a total of 189 parchment sheets. According to the record of Simeon, one of the writers of the gospel, the manuscript was made for Župan Vukan. However, since Vukan’s name was written on a previously deleted spot, doubt should be maintained as to the identification of the customer. Analyses have shown that four scribes and one proofreader participated in work on the manuscript. While the first three scribes (including Simeon) belong to the tradition of the Raška clerical school, the manuscript of the fourth scribe was under the influence of Latin culture and education. Vukan’s Gospel is now in the National Library in St. Petersburg.
Praise to Prince Lazar
At the beginning of the 15th century, Jefimija, a nun, embroidered the Praise to Prince Lazar. This work was made as a cover for a coffin, and is considered an impressive achievement of the embroidery art, with the embroidered poem in prose among the most beautiful in medieval literature. Jefimija was born around 1350. Her name was Jelena before becoming a nun and she was the wife of Despot Uglješa Mrnjavčević. She embroidered the Praise to Prince Lazar immediately before the battle of Angora (Ankara) in 1402, when Lazar’s sons Stefan and Vuk, as Bayezid’s vassals, went overseas to fight against the Mongols. The main motive for the embroidering of the Praise was Jefimijia’s deep respect and gratitude to Prince Lazar, whom she described as a great man, warrior, and martyr. The poem is full of patriotic and noble feelings, and it was embroidered with gilded wire on red silk. The cover is now being kept in the Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade.
Battle of Angora
The Battle of Angora (present-day Ankara) took place in 1402 between the Ottoman Turks, led by Sultan Bayezid I, and Mongols under the command of their ruler, Tamerlane. Tamerlane won the battle, and the Turkish sultan fell into captivity and died shortly after. Bayezid’s army had about 2,000 Serbs led by Stefan Lazarević. He was followed by his brother Vuk and nephews Grgur and Đurađ, sons of Vuk Branković. When Stefan Lazarević saw that Anatolian troops were leaving the battle, he tried three times to save the besieged Sultan from the battlefield, but the stubborn Bayezid refused to retreat. In the end, the Grand Vizier Çandarlı Ali Pasha issued an order for the Ottoman troops to retreat, and Prince Stefan successfully secured the retreat of Bayezid’s son, Suleiman. Along this road, near Ankara, there is still today a toponym, Srp Gazi (Serbian Winner), which testifies to the heroism of the Serbian army. According to later Ottoman chronicles, Tamerlane was impressed by the courage of Serbian warriors, and he ordered that the captured Serbs be set free along with their horses and weapons. He kept seventy Serbian builders, confirmed by the Byzantines to be as skilled in building stone bridges, towers, and places of worship as the Venetians.
Together with the Nomocanon of Saint Sava, Dušan’s Code represents the most important document of Medieval Serbian law. It was promulgated at the council of noblemen and church dignitaries on 21 May 1349 in Skopje, and amended by the council on 31 August 1354 in Serres. It was adopted with the purpose of regulating the state, after the proclamation of Dušan Nemanjić as Emperor of Serbs and Greeks, with regulations that would apply to the whole of the empire and all its subjects. Dušan tried with this Code to organize his state on the model of Byzantium, with the idea that his empire would take the place of the collapsing Byzantine Empire. He also wanted to put limits on the demands of the Serbian nobility, which had become excessively arrogant at the time of his conquests, the resultant decentralization weakening state power. At the time of the development of this Code, very few European countries had their own legal system organized and codified in this manner. The original of Dušan’s Code is not preserved, but there are 24 subsequent manuscript copies. The oldest is the Struga transcript from 1373, which is not preserved in its entirety. An Athos manuscript dates from 1418, and the manuscript of Studenica is also from that time. Manuscripts from Hilandar, Bistrica, and Prizren, which have the richest texts, are from the 15th century. The Rakovac manuscript from the early 18th century has only the last 12 articles and Emperor Dušan’s comments to his Code.
The Values of Dušan’s Empire
Here are some interesting articles from Dušan’s Code:
On insulting lords:
55. And if a lord or gentleman insults a commoner (sebar), let him pay one hundred perpers; and if a commoner insults a lord, let him pay one hundred perpers and be singed.
138. If there be in any charter a word wrongly written and there be meanings changed and words altered otherwise than my Majesty commanded, let these charters be torn up and they shall not have the inheritance.
On the Law
171. A further edict of my Majesty. If I the Emperor write a writ, either from anger or from love or by grace for someone and that writ transgresses the Code, and be not according to right and the law as written in the Code, the judges shall not obey that writ but shall adjudge according to justice.
172. Every judge shall judge according to the Code, justly, as written in the Code, and shall not judge by fear of me, the Emperor.
Stećci are medieval tombstones made of large stones, often with a variety of carved ornaments and inscriptions. They were created in the period from the 11th up to the end of the 15th century. The most important stećci necropolis in Serbia is located in Perućac, then in the villages of Rastište on Tara and Hrta near Prijepolje. Mramorje or Bagruša in Perućac, near Bajina Bašta, is one of the best preserved necropolises, dating from the 14th century. These stećci have no inscriptions, and very few of them have motifs of circles, crescent moons, swords and shields. In the Rastište village, there are two cemeteries with stećci of various shapes, including three with sword, bow, and arrow motifs. About 16 kilometres southwest from Prijepolje, in the village of Hrta, there are two medieval cemeteries, which have a number of ornaments with various carved and relief motifs. About eighty monuments there are oriented east-west. Most stećci have their usual inscriptions carved in memory of the deceased and for those who erected the monument. A certain number of stećci have philosophical inscriptions with aphorisms about life and meaning of existence. It is interesting that they have no unique view of the world, but each highlights its own experiences and conclusions. Stećci do not emphasize the religion of the deceased. Necropolises made of stećci in Perućac, Rastište and Hrta are part of a wider phenomenon of medieval burials in the Balkans, and this is how they were recently registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List, based on a joint nomination.
The Origin, Belonging and Importance
“Comparative studies have expanded the range of some hypotheses, one of the most convincing being that these sarcophagi reflect elements of that ancient pre-sculpture brought by the Slavs with them to their new Balkan homeland, which, for its stylistic elements, associates them with the sculptures of the Baltic and Caucasus and Scythian-Sarmatian motifs into a single group. All these tombstones are monoliths, often rough, so that even their roughness makes them look monumental, as boards whose task is to last for centuries, by symbolism of their defiant roughness, which does not recognize any style other than its own.”*
*Excerpt from the book by Miroslav Krleža, On Religion
Fortress Ras is located ten kilometres from Novi Pazar, in an area that at the time of the medieval Nemanjić dynasty was the centre of the Serbian state. Archaeological research has shown that the oldest traces of the fortifications date back to late antiquity. The abandoned ancient fortress was rebuilt at the end of the 9th and beginning of the 10th century, when it was the Bulgarian stronghold in the west in a war with the Serbs. In the 11th century, Ras was conquered by the Byzantine Empire, and in the beginning of the 12th century, during the reign of John II Comnenus, a new castle was erected on the location of the old fortress. Ras became one of the most important strongholds of the Serbian state in the 12th century. In addition to fortifying the wall defence system, many new buildings were constructed within the fortress, and the residential complex in the northern part of the fort was particularly prominent. During the 1240s, the complete fortress was destroyed by fire, after which it was no longer restored.
The Centre of the Medieval State
The importance of the Ras fortress for the Serbian medieval state can be seen from the findings of rich archaeological layers dating from the second half of the 12th century and the first decades of the 13th century. Among the findings from the residential complex, particularly interesting are the imported dishes from different parts of Europe: from mainland Greece and the Aegean islands, through southern Italy and the Mediterranean, to Pomerania in the north, and neighbouring Bulgaria in the east. During the reign of Stefan Radoslav (1228-1233), there was a mint operating in the fortress, which minted the first Serbian money. According to current findings, King Radoslav began minting money in Thessaloniki, and he opened a mint in Ras in 1230. It is interesting that all copies of the first Serbian coins were discovered precisely in the layers of the city’s destruction, in which traces of the great fire of 1233 can be clearly observed.
Byzantine Emperor and historian Constantine Porphyrogenitus recorded that Serbs reached Singidunum around 630. The white colour of the limestone used to build the Belgrade Fortress probably influenced the Slavic name of the city, first mentioned on 16 April 878, in a letter from Pope John VIII to the Bulgarian Prince Boris. In the period from the 9th to the 15th century, the city was in the hands of the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and the Bulgarians. It was also under the rule of Dragutin Nemanjić after his withdrawal from the Serbian throne. After the Battle of Angora in 1402, Stefan Lazarević received from the Byzantine Emperor the title of despot, and from the Hungarian king Sigismund the authority to govern Belgrade. During his governing, the fortress which the Ottomans destroyed in 1397 was restored and significantly expanded. The old castle was restored and converted into the despot’s fortified castle, and the west suburb got the War Dock. Work on the expansion of the fort lasted until the death of Despot Stefan in 1427, and since 1405 it has been the capital of Serbia, taking over from Kruševac. After Stefan’s death, Belgrade was returned to the Hungarians who fortified it further because of the growing threat from the Turks, who besieged it three times. Only during the third siege in 1521, under the leadership of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, did Beograd fall into the hands of the Turks. It remained so until 1688, when the Austrians conquered the fortress and converted it from a medieval into an artillery fortification.
One of the most famous towers within the Belgrade fortress is Nebojša Tower. It was named using the negation of the verb “to be afraid” (bojati se), which means that the tower is not afraid of the enemy and that is unconquerable. It is believed that it was built by Hungarians in order to protect themselves from Turkish attacks from the river. Over the centuries, it has been restored numerous times because it was damaged by the artillery attacks of numerous invaders. During Ottoman rule, rebels were executed within the tower, the most famous victim being the famous Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios. In the epic poem, “The Beginning of the Uprising against the Dahis”, which narrates the beginning of the First Serbian Uprising, Filip Višnjić mentions Nebojša Tower as a place of dramatic prophecy of doom for the dahis:
“Then, right sorrowful, the seven dahis
Out of glass a vessel quickly fashioned,
Gathered in it water from the Danube,
Up they bore it on Nebojša Tower,
On the summit of the tower placed it,
Caught the starlight in the water’s surface
To discern the omens in the heavens
And to learn what fate was them awaiting.
Round the vessel gathered all the dahis,
In it they beheld their troubled faces;
When the dahis scanned their troubled faces,
With their eyes the dahis saw full clearly:
Not one bore his head upon his shoulders!“
Approximately twenty kilometres south of Kraljevo lays Maglič, the fortress which was apparently built by Serbian Archbishop Danilo II during the third or fourth decade of the 14th century, upon the site of an older minor fortress. The irregular, elongated shape of the fort is the result of the position of Maglič – it is situated on a narrow plateau on top of a rocky cliff, on uneven and tough terrain. On the east side, which is easily accessible, the cliff is cut with a carved trench. The Ibar River, which turns at this place, surrounds it on three sides. The fortress consists of mighty fortification walls with eight towers. The main and largest tower was on the accessible side, where there was also a gateway through which people entered the fortress. Inside the fortress, there was a palace, a church, and three other buildings built of stone, the parts of which have been preserved to this day. The city was conquered by the Turks soon after the fall of Smederevo in 1459. With the Turkish conquest, the city lost its importance. After the Turkish defeat at Vienna in 1683, the Holy League (Poland-Lithuania, the Venetian Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire) penetrated the territory of Serbia, and an uprising started. The rebels freed Maglič and Koznik and used them as a base to begin attacks on Ottoman garrisons in other settlements. The uprising eventually failed, and the fortress was abandoned and left to the ravages of time. The castle is now researched and preserved, and some parts reconstructed.
The Seat of the Great Chronicler and Priest
It is most likely that the fortress was used as a safe place for the refuge of the Archdiocese of Žiča, and it is certain that it was the occasional residence of Serbian Archbishop Danilo II. In the 14th century, he administered the affairs of state and church from Maglič, and organized the writing of religious books within the city walls. He is the only person from the era of Nemanjić who is comparable, due to his historical importance, to the most important members of the Serbian dynasty. At Maglič, Danilo devoted himself to literary work, and his most important works are his hagiographies of rulers and archbishops. He was a versatile personality – the abbot of Hilandar and other Serbian monasteries, but also a politician, advisor to rulers, warrior, builder, founder and educator.
Novo Brdo is the mining centre of Medieval Serbia, located about 40 kilometres east of present-day Priština in Kosovo and Metohija. It was first mentioned in historical sources in 1319. The fortress was probably built during this period, as protection for the mining complex, which quickly became the most important mining centre in Serbia. The fortress consists of a relatively small citadel and large Lower town. The citadel was located at the very top of the hill and it was protected well – surrounded by a double fortification wall with six strong towers. Around the Lower town, side walls started from the citadel, and they had one defence tower at each of their ends. The towers were connected with a large semi-circular fortification wall, which enclosed the city’s defensive fortification. On the eastern side of the fortress, there was a large urban settlement, with a large number of stone houses, areas, and former streets. In the centre, there was a square. Also, in the immediate vicinity, was the Cathedral of St. Nicholas and several smaller churches. In addition to the town centre, the complex also included a few small settlements located around the mine shafts and a number of smaller fortifications which formed a defence system for those suburbs. The remains of these settlements and fortifications still exist today, but they are still unexplored.
Among the Most Important Cities of the Medieval Europe
Silver with gold particles extracted from Novo Brdo was known throughout Europe. Serbian kings brought Saxon miners to help develop the mine, and this is why there are remnants of the Catholic Church of St. Mary of Novo Brdo near the fortress. During the reign of Emperor Dušan, an imperial mint was opened in Novo Brdo, which later, at the time of Prince Lazar, minted silver coins which only had the inscription of the name Novo Brdo (moneta argentea novo monte – silver coins Novo Brdo). During the reign of Despot Stefan, the revenue from Novo Brdo mines was extremely important for the Serbian state. Novo Brdo was a major economic and industrial centre, whose importance was recognized beyond the borders of Serbia. Constantine the Philosopher, a Bulgarian medieval writer and chronicler, described it as “in truth, a city of silver and gold”. Venetian cartographer Fra Mauro entered this location on his world map in capital bold letters, and the Turkish chronicler Dursun-Bey notes in the mid-15th century that Novo Brdo was “the centre of all countries” and “complete as one gold and silver mine”.
Golubac Fortress is located on the high cliffs at the entrance to the Đerdap Gorge in particularly rough terrain. The exact time of the erection of the fortress has not been determined, but it was probably built in the early 14th century. The fortress was first mentioned in 1335. It consists of two parts – the inner and outer fortification. In the upper part of the inner part there is a keep, which, together with three towers, represents a special defence complex. A special residential building, granary, and water tank – buildings necessary for the defence against a long siege of the fortress, were located along it. This is probably the oldest part of the fortress. In the coastal part, there was a magnificent palace in which the commander used to stay, whose top floor also had a defensive function. Next to the palace, for the purposes of defence, a large four-sided tower was built. The outer fort occupied a much larger area. It included various different buildings, and along the shore, there was a river dock protected by an octagonal cannon tower, built by the Turks at the end of the 15th century.
Zawisza Czarny – Polish Knight
At the entrance to the fortress, there is a memorial fountain with a bronze board, which confuses visitors at first. There is the following inscription on the board, in Serbian and Polish: “The famous Polish knight, a symbol of courage and honesty, Zawisza Czarny, was killed by the Turks in 1428 in Golubac. Glory to the hero.” How did the Polish knight reach the Danube, a thousand miles from his homeland, and give his life so gloriously? At the beginning of the 14th century, the Golubac Fortress fell into the hands of the Turks in a strange way, without a fight. The Hungarian King, Sigismund, considering the Turkish fortress on the Danube to be a great danger, began the siege of Golubac in April 1428. Zawisza Czarny, who had already gained fame in many battles and many tournaments, and who had a knight’s honour, by oath, to never retreat from battle, let alone escape from it, accepted the invitation to join the king’s army. Unfortunately, the expected help to the Turkish soldiers arrived at the last moment. The great Turkish army, under the command of Sultan Murad II, defeated the troops of the Hungarian king and arrived in front of the fortress. The chaos that ensued was so great that Sigismund saved himself only at the very last moment. The only one who kept his position and who defended the retreat of the king and his army was Zawisza. When the remains of the broken troops reached the left bank of the Danube, the Hungarian king repeatedly sent ships so that Zawisza could withdraw. Zawisza, faithful to his oath of chivalry, kept returning the empty ships to the king. In the end, he was captured by Turks, who executed him and sent his head to Istanbul. According to legend, local residents buried Zawisza’s body with full honours in the courtyard of the Tuman monastery.
The best preserved medieval fort in Vojvodina is Bač Fortress, located near eponymous town, from which the whole region of Bačka got its name. The erection of the castle is connected to the period from 1338 to 1342, but it got its present form in the 15th century. Works on its fortification and adaptation to new military needs were led by the archbishops, who were often the district prefects. The extensive reconstruction works were conducted by Archbishop Petrus de Varda, who ordered the construction of elements for artillery warfare from 1490 to 1495, such as cannonball holes, barbican, and an outer defensive tower that defended access to the fortress in front of the main trench. The powerful four-sided keep, which represented one of the best Hungarian military buildings of the 15th century, dominates within the fortress. The palace near the north tower was constructed during this period, and on the basis of decorative mouldings in the style of the early Renaissance, the impression is that the works were executed by Italian architects, who were at the time building for the needs of the court in Buda.
Description of Evliya Çelebi
The famous Turkish travel writer Dervish Mehmed Zilli, known as Evliya Çelebi, left a record of the beauty of Bač Fortress and its keep during his visit in 1665: “It is a great fortress on a lake that receives water from the Danube River, has a rectangular shape, and is completely built of brick … There is another big tower in this town; this is the real cosmorama, facing the lake. It has a lovely resort resembling the emperor’s resort. This castle is as beautiful as Havernek; all the educated and sincere friends of the city meet there to rest and entertain.”
Stari Grad Užice
The remains of Stari Grad Užice lie on a high and inaccessible rocky cliff, surrounded by the River Đetinja on three sides. The fortress was erected to protect the caravan route connecting the Morava Valley with Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the Dubrovnik Republic. It was built in the mid-14th century and belonged to the Grand Prince Nikola Altomanović. Three sides of the fortress were built on a vertical cliff, which almost vertically descend into the River Đetinja. Towards the only accessible side, a small ellipsoid citadel with a strong semi-circular tower was built. From this, the most fortified part, by the every edge of steep cliffs, lie the fortification walls, including the gate. Its defence was a massive tower which was reached by a wooden bridge over the rocky abyss. The fortification walls extended to the river itself along the cliffs, where the Water Tower was built – a seven-level, well-fortified building. The Water Tower, which was used to supply water during a siege, is an exceptional work of military architecture, esteemed even beyond the borders of Serbia.
The Alliance against the Master of Stari Grad Užice
Probably the most important event in the history of the fortress took place in November 1373. The combined army of Prince Lazar and Ban Tvrtko, backed by squads of King Lajos I of Hungary, led by Mačva Ban Nikola Gorjanski Senior, besieged General Nikola Altomanović in the fortress. As a result of artillery attacks, Nikola quickly surrendered and he was blinded by order of nobleman Stefan Musić, and the regions administered by him were divided among the winners. Nikola Altomanović (Vojinović) was a Serbian district master and warrior who ruled the area from Rudnik in the north to the Adriatic Sea in the south, bordering the Dubrovnik Republic. After the Battle of Marica, he became one of the most powerful Serbian nobles, and the Dubrovnik Republic was paying him annual tribute as successor to the crown of Serbia. Nikola’s conflict with his neighbouring rulers is one of the events that destroyed the Serbian medieval state.
The medieval fortress Koznik is located ten kilometres northwest of Brus on the slopes of Željin Mountain. It was first mentioned in 1381 as “Noble Koznik” in the Charter of Prince Lazar for the Lavra of St. Athanasius on Mount Athos. It is assumed that Radič Postupović, a prominent squire from the time of Despot Stefan Lazarević, further fortified and used this city. This was witnessed by two charters of Despot Stefan Lazarević, with which he gave Radič Postupović all the surrounding villages and the church on the Grabovničica River. During the first fall of the Despotate in 1439, the Turks took Koznik, but it was returned in 1444 to Despot Đurađ Branković. It was built on top of a conical hill, and has an irregular polygonal base which follows the configuration of the terrain. The fortification walls were reinforced with eight towers of various sizes, the largest two being on the north side. Inside the fortress, a large amount of the archaeological material was found, such as parts of a decorative wall moulding in the Morava style and pieces of frescoes which clearly indicate the existence of a church in the north-eastern part of the city.
City of Knights
It is believed that Koznik was named after the goats (koze) that were used to transfer the stone with which the fortress was built. Every August, an event “Koznik – City of Knights” is held here, during which a “medieval tournament” is organized. Dozens of participants simulate medieval knights fighting using replicas of medieval weapons. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the food that was eaten at that time, wines from local wineries, and a fantastic view from the fortress of the West Morava Valley.
City of Kruševac
While most of Serbian medieval cities were built in inaccessible and strategically important places, Kruševac was built on a plain. The chronology of its construction suggests that this was probably due to a specific combination of circumstances – first, the court buildings were erected, and only later were they enclosed by a fortification wall. In the centre of the complex, there are four buildings from that first period, the largest of which was built with a decorative treatment of facades with painted rows of bricks, from which it can be concluded this was the main building of the palace. Subsequently, the court church was built in 1374 along this complex, known as the famous Lazarica church in contemporary Kruševac. A fortress with an irregular ellipsoidal base, with double fortification walls and more than ten towers was built after the construction of the church. In the last phase, certainly before 1389, a small citadel was built with a massive keep and double walls, whose defence was then further fortified by a walled trench. As the influence of Prince Lazar increased over the decades, Kruševac evolved from an unprotected noble palace into a fortified city.
Prince Lazar and Kosovo Myth
The decision of Lazar Hrebeljanović to refuse to subjugate to the Ottoman Empire left deep traces in the mythology, art, and collective consciousness of the Serbian nation. Although the acceptance of vassal relations was normal at that time for weaker rulers and nobles of lower status, and so it was that Lazar’s son, Despot Stefan, accepted the suzerainty (position of dominant entity in medieval feudal system) of the Turkish sultan, Lazar took another path. Without going into the outcome of the Battle of Kosovo, it is a fact that his choice started the Kosovo Myth within the Serbian nation – the myth of heroes who are ready to die “for the honourable cross and golden freedom”. The national enthusiasm based on which the independence of Serbia and Montenegro during the 19th century was obtained relied mostly on this myth, and Prince Lazar and his knights became an inspiration to many, starting with the Praise to Prince Lazar of his contemporary Jefimija, through epic folk poems, up to the new century and modern era, where painters, poets, filmmakers, and many others have immortalized them for future generations.
Stalać, also known as the Tower of Todor of Stalać, is a medieval fort near the place where South and West Morava meet. The strategic position of this fortress enabled the control of communications to the west. It is believed that the fort and the church were built by Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović at the same time when the town of Kruševac was built. On the south side of the ellipsoidal fortification walls, there was a massive multi-level tower. In front of it was an outer fortification wall, as well as a special line of defence. The long lateral fortification walls most probably were not reinforced with towers. In the later period, the southern part of the city was fortified and separated into a special citadel. In this last stronghold of defence, dominated by a large four-sided keep, the manorial complex - a spacious palace, well, and partition fortification wall with several smaller wooden buildings - was built. The fortress included a church of which only the bell, in a nearby churchyard, was left. Parts of the fortification walls have been preserved up to today, as well as the remains of the keep, which is why the site is often referred to as the “Tower”. Constantine the Philosopher notes that in 1413, one of the squires of Despot Stefan defended the city against the Turkish Sultan Musa with great courage, until he and his men were burned in it.
The Tragedy of the Duke of Stalać
In popular legend and epic poems, Duke Prijezda or Todor of Stalać is mentioned as a military leader who opposed the Turkish ruler and his humiliating requests. Since there is no historical data, it is not even clear whether this is the same person. The tragedy of Duke Prijezda and his wife Jelica was depicted in the folk poem, “The Death of Duke Prijezda”. This folk poem says that the Turkish emperor demanded that Prijezda surrender his “navalija” sabre, his horse Ždral, and his faithful wife Jelica. The brave squire categorically refused it - he killed the horse with the sabre, broke his sabre, then asked Jelica to choose whether she wanted to die with him or to go to the Turkish sultan. Jelica remained true to her duke, and they jumped together from the walls into the Morava River, with her words concluding this tragedy - “Oh, Prijezda, dear lord, Morava fed us, let Morava bury us!”
After the death of Stefan Lazarević, when Belgrade was handed over to the Kingdom of Hungary, Despot Đurađ Branković proclaimed a previously uninhabited position at the confluence of the Jezava and Danube rivers, near the border with Hungary, as a place in which a fortress would be built. Originally, at the mouth of the Jezava, between 1428 and 1430, a castle with Đurđev Dvor was built, designed as a stand-alone building. However, immediately after that, the entire space between the Jezava and the Danube rivers, an area of about 10 hectares, was fortified by walls, forming the space of Smederevo Fortress. The castle’s base is an isosceles triangle with the apex towards the mouth of the Jezava. It was fortified by a colossal fortification wall reinforced with four powerful towers, whilst the main tower was located on the opposite side in the apex of the triangle. There was also a lower outer fortification wall, which, due to its cannon holes, represented a rarity in European military architecture at the time. Within the castle, there were several buildings, all leaning against the fortification walls, the main one of which had a fortification wall towards the Danube and a large banquet hall on the first floor – probably the place for official receptions with the ruler. The space of the “Big City”, where a town was located, was fortified by a double fortification wall reinforced with towers. Particular attention was paid to the wall on the south side, the only one facing the mainland, which had 11 towers and an outer fortification wall with positions for cannons. The Turks seized Smederevo in 1459, and with that the Medieval Serbian state ceased to exist.
Heroes from Legend
Irene Kantakouzene was a Byzantine princess, a great-granddaughter of the Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos and wife of the last great Serbian ruler, Despot Đurađ Branković. In folk mythology, she is known as Jerina the Accursed, to whom many misdeeds were attributed: forced labour, infanticide, betrayal of Serbia, and excessive influence over the elderly despot. Even the forts, built long before the reign of Despot Đurađ, came to be called Jerina‘s Town. Although Irene certainly had an impact on the despot, folk tradition, as always, exaggerates this relationship, and a person chosen for a certain role typically gets attributes he/she certainly does not have. For example, Marko Mrnjavčević, known as Marko Kraljević, becomes a great fighter against the Turks, but in reality he was their vassal. Miloš Obilić is a famous Serbian knight and district master, the hero who killed the Sultan in Kosovo, but there are no preserved traces of him in history. So Jerina the Accursed becomes a grey eminence in the collapse of Serbia, the woman who is to blame for all the evils that befell the nation. However, historical facts show that a complicated set of circumstances, as is usually the case, had immeasurably more influence on events rather than the Serbian despotess and Byzantine princess.